Paris shopping Part Two: From treasures to tears and back

My Parisienne friend Huguette took me to her favourite boutique; I had warned her that I am an extra-large French size (44 or 46, maybe a relaxed 42), not easy to find, and my height often is a dealbreaker. I know where I can get French clothes that fit, but her place would be all new, exotic, exciting. 

She waved off that concern like a croissant flake on a blouse, hailed a cab, and we were soon entering Trésor by Brigitte Masson, in a tiny lane (6, rue du Trésor) in the Marais. This was the magical little gem I had literally dreamed about.

Huguette was right: I liked everything I saw. The colours were unusual and nuanced, the price point reasonable for the quality, and the pieces had that "don't see that on everyone" effect. The racks murmured: "Venez ici!"

The racks were organized by colour groups, with a notable paucity of black.

But the clothes didn't fit: sleeves and skirts too short, buttons in the wrong places. Mme Masson had maybe ten items in my size and I tried every last one, even things I couldn't really use. A woman of my proportions was twirling before the mirror in a shift dress over pants, but it's not a look I like on myself. 

Much as I wanted to join my friend in her spree, I was shut out of the action. Huguette, presently size 38, merrily bought a spring coat (around €400), hat, and scarf.

I too found a scarf; coincidentally, we both chose the same Epice linen/silk in different colourways. Below, she wears hers with her winter coat, a soft peach tweed coat from Trésor, which is lined with a photo-print of gondoliers in Venice, a secret mural that delights the wearer. (You can just see the pale blue of the lining at the rolled cuff.)

I wore mine with a featherweight down jacket which I packed at the last minute:

I'm smiling in that shot, but I surely wasn't when I came home, miserable and owly, partly due to a painful arthritic knee, but mostly from frustration. Le Duc was initially annoyed with Huguette—he had to put up with the fallout. He reminded me that I've had more or less the same experience for decades. 

We walked to a favourite restaurant—but despite the very best food and company, I felt a lingering mournful longing which, I'm embarrassed to say, dampened the evening. 

Life resolved my snit, the very next day.

On Sunday morning, we strolled through a street market at Place Monge and fell upon a sidewalk sale held by a local church parish. I spotted a quirky tweed (pinks, violet, burgundy, off-white) wool-and-cashmere jacket in unworn condition; it would have looked at home in Trésor's chest of delights.  

Cost? 10 euros. (Full disclosure: I'm having it tailored to fit me precisely, for another $65.) Even at that, it's a bargain-priced lesson in not letting frustration dent one's joie de vivre.


I love the coat that you found - what a great eye to spy that in the middle of a church sale. And I can sympathize with your shopping woes - I find that a lot of things I like in Paris are cut for a more, shall we say, boyish figure than mine!
Madame Là-bas said…
The coat that you bought is really pretty and the soft tones will be very flattering with your hair. I found a few shops in Paris that cater to "les rondes" as I am also (44-46) but I am shorter. Your coat is a bargain even with the alterations.
Susan B said…
Fabulous coat, and I'd say you fully recovered your shopping mojo. I've had the same shopping woes, though usually it's a combination of my curves and short stature that sends me into a nothing-fits snit. I am bookmarking that shop to check out the scarves, though!
frugalscholar said…
Yeah, I've had that mournful longing myself. Eventually, I find something even better, just as you did. I try to remember that karma always kicks in. Yours kicked in very quickly!

P.S. On my first trip to France (1972), I discovered that the armholes were cut too small for me.
materfamilias said…
"Shopping in Paris" is a phrase that evokes so many romanticized images, but your experience reflects a reality that gets described less often. I've had too many grumpy hours over the years, and poor Pater knows the warning signs... But even with the tears and frustration, Paris shopping looks good on you. That's (at least) three great treasures you've come home with. (Love that down jacket on you, btw. I remember you posting about it months ago)
Murphy said…
I sometimes fall prey to the same tears and frustration after shopping - it's a combination of clothes cut for flatter chests than mine and, at least in the US, the feeling that I am 20 years too old for many of the styles. I love that jacket you found!
Unknown said…
I gave up on shopping in Paris long ago; scarves and shawls being the exception. Being short, round and pear-shaped, the French cuts just don't work with certain body types. I remember being practically in tears in a beautiful Anne Fontaine blouse boutique: the size that should have fit was large in the chest, way too tight in the hips, and forget about upper arms...I wouldn't have been able to move in that shirt. My French mother-in-law, on the other hand, is relatively tall and slim hipped; she almost never needs any alterations at all...

I had a similar issue in The Netherlands, where most everything I found clothing-wise was cut for Amazon women with larger chests than me. Thank goodness for online shopping; I know the American brands that work for me (not many, but reliable), and so don't waste time trying other brands only to be disappointed. Does take some of the fun out of shopping, for sure.
LPC said…
Oh perfect! I love your jacket - for tone on tone looks like you might wear it with your new scarf?

And I've never gone really shopping in Paris. Only to Galeries Lafayette, with the full family years ago. I did come home with a nifty long-sleeved white tee, which I wore until it died. But how hard it is to buy white tees, after all:).
What a beautiful jacket. I love that tweed. Those alterations are most reasonable in cost.

Nothing ever fit me in Paris, even when I was young and wasp-waisted. Even then I had far too much of a bust. I had better luck in Italy. Have you ever travelled to the Netherlands or Germany? In the Netherlands, you are of average height and some Dutch women, though usually fit, not fat, are of quite a sturdy build. And there are good stylists there nowadays.

