I can already tell I’m going to get into trouble with this post, but I’ve never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers (especially of the French variety), so here goes. As a female ex-pat, living in Paris is no guarantee that you’ll automatically become a local. If you’re not a Parisienne and you want to be, these are the rules.*
1. Cultivate austere beauty. Today’s Parisienne has natural beauty down to an art: very little make-up and a fresh-faced complexion. Hair should be un-“done” (bonus points for bangs and / or a careless ballerina-inspired bun) and brown. With a few rare exceptions, blond hair is a red flag that screams foreign and/or fake. Beware! You want your look to seem unstudied—even though we know it’s not. For inspiration, look no further than Jane Birkin and Jane Birkin 2.0 (her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg).
2. Don’t smile much. You might be surprised to learn that smiles are, in fact, a limited resource in Paris. They’re not to be wasted on the undeserving, and they play no part in most daily interactions. When deployed, a well-timed smile is a Parisienne’s deadliest weapon, but your default expression should always be set somewhere between deadpan and “subtle scowl.”
3. Nail the “I don’t think so, but I guess if you do…” look. When someone says something you find wrong / distasteful, don’t openly object. Passive judgment is much more effective. Just raise your eyebrows, and look down / sideways to see if anyone else is noticing how absurd the statement was. Note: This is also a good way to establish solidarity with other true Parisiennes in the group, who will undoubtedly be giving the same look.
4. Be thin. But not just thin, a particular kind of thin that I like to call “healthy frail.” Other than a few moments spent standing on a mysterious vibrating plate from time to time, Parisiennes don’t really exercise. As a result, they don’t really have muscles, so they’re diminutive but vibrant, waifish but not gaunt. Damn them.
5. Indulge in moderation. Of course, you occasionally have to eat something very small and decadent—a sliver of foie gras, a single macaron—so that you can then talk about how good it is while you subsist on Diet Coke (Coca Light).
6. Look sober, even when you’re not. Unflagging composure is the mark of the Parisienne. Drinking is fine; showing how much you’ve been drinking via sloppy behavior is not. It’s unbecoming; plus, it can lead to gratuitous smiling (see Rule #2). In Paris, visible drunkenness is best left to foreign study-abroad students.
7. Smoke. Instead of eating or drinking, just smoke a lot. It’s sexy, it burns calories, and it’s socially acceptable at any hour of the day or night. (Alternate option: be a non-smoker and act slightly self-righteous about it).
8. Don’t stay single. It’s not done. Singleness is suspect, and being en couple is much more fashionable (see: The Kooples, a hot new Parisian brand dedicated to couples who wear each other’s clothes. High-concept!). Get a boyfriend, date him, and then eventually, marry him. Then, get a lover—it’s the best way to ensure a happy marriage.
9. Adore New York. Even though you’re a Parisienne through and through, talk about how much you love the “energie” of New York, and vow to live there someday.
10. Know where to shop. We all know Parisiennes have an innate sense of chic that can’t be learned, but knowing where to shop can give you a leg up. For the younger set, it’s all about the magical triumvirate—Sandro, Iro, Maje—mixed with pieces from A.P.C. and “It”-designers Isabel Marant and Vanessa Bruno. If you can swing it, take a trip down Avenue Montaigne for some big-ticket items from Chanel, Chloe and Barbara Bui. Your shopping motto should be je ne regrette rien (“I regret nothing”); after all, these are not purchases— they’re investments—and they are your inalienable right. Round out your wardrobe with non-investments from Zara and H&M. Bonus points for vintage items culled from your elegant grandmother’s closet. And if you’re not lucky enough to inherit good taste, fake it by scoring vintage pieces at various depots ventes (consignment stores) around the city.
*Note: These are sweeping generalizations best taken with a large grain of salt (or better yet, fleur de sel).
While living in Paris, I must admit: I didn’t follow a lot of my own advice. As a makeshift Parisienne, you must pick your battles. #10 was no problem, #6 I could manage (usually), #7 didn’t work out, #2 forget it. In retrospect, #2 is a complete Catch-22. How can you live in Paris without smiling? Through my foreign lens, nearly everything is laugh-inducing; I am constantly giving myself away.
- HipParis contributor Badaude’s musings on the Artsy French Woman
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A few words about our featured photographers: Janelle Mentesana was born and raised in Australia. She lives and works in Paris as an illustrator, and she enjoys taking pictures of people outside her window with baguettes in their hands. Lisa Weatherbee is a New York based photographer and designer, currently eating and shooting her way through Paris. Dave Bloom is a tepid consultant and aspiring expatriate; born in the Midwest and working his way east via D.C., he is hoping to join Paris for grad school shortly.