Paris: The outer(wear) woman

A preamble to say that I have received many e-mails from American friends, indicating their shock over their election. They wonder what to do now, in a time of agitation and uncertainty. One friend's young adult daughter lives in the US with her American husband; she was heartbroken by the result, but in the earliest morning hours, N. wrote her mother,  " democracy begins in our small community, and I see strength in our growing culture. With no leader. Our collective voice, hearts and work are the light with which I welcome the new day." She is referring to a civic role that is not wholly dependent on electoral politics. No matter which side you were on—and I write this as a US citizen, as well as a Canadianeach of us can contribute, or not, to a stronger community. That's what I keep telling myself today.

Filing the fashion report, now.

If, as Thomas Friedman wrote, The World is Flat, the style world is ever more Homogenized. So I saw the same horizontally-quilted light down jackets in Paris as well, everywhere, the same black 3/4 length topper as is worn in Montréal, the same twisted or flung scarves. That's not to say, ho-hum, but this is Paris.

Years ago, I asked myself, What is a key difference? and settled, almost eight years ago to the day, on the preponderance of 'strict' clothing in France as opposed to embellished, detailed daywear sold in North America. But that distinction has eroded, as COS, Everlane and even the quieter corners of J. Crew make pared-down clothes available online, and the aesthetic has reached North American department stores who carry lines like The Row.

What is noticeably different still is a refined eye and acceptance of beauty that leads a woman to wear flat-heeled plum suede over-the-knee boots, matching tights, a knee-length charcoal knit cashmere pencil skirt and over that, a close-fitting acid-green velvet 7/8 length coat: a luxurious audacity that takes an assured, even artistic sensibility but is nothing like the getupy garb you see on some Advanced Style doyennes. The reference is the haute-bourgeoise, not Iris Apfel.

Hardly anything on that woman was a practical basic. Steeped in Retiree Economics, I thought, What else do you wear that with? and realized, that is so not the point. (If you are younger or poorer, there are approximations—but really nothing substitutes for a coat of fine quality.)

I saw only about 10% of women on the street dressed like that, but I was not in the swankiest sectors.
But dozens of times a day, I saw the ensemble below; the woman in rose lives in the neighbourhood where we stayed, but I saw it everywhere, the modern woman's Mao jacket.

Her grand-daughter upholds the French approach of dressing children under voting age in navy, but I also saw astonishing children's ensembles, such as this little fur gilet:

Le Duc noticed the popularity of brightly coloured wool coats, a Parisienne's privilege due to mild winters. My friend Huguette wore a dusty mauve over her Uniqlo light down vest (black); this young woman pairs mustard with pink, and notice the lining at the sleeve:

In the foreground, her friend in black, which comprises maybe 20% of the coats, with the other 80% in every hue imaginable, the opposite ratio of my city on a good day. (When you need a coat that handles subzero temperatures for four months, black is the default choice. Women here fear a bright, full-length down coat will make them look like an M&M.)

The mid-50F/14C temps meant jackets were chosen as often as full-length coats; here's a woman at the bus, en route to work in her leather skirt and tweed. I liked the beautiful bag, not in a basic black, but a vibrant blue:

The mild winters also allow knit coats or "coatigans" to be worn months longer. This one is a windowpane; lovely pair of soft blue leather shoes, too:

 She matched her coat to her hair, and both are really red!

And though down rules the world, you can find original styles. Tweaking the classic marinière, a boutique showed a sheared sheepskin striped pullover. An extra $2, 000 or so more than the puffer price tags, though!

Next week, the inner woman, specifically, the passion for lingerie and my attempt to survey these places without spending all of next year's clothing allowance.


Kristien62 said…
Thank you for the encouraging words at the start. I awoke to the news and felt a deep sense of hopelessness. I, too, asked what do we do now. We are better than this. Your friend's daughter is right. Start small in your community. I've decided to volunteer at the Refugee Center, both for myself and to register my displeasure at the way refugees and immigrants have been portrayed in this brutal election cycle. My action won't change things, but it is better than bitterly complaining.

