All the girls in Paris are wearing mini skirts. Everywhere you look: legs, with summer tans in various states of fade. It’s quite a shift from the skinny jeans, structured blazers and high-heeled Isabel Marant ankle boot combos that have become a uniform for a generation of French women. But change is afoot. The cool-girl Parisienne has loosened up.
At first, I found this a little unnerving. When I moved from London to Paris in September, I brought with me a capsule of sharp-shouldered trenchcoats, sleek black blazers, white cotton shirts, cashmere pullovers and slim-legged denim — in other words, the basic building blocks of what’s become “French girl style”.
Successive national lockdowns had reinforced the merits of my boyish, uncomplicated wardrobe staples so I had a clear-out, sold my silver glitter Margiela party boots on Vestiaire Collective, and decided to double down on the classics. If I was moving to Paris, I reasoned, I may as well dress the part. (And no, I don’t want to hear any more Emily in Paris gags. You will never catch me in lime-green tweed, even if it comes with Chanel buttons.)
But then I took a stroll down the Rue de Rivoli, pausing briefly to observe an American student get slammed off her bicycle by a trottinette électrique gone rogue (she was fine; her Bottega Veneta sunglasses were not) and began counting the mini skirts. Worn with ankle socks and penny loafers or heavy-duty black boots, no less, and often in leather. Then came a procession of leather shorts. Then cargo pants. Some crop tops. Some tie dye. Lots of bright blue. Yellow. Pink. And a series of very baggy jeans. Not a skinny fit or a tailored blazer to be seen.
I WhatsApped my friend Eugénie Trochu, the newly installed head of editorial content at Vogue Paris. What’s up with French girl style? She sent a voice note back. “Especially since the pandemic, I have the feeling that Parisian style has evolved. When you are in the streets here, you don’t see any Jane Birkin, Inès de La Fressange or Brigitte Bardot clones. You see girls from everywhere wearing colours and power clothes and statement shoes. I think the French girl is not afraid any more to shine. She used sometimes to hide behind the effortless mood but I think it’s over.”
Trochu includes herself in this cadre. “When I started working in fashion 10 years ago, I was trying to reproduce the fashion cliché of La Parisienne, wearing skinny jeans with a cute flower blouse and messy hair. I was not ‘me’ at all.” Her recent move from an apartment in the chichi 6th arrondissement to the more gritty 10th arrondissement has engendered a feeling of liberation. “I have adopted a more daring sense of style, more cosmopolite.” She’s also wearing a lot of mini skirts, mostly “vintage, Courrèges and Zara”.
Time to go shopping, I thought to myself, and headed to Le Bon Marché. Rather than the power playlists that dominate London department stores and make everyone feel 80 years old, the Left Bank institution was playing classical music, the volume low. I drifted towards a selection of second-hand denim, curated by Imparfaite, a vintage clothing website with a brilliant Levi’s 501 calculator that many fashion editors swear by. I tried on an €89 pair that were snug at the waist, but with just the right amount of 1980s-esque roominess in the leg, purchased them, and left feeling new-gen French.
Vintage is back in a big way in Paris. Collector Square is a popular preloved bag and jewellery platform with 350,000 active members where Parisians head for second-hand Chanel bags and Cartier watches. You have to be quick: an Hermès Kelly mini 20cm bag sold for €17,980 in a few seconds after going online recently.
Last month, Printemps unveiled a new 1,300 sq m floor dedicated to “circularity”: alongside upcycled brands and repair stations, there is an attic’s worth of vintage and pre-owned exemplars, curated by Marie Blanchet of Mon Vintage. A black velvet Yves Saint Laurent haute couture cocktail dress from the AW83 collection tugged on my heartstrings during a browse one Sunday morning (though the price, at €4,500, made me balk).
More tempting was a neat little Balenciaga coat from the pre-fall 2008 collection for €1,100; the hang tag provided photographic evidence that it was once worn by the actor and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. (Gainsbourg is god in Paris, a living radiographie du casual chic, or blueprint for easy-chic style, as Vogue Paris once put it.)
I resisted, but several days later experienced a bizarre and unexpected urge to buy a leather aviator jacket. I hadn’t seen one in the wild for years — not since Acne Studios’ hit Velocite style cornered the market in 2015. But I noticed a woman in Pigalle crossing the road wearing a brown shearling style, and now it’s all I can think about.
A little bit 1970s, a little bit 1990s — fashion-wise, there appears to be a spirit of wildness in the air. Though the country is still in the grip of Covid-19, with proof of vaccination required in most places and mask-wearing indoors and on public transport mandatory, the French are cheerfully adhering to these small inconveniences. The bars and restaurants are full, and the streets are thronging. A mood of frivolity prevails.
Perhaps it’s all the cycling. Last year, mayor Anne Hidalgo oversaw the inception of more than 100 miles of new cycle paths in her bid to make Paris a sustainable, cycling-friendly hub. Parisians have responded: today, a million people in a city of 10m are biking daily. Many of them take little heed of red lights, or helmets, or Lycra. Instead, they’re cycling in bright green trouser suits and platform heels, in hot pants and leather clogs, in jeans and strawberry-printed Crocs.
This week, I joined them. In a black oversized Bottega Veneta silk shirt worn as a mini dress, I hopped on a Vélib’, the cheap bike-rental service, and pedalled across town, trenchcoat flaring out behind me. Freewheeling liberté — it feels pretty good.
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