One time I brought back a pair of trousers for a friend here who is six feet tall. (She knew the brand and the fit).

The colours in the first boutique are exquisite as well. So often I buy black because I find the colours available gaudy or ugly. Ste-Madeleine d'Outremont bazaar - 21,22,23 May. Society church...
Duchesse said…
All: Comforting how many of you don't fit into French clothes, thanks. I have bought Dutch, German and the occasional Scandinavian article, and they are not as narrow as French (but Italian clothes are!)

Susan said…
Duchesse, I would not fit into a single garment in Paris. I am an Amazon! We have a lovely Anne Fontaine shop in our neighborhood in Dallas and my husband can't understand why I always stop when we are walking past and admire all the lovely things. I've explained to him that they don't make clothes for bodies like mine, so he wonders why I still look. It's a good thing I'm not a shopper, or I would be in a permanent snit!

Jane in London said…
Oh, gosh, the French cut is certainly on the snug side compared with English clothes - I usually need a size up from normal if I buy French clothes.

But the coat you got looks fabulous! And, once tailored, it will surely be a very flattering piece (the colours will work well with your chic grey hair!)

Francie Newcomb said…
Oh, I thought it was just me. Have had same experience. I did get a lovely pale yellow trench coat there on our first trip in 2001 but that is all. What great karma for you to find such a pretty tweed coat. I loved the picture of you too!
Jill Ann said…
Don't French women have breasts, and are they all short? I haven't been there in several years, but apparently when I next go I shouldn't bother shopping for clothes! I'm not a small person (US size 10), but would expect to be able to fit a size Large at least. I guess not! My 20 year old daughter is going to Europe this summer...she has a small souvenir budget, but I will tell her to avoid shopping for clothes in Paris, and focus instead on Amsterdam, because she is 6 feet tall (and slim, but not skinny). We've always joked that she needed to go to Holland to find a boyfriend, because apparently the Dutch are on average the tallest in the world. So no wonder the clothes are bigger!
Duchesse said…
Jill Ann: Un instant, s'il vous plaît. See sentence in first para, "I know where I can get French clothes that fit..." But I wanted the clothes in •that• boutique, which did not. There are plenty of French women with busts, and also some voluptuous women.

A woman who wears a US plus size will have a much more limited selection than in the US, though several large department stores have in-house boutiques for brands like Elena Miro and Marina Rinaldi.

Here is a fairly recent post on finding larger sizes in Paris:

re your daughter: I have a Parisienne friend with two tall daughters, one six feet, the other just under. They bought American jeans and of course skirts are not a problem if a little short- when you are young ;)

Anonymous said…
This story made me think of your finding that second-hand $45 Italian mohair coat after deciding against buying the $800 Tory Burch version. Shopping can be agony without the occasional rescue by serendipity!

diverchic said…
I love your pink down jacket. When I bought my light jacket they only had navy. I want pink.
At the notorious 1981 seminar "Money, Sex and Power" I learned to go shopping with a person my size and to chose a sales person with the same colouring as me. Better still, a sales person with the same stature (size 44) and colouring as me.
Shopping with midgets only leads to tears.
Diverchic, I don't know what your colouring is, but there are a lot of chic ladies in Paris of African descent, whether Maghrebi (North African), West African or mix of everything Antillean. Some are far more voluptious than many "pur porc" French. I don't mean fatter: curvy vs straighter bodies exist at all sizes.
Anonymous said…
I love the jacket too - the collar is very chic. I am fascinated by "owly" which I've not seen used like this before (I'm from the UK). Were you thinking of that hunched and sad look an owl has, or is it something different (hooting with rage?). Do explain!

Duchesse said…
C.: If I factor in the cost of the plane ticket, not as much of a bargain as mohair coat!

diverchic: She is not a midget, just quite slim. I have had successful expeditions with those of different builds, but the store has to have the stock.

lagatta: Diverchic (whom I have known since around 1982) is a blue-eyed champagne blonde, with a Marilyn Monroe figure, gorgeous legs and and a great sense of what suits her.

Cathy: It means grumpy, out of sorts.

Hummingbird5 said…
I am very short. A lifetime of admiring beautiful things, getting my hopes up, and finding once again that nothing fits. NOTHING. Petites offerings are pitiful. I essentially wear a uniform at this point, which doesn't express me at all--it merely fits. It's depressing and owly-fying. Your coat is beautiful, Duchesse.
Duchesse said…
Hummingbird: Petites and talls share that loss of specialty sizing. And tailors often don't understand you can't just lop off inches at the bottom of a skirt or dress for petite women.

Sisty said…
At the risk of opening up a can of worms, this post reminds me of Genevieve Darriaux' entry on shopping with friends, in her seminal sixties book Elegance. Long story short, , it's not always advisable, as your husband seems to have intuited.

Sometimes I think I should start a blog about where we'd be -- good or bad -- if we tried to follow her advice now.
Duchesse said…
Sisty: As the owner of one of the original, hardcover copies of that book: I think we'd be in greige, a colour she loved, and less navy blue ;)

I actually enjoy shopping with friends; it is not always my goal to buy stuff, but rather to look and enjoy a friend's eye. But that boutique was so exceptionally original (an antidote to the numbing, ubiquitous Eileen Fisher) and i knew I was "somewhere special". Though a number of French brands offer styles for women with busts and hips, few can accommodate a long-legged and long-waisted build.

The posts with the most