And now to the fashion side. Several bloggers have mentioned the quilted toppers seen in European cities during their travels. I haven't noticed them here in Central New York, but then we are not a hot bed of emerging style. I often wonder what makes a fashion trend take off and become a uniform. When I go to Boston in December, I think I will check out the natives to see if anything is trending. Usually, I am oblivious to anything but the cityscapes and colorful shop windows.
Duchesse said…
Kristien62: Those light down jackets are sold in every department and chain store, both in Paris and here. Prices range from $70 or so (Uniqlo) to $250. Also online at LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, and many other places. See

They are handy, pack into a small bag, and are washable. I don't find them especially stylish- they are cleverly functional- but some of the colours are beautiful. Like when polar fleece first arrived, there is a surge of popularity.

You are among several persons who have contacted me over the past day and say they have resolved to volunteer to assist groups denigrated by the President-elect. Good for you.
Wendelah said…
I was enjoying this post so much more before you started putting down the "doyennes" from Advanced Style. I know this is a fashion blog but I wish you didn't feel the need to be so critical of other women's fashion choices, no matter how extreme they seem to you. It is beneath you.

As a progressive and a Democrat, who worked to elect Hillary Clinton, I was disheartened by the results of Tuesday's election. But we can't give up. I have already made a list and picked the additional causes and organizations I will join and actively support with my time and money. If we want to preserve the liberties we have won, like the right to an abortion, and the rights we are guaranteed in the Constitution, like a free press, we will have to fight for them. There is no other choice.
Kristien62 said…
I checked out the llbean and Uniqlo sites and, you are correct, the colors are luscious. I'm intrigued by the Uniqlo vest and collarless jacket. There is a new store open on Newbury Street in Boston. I plan on a Newbury Street shopping excursion and will stop by. Adding the vest under my wool coat in extreme temps would give the coat extra mileage.
Nancy K said…
I went off to the polls, in my pants suit excited to finally be able to vote for a woman for president. Then the day kept getting worse. I gave up about 2 am when it was called, too tired and too numb to even think about it. Depression set in but now I am just waiting to see what happens. I think that I am more pragmatic than most of my Democratic friends. It is what it is until I figure out if there is anything that I can do.
We don't have your winters here on Long Island except very occasionally, so a wool coat works just fine but not necessarily RTW. Since I sew my own clothing I always have at least one interlined coat makes it much warmer than it looks. I have one on my sewing list for this year and I am going to interline it with wool flannel that should work on even the coldest days.
I can understand not wanting a long down coat in a bright color. Definitely for the very thin. My dh bought one of those packable down jackets from Northface. It's fine, for him. I don't know that I find them all that stylish either.
Anne and Kirk said…
Interesting that only 20% of the coats were black...I've always been surprised that even in vibrant Aix en Provence I see a positive SEA of black when the temps drop. I'll let you know if that's changed when I return next week!
We used to wear woollen coats here in Montréal in the winter - sometimes interlinings would be sewn in - felt, or even rabbit fur.sometimes snared by rural family. And a lot of young women wore leather - again, I suspect warmer interlinings. I hate those down coats, but fear buying a good woollen one, because of the bloody moths.

I'm feeling terribly sad right now. There was a spectacular sunset this afternoon...
Duchesse said…
Wendeleh: I am free to say what I think (why else would I write, which in this case is unpaid work?) If you find that comment "beneath me", I suggest you read this:;postID=3495621445920597866;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=8;src=postname

I also believe women should wear what they like, no matter what others think- unless, I guess, it definitely interferes with their credibility at work.

Anne and Kirk: As Huguette said when Le Duc noticed her mauve coat and grey fedora "This is Paris".

NancyK: Ah, the Pantsuit Nation. Such a sad day for women who so hoped.

I remember when wool coat were lined with real chamois.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I wore them too, in the Arctic conditions of Northern Ontario, at least as cold as here. But that was before lightweight down and breathable synthetics like Gore-tex were available.

