How to be Parisienne: The humble beginnings

Anna Hollingsworth 1 May 2016

The Parisian woman: elegant, chic, effortless. Everything I am not. Yet here I am, a young woman in Paris. Having recently moved to the City of Lights as part of my year abroad, I find my clumsy and unfashionable state rather at odds with this ethereal town. Everything here is at once laid back and resolute, glamorous and nonchalant. From Sunday morning flaky pain au chocolats, to shuttered windows on off-cream apartment buildings, to unexpected glimpses of the Eiffel Tower as you wander in a distant part of town. And then of course, the people. The metro is a sea of blue, black, and grey, but everyone is unique. No one cares but everyone cares. How do you integrate into a culture so alluring yet so intimidating?

It’s difficult to grasp what it is about Parisians. What is it they are doing, what is it they have that makes me feel so in awe and inadequate? Specifically, what is it about the Parisienne: the Parisian woman. It’s not just the perfect French and tiny waist. It’s style.

The dream I had for myself long before I secured a place in a French degree: living in Paris, elegantly dressed, darting from small bar to café to bookshop. Cinematic.

The reality in which I find myself: living in Paris, alternating between my two hole-speckled pairs of jeans, darting on and off metros as part of my long commute to and from work. The black and white of my Polaroid dreams seems to have melted into a fatigued grey.

I stare at my reflection in the metro; observe my smudged eyeliner, puffy jumper-coat combo, and multitude of cumbersome bags, and am ready to despair and accept a life of sitting in my bed eating éclairs and macarons, watching Amélie on repeat.

Fortunately, I stumble across inspiration before the local pâtisserie. It calls out to me from my little bookshelf, tilted precariously between unread copies of Le Monde bought during my initial enthusiastic weeks, and the once pretty pot of flowers I let die. A parting gift from my always adorable mother for the move to Paris: How to be Parisian. Wherever you are. I am gripped by a sudden rekindling of dreams and expectations: a grainy photo reel of Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, and the oh-so-integrated Audrey Hepburn spins through my mind. After weeks of admiring the seemingly unattainable je ne sais quoi of the Parisian woman, I realise the solution sat on my shelf: an insider’s guide. A Bible of fashion, beauty, customs, activities, and do’s and don’ts for recreating yourself in the parisienne model. What you need in your wardrobe, how you should spend your time, with whom you need to identify. A cheat book of the fake-your-way French variety.

My mission is now clear. If I follow the instructions laid out in this manual, perhaps I too can radiate that air of indifference I so crave, can endow trivial movements with a sense of purpose, can cause tourists to tremble in the wake of my style. And so I set out on my quest: to not only live in Paris, but live as a Parisienne. Each week I will aim to fulfil one of the requirements set out in my manual, whether that be filling gaps in my wardrobe or my skills set. Both my look and outlook will have to be mastered. Guide in hand, shame abandoned, I set forth. Maybe, just maybe, I too can be chic. I can be Parisienne.

Photo Credit: Moyan Brenn