Dress is one of the most obvious comparisons I can make between American and French students. In American colleges, the "uniform" typically consists of jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, and backpacks. Many girls stumble out of their dorm rooms for 8am classes wearing pyjama pants, or jogging attire and no one raises an eyebrow. As an art student, my jeans were perpetually covered in oil paint, charcoal, and ink. I gave up straightening my hair or wearing makeup if I had an early class.
Now I, like many, assumed that college life, while not identical in various countries, had several... universal qualities. Well, as a teacher in a French university, I can now say that FASHION is not one of these shared traits.
I am in absolute AWE of my French female students, who work the hallways like a runway. Their enviably and impossibly slender legs sport sleek leggings under tunics or miniskirts, tucked into leather high-heeled boots or perhaps ballerina flats. Throw on an edgy jacket and an artfully tied flowing scarf (which is a science of its own right), and crown with a messy chignon on top of head. Allow a feel tendrils to fall around an immaculately made-up face. The aim of this hairstyle (which I will henceforth and forthwith call a "topknot") is to look as though it took 30 seconds to achieve, yet probably took hours of arranging every strand just so... Or perhaps it really does take them 30 seconds, due to their French blood and the inherent flawlessness it entails. Many throw on a pair of the geekiest, thick-rimmed glasses I have ever seen... and here is the weird thing: it AMPLIFIES their hotness! Backpack? ::raises a critical brow:: You must be joking. The most popular bag seems to be a Longchamp bag. Even the guys carry them! Accessory number 1, of course, is a cigarette delicately poised between two fingers and elegantly bent wrist.
As for the French guys, forgive me if I pay less attention to their attire. What I do know is that they always have extraordinary leather shoes, never scuffed or anything less than gleaming. Only a French guy can wear a V-neck sweater, slim-cut jeans, a purple scarf, and carry a longchamp bag and not at all be concerned about his masculinity. Men in the States would sooner jam all their belongings into a bulging wallet stuffed in their jeans than carry a "man purse," but French men seem to have no issues whatsoever with this concept.
What really gets me is the French and their effortless ability to pull together an outfit from an assortment of seemingly unrelated and mismatched articles of clothing. I firmly believe they can walk through their closet with their eyes closed, select 5 random articles of clothing, and still manage to look sexier and more put-together than I do on my best days!
It's really amazing how I can look in the mirror in the morning and think I am the epitome of style and class. I could have a new outfit, gorgeous leather boots that click deliciously on the cobblestones as I walk, flowing hair and a flattering shade of lipstick, but the instant I enter the classroom, I feel frumpier than your great aunt Myrtle at a Sunday afternoon tea party. It's like walking a gauntlet each them I enter the classroom. The eyes of the female students dart over me from head to toe, checking to see if my belt goes with my shoes, grimacing when they realize I am carrying a reusable plastic shopping bag. They murmur to one another, probably about what soirée they are attending Friday night, but the paranoia has seized control of me after witnessing their stares. Maybe they notice the 4 kilos I've gained since moving to Europe.
Expat ladies in France, take note of my words of wisdom: No matter how much you spend on French clothes, how much you practice walking the medieval streets all day in high heels, how many desserts you decline, how many cigarettes you smoke, how many hours you spend emulating the way they tie their scarves or their elusive "top knot," you can never, ever compete with the French and their natural finesse for fashion, their absence of cellulite, and their talent for turning a disgusting habit like smoking into the sexiest thing in the world.
What you can do is take comfort in the following:
A. French MEN will love you anyway, if for nothing more than your charming anglophone accent. As horrible as you think it sounds, the French think it sounds cute! Even if you butcher your conjugations, all the better. Tant mieux! (Think sexy British chanteuse Jane Birkin, who despite living in France for over three decades has kept her very pronounced accent. I think she does it on purpose.) I cannot count how many free drinks I have received simply because of my "accent délicieux." As much as I wish I could eliminate my accent when I speak French, French men beg me to "keep it forever," as their gorgeous French girlfriends scowl next to them.
Just remember not to get cocky, because if a French girl comes to your side of the pond, not only will she be better dressed, but she will also speak her seductive brand of English which sounds "like zeees."
B. They may have fantastically trim bodies, but you can enjoy the fact that you can consume more than cigarettes for dinner! That means you can actually enjoy the delightful cuisine France has to offer. Living in the Toulouse region, that means Cassoulet, Foie gras, Gaillac wine, Roquefort and Tomme cheeses, sausages and more. Ever wonder why so many of them look perpetually pissed off? They're jealous of you and your gastronomic freedom!
You know, writing this almost makes me feel better for my fashion and fitness, shortcomings. I felt inspired to re-attempt the famous top-knot, which, it seems, is yet another "top-flop."
Beautiful French women. If you can't beat them, join them. If you can't join them, blog about them...