When I was reluctantly packing my bags for Paris, I was worried my suitcase of vintage dresses would not cut it. Having obsessed over Paris’ notoriously chic female species since I picked up my first fashion glossy, how would my frumpy Midwestern duds ever stand up to the Capital of haute couture? My anti-fashion upbringing has left me with an inherent interest in clothing. Growing up on peanuts, I was begrudgingly outfitted in my older brother’s hand-me-down superhero t-shirts. Or better yet, my mother dragged us along to the thrift store long before it made its comeback. But as I thumbed through the rows of color-coordinated sartorial rejects, all I really wanted was to dress in Limited Too and Gap Kids like everyone else at school. And have blond hair and finally learn how to do a cartwheel. But as I grew up, I started studying fashion magazines. A quarter vintage, a quarter suburban fashion mall, and a half my own scary sewing projects, I curated a very colorful look of my own. Long before I picked up a paintbrush, fashion was my daily dose of self-expression.

When I got off the plane at Charles de Gaulle, I was boldly armed in my favorite ruffled, red Chiquita banana dress. And I quickly learned what I had become: a big, fat foreigner. I crossed some impeccably chic French women on the street with their ritualistic blowouts, invisible makeup, and enviable silhouettes. Meeting up with my other expat pals, feeling fat and frumpy, we all conspired about the secrets of these impossible creatures. But I quickly learned that much like most cafes in Paris, French fashion was frankly underwhelming. Yes, there were the exceptions. There was the rare spotting of a fashion editor. And I distinctly remember a woman in all black on a scooter with a shockingly pink pair of heels. But in general, French women stick to a calculated uniform. Women of all ages follow the same formula: the smart, straight-legged jeans, silk blouses, cashmere v-necks, short boots, and a lot of monochrome. And it starts from an early age. At the sortie d’école, kids are dressed in the same silhouettes as their parents. Girls sport ballet flats, skinny jeans, and cashmere sweaters just like their mothers.

So where did this leave me? Adapting to a new country certainly had its compromises. My ‘Midwest does Carmen Miranda’ wardrobe got scary tongue-wagging attention from strangers. So I muted my color palette. I sadly replaced my polyester ruffles with knits. Unlike America, where a little eye contact could get a friendly ‘howdy-do’ from a passing stranger, that quickly backfired. Every guy I made eye contact with all of a sudden had something extremely important to tell me. I thought not speaking French would be a free pass out of these situations, but they all went down a laundry list of languages they spoke until finding the right one. Nevertheless, I learned to sink my head low and keep my smile to myself. I was becoming more French already. But by adhering to French fashion in an attempt to distract attention, I was losing touch with both my self-righteous culture and my own style.

Expats typically fall into two distinct categories. There are those who fully integrate, those who attempt to squeeze into Petit Bateau. And there are those who remain exactly the same, fearlessly going to the boulangerie in flip-flops. Although I have adopted an appreciation for the taste, appropriateness, and quality of French fashion, I am finally regaining my own personal style. Yes, I have an accent, but my outfit is usually a precursor to who I am. Although I now can admit that I am a product of my individualistic culture, I would not have it any other way.

Written by Jessie Kanelos for the HiP Paris Blog. All illustrations by Jessie Kanelos. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.


Jessie Kanelos Weiner

Jessie Kanelos Weiner is a bilingual artist, illustrator and author based in Paris. She illustrates for a many prestigious clients. Her signature watercolor style is commissioned from luxury houses (Cartier, Free People, Atelier Cologne), food brands (Nespresso, Great Jones, Elle à Table) and editorials (Vogue, New Yorker, T MAG). She is currently painting large-scale watercolors and creating her next book about watercolor with Artisan. Jessie is also an ambitious home cook and also appears occasionally as a standup comedian. She is represented by Lipstick London.


  1. What others may dislike about how Parisians (or the French in general) dress, I actually love.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love bright colours and bold prints. But what I appreciate most when in Paris is the restraint with which people dress. Yes, it may appear a bit lackluster at first but there’s always one element that shines: Sash, lovely shoes, well-proportioned jacket or a neck scarf adds just the right amount of panache.

  2. Jessie, I am so glad that I finally remembered to come back and thank you for this wonderful post and your lovely drawings.

    I don’t think that this could have hit closer to home. I had the exact same experience when I moved to Paris in 2001. I had lived in NYC for 14 years before that and if there was ONE thing I was confident about, it was how I dressed. Like yourself, I had the vinatge, high-low, not trying too hard but only when it is on purpose thing DOWN. And yet, the very first morning, I sprung out the front door to run to the boulangerie sporting my favorite vintage leopard print coat and big boots…I could have been naked for all of the freaked vaguely frightened looks I received. It honestly took me a few days to get what was going on…and I am sorry to admit it but I toned it all down pretty quickly.

    So glad to hear that you have found your way! Am signing up for your blog where I promise not to leave such long responses but I really felt that you wrote this one for me! 🙂

    With all my best from Arles (oh yes, girl lives in Provence now),

  3. Margarita, embrace the flash! That’s the morale of the story. No sequin is too good for the daytime.

    France Geek, nicely put. i am a huge fan of the grungy Montreuil flea market. I have found quite a few diamonds in the rough which the French filles go wild over. But I never reveal their prices of 50 centimes pricetags.

    Annie, I suppose it goes both ways. But when i go back to the States it always surprises me how out of place I feel in my own country. Does this make me more French?

    Tiffany, Have yet to find a better striped shirt than at Petit Bateau. Cliche, but classic.

    Sweet Freak, more to come!

  4. “…those who attempt to squeeze into Petit Bateau. And there are those who remain exactly the same, fearlessly going to the boulangerie in flip-flops.” Love it! Give us more, Jessie!

  5. do you think it is any easier to be a french woman living in the States?…… like you I always feel out of synch!!!!!

  6. Nice point about the uniformity of the French dress code. I agree though I still find it interesting to watch what the Parisians wear.

    One of my favorite memories is walking around chic parts of Paris in a thrift store halter top I’d bought in California for 25 cents. I felt like a million bucks with my small investment and the Parisians quite liked my top.

    I dont fit into either of your categories. Some of us blend both types and add a bit of originality. I think that’s the funnest solution. (And oh I wish France was as in to resale clothing stores like us Californians! Have fantasized about opening up a Crossroads in Paris.)

  7. I love these illustrations. I have harboured a love for all things Parisian and expected it to be like a walking Vogue magazine, but really, women are more understated and chic there. I have a bit more flash than that 😉

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