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An Englishwoman in Paris

If you're planning a visit to the capital, wear comfortable shoes...

Trish in ParisWhen I was headed for Paris recently, for a business meeting, the one thing all of my friends kept asking me was: "What are you going to WEAR?"

It is interesting, and kind of amusing, that armouring oneself with the perfect outfit is something all women understand (I'm hoping they just all assumed I'd do my research, prep the vocab and come up with a decent question list...). And the truth is, I did arm myself with some options for outfits, including a shocking pink couture silk coat, a magenta satin 1960s dress suit, a 1960s silk and wool suit in blue and a magenta cotton vintage dress, none of which I wore.

Lemon linen suitEven my eventual choice of a 1960s lemon linen dress suit with hemstitching and a bow on the waist, I jettisoned at the last minute in favour of trousers, which for some reason make me feel more confident. I also didn't want to wear high heels, because of the heat (it was about 27 degrees in Paris) and I feel you can get away with low heels more easily with trousers. 

Grey Boden chinosIn the end, I wore grey flared chinos from Boden (my interview was conducted on a purgatorially uncomfortable Moroccan chair, only inches from the ground, so I was glad of the trousers which saved me waving my big fat knees at my interviewee), a plain white t-shirt and the jacket from the lemon linen suit, which has three-quarter sleeves and three big, covered buttons. It also has lovely hemstitching, which you can't see in these photos.  

pink pashminaI always wear a hat and took this raffia one (see top pic). Earrings were made by my jeweller friend Suzy, in silver fused with gold, and went with a pink pearl necklace; a cheap Hong Kong Cartier-tank-style watch from Ebay and some lemon leather vintage gloves with hemstitching, plus a screaming magenta pashmina tied to my bag handles.

I hate my hands, so I only ever wear a wedding ring (also made by Suzy), and I went for nail varnish for once, in iridescent pearl (as soon as I got home again, I clipped all my nails off, as I loathe long nails, which strike me as nasty and unhygienic).  

Mint bagtan laptop bagMy handbag was a big mint-green mock-croc leather tote with neon stitching from Di Cristina (I love this thing - it's like a giant sweet and it holds all my junk), and I had a beige mock-ostrich laptop bag for my computer and papers. Lucca notebookMy notebook was magenta hand-made Italian buffalo leather with hand-marbled cream paper (a present from the DH from The Online Pen Company) and my pen was a cream and black marbled Parker Duofold fountain pen he bought me nearly 20 years and which I was shocked to find recently is now worth a small fortune (something to do with the rareness of the acrylic). I did also, of course, record the interview, with a small and discreet recorder that I set going well in advance, but it's always useful to be able to make notes as well.

Shoes, as I've mentioned before on this blog, are something that drive me a bit crazy generally, and I ended up wearing a pair of 12-year-old almond-toed courts in pale blue and gold brocade, with silver leather 2in Louis heels. I've worn these to several events such as weddings and parties, and I know I can stand all day in them if need be. 

Interview over, elsewhere in Paris and for travelling, I felt very comfy in my pale blue linen Jasper Conran sundress (v-neck, v-back, fully lined and an asymmetric skirt), and a pale grey cotton cardi from H&M, teamed with navy Fly-Flots, or Boden chinos in navy, worn with Nike low-tops on which I've coloured in all the pale bits with a black marker pen.

With temperatures up in the high 20s, I didn't need my Burberry polocoat, other than to lie on it in the Tuileries. It is ancient now, and there are holes appearing everywhere, so when I got back, I splashed the cash on a vintage trench from Aquascutum. 

The French are marvelously stylish and I envied their nonchalance, but, I looked every inch the Englishwoman in Paris. Which is fine by me - because, believe me, the French find the English every bit as chic as we find them. 


Aiming for elegance

Why do we all want to look younger, when it's only a hiding to nothing?

I was reading an article by Charles Moore in the Expat Telegraph the other week.

In it, he laments that the British public, by and large, is now so badly dressed, and wonders why this should be, in an age of plenty.

Sins that he notes (it being summer) include too many midriffs, too many tattoos, fat people dressed as if they were thin, and old as if they were young. Most were wearing sportswear but "the reality," he says, "was that most were not all that young, and few, even of those who were, looked sporty."

Of course, being a tad older than I am, he probably has no truck with the idea of tats being fashionable. Even when I was growing up, they were the sign of a thug, and possibly even worse on a woman, and although my friends have some quite pretty tattooes, I still greet their appearance with something like dismay. What, I wonder, will that look like when you're 70? 

After a short discursion into oppressive manners of dress and why we've moved away from them, Moore then gets onto age, and has some interesting things to say.  "If you say of a middle-aged woman," he asks: "'doesn't she look young?', you are praising a quality which, even as you speak, is diminishing. If you say: 'doesn't she look elegant?' you are noting something which may never fail."

In a society in which people will live much longer than in the past, he asks, why is it so important to try to preserve youth?

Well, I couldn't agree more, really. Moore is a right-wing old buffer, educated at Eton, while I am a coalminer's daughter from South Yorkshire, but I feel we're in broad agreement on this one.

I've been thinking of my fashion icons for this blog, and I find it kind of sad that so many of them seem to be from the 1950s and earlier. It's not as if these are even my eras - I grew up in the 70s and 80s, but people were really badly dressed in those decades and things don't seem to have improved much even since. In the 50s and earlier, people had less choice, so they could make fewer mistakes. Society was less mobile, so there were more rules to follow. And clothing was far, far more expensive, so you had to be more careful with your purchases.

The result, in fashion terms, was that people tended to wear well-made clothes that were appropriate to their function in life. Perhaps this pigeonholed everyone, but in another way, having these invisible rules to follow eases your life considerably. 

It seems to me that the more choice people have had in fashion, and also in what's considered 'appropriate' clothing, the more bad taste they seem to exhibit. The same happens with food - the more choice people have, the more junk they eat - we are not as healthy now as we were when food was rationed.

Perhaps what we need on both counts is a return to simplicity, and maybe even rules - or at least guidelines - that you can broadly follow, or on which you can absolutely cheat. But in the meantime, and in the absence of that, it looks like we must all flounder in a grey area, not quite sure if this skirt is too long or too short or too tight or too flouncy...  

As for elegance, again I couldn't agree more with Moore. Elegance, refinement, appropriateness, chic - those are aspirations women can aim for no matter what our age, shape or income. If we could lose our fixation on youth, we'd all be happier people.


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