Gretchen said…
I vowed for years I wouldn't buy a down jacket or coat since they were far too ubiquitous, too casual, too meh, and instead bought a long (black) cashmere coat, an alpaca car coat (camel), and was gifted another (black) topcoat, plus an ancient navy duffle. But, as I approached 50, I found (even in the mid-Atlantic, even during/after menopause), I was cold. So, style be damned, I bought a jacket (magenta). Then, a long coat (plum). They're pretty goofy looking, but I am warm! The thought of "strict" clothing always sounded so appealing, and then when I wear that, I feel like the clothes are wearing me, even when they're beautifully constructed and I'm offered compliments. So, back to gentlewoman style I went....and realized these are the very clothes I wore in high school, and figure I've just "come home." No way I'll go for that Advanced Style look, but a replication of Katherine Hepburn? Bring it on. Including warm down, even if I look like a walking sleeping bag. With pearls, of course.
LauraH said…
Puffers fill a need, that's for sure. The shape and direction of the stitching is key to how well, or not, they can look. And of course the fabric...not sure if the shiny fabrics of a couple of years ago are still around...they certainly added to the "puff":-)

I was happy to hear that you saw so many colourful coats and other pieces on your travels. Colour is one of the joys of life, yet so many people have defaulted to black, grey, beige and most depressing of all, dirty grey blue. It's rare to enter a subway car and see some colour, it's a sea of dreariness. Even the scarves, hats and gloves don't add much colour. Hard for me to understand why this has happened. I'll stick to my unfashionable bright colours, nothing beats them for a quick lift of the spirit...something we can all use, now especially.
I love the idea of colour for a winter coat - I remember being on the subway one day last winter (it was a sea of black and navy blue) and then this woman boarded wearing a gorgeous pink wool swing coat - she made me smile! It was obviously an expensive coat - and I think this is part of what makes so many of us opt for the black or navy. Winter coats are expensive and we want to get our money's worth so we stick with the neutrals. I think I'll resolve to keep an eye open come next February when prices are slashed and see if there is something bright and cheerful that I can add for next year.
While I do have an LL Bean down parka for the most bitterly cold days I just cannot bring myself to buy one of those puffy coats - I'm too short & round and just feel like a walking sleeping bag in one of them!
Duchesse said…
Margie: Every so often I see a bright coat in winter here, or an ivory one, and it stands out and cheers. Young, lithe women wear them over down vests or those down sweater jackets. Every once in awhile someone sports a coloured duffle like J Crew sell, in pink or chrome yellow, or an Inuit parka embroidered and alive with animal or other themes.

But the coats I saw in Paris last week, and the coats my friend's young adult daughters brought to their first winter in Toronto are simply too thin- midweight wool with only sateen lining, nothing to cut our Arctic blasts. After a mpnth of shuddering, they bought proper parkas.

In Montreal, the wind chill takes us to -25F or lower often enough, and only two things seem to make walking about bearable: down or fur (including sheepskin).

LauraH: I suspect practicality. Also, the selection seems to have narrowed.

Gretchen: Yum, alpaca! Plum is to me the ideal colour choice; it won't show grime after a few wears, yet is to a rich, pretty colour.

lagatta: Lots of winter leather coats have heavy matelassé linings, almost coats in themselves. The coat is therefore damn heavy. Down in a techno shell is light, warm, washable. You have to look and look but some styles are not so boxy. And quality varies. Mackage make some appealing ones, but they are pricey.

I was cheerful to hear that you saw such a large number of vivid coats and different pieces on your ventures. Shading is one of the delights of life, yet such a large number of individuals have defaulted to dark, dim, beige and most discouraging of all, filthy dim blue. It's uncommon to enter a tram auto and see some shading, it's an ocean of terribleness
Susan said…
I appreciate your words about the election. To say that we are heartbroken is an understatement. And, as one of my friends explained, it not about not electing the first woman president, it is about the statements and behavior of the President-elect. I feel certain we will survive this, but it is certainly a severe setback. As a woman, I am horrified that we have elected a man who objectifies women. At the same time, I refuse to despair. I think we have to hope for the best--which should not be mistaken for accepting any of the offensive campaign rhetoric.
Susan B said…
Thanks for your kind words about the election. It's been a real shock.

Thanks too for the outerwear report! Now I'm rethinking whether to take my gold puffer coat to Paris next month. :-) I want to be warm enough, but don't want to have to shlep a heavy wool coat. The other option is a Lands' End packable puffer in Navy.

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