Thursday, July 30, 2009

Help! I'm moving to France and I don't want to look gross!

Dear Daddy Likey,

I'm in a bit of a time crunch. You see, I'm going to France as an exchange student, for a year. I was originally going to leave in December, but circumstances have changed and I now have the opportunity to go... in a month. Besides all the paperwork (AHHHH!!!!) I have to do to apply for a visa, I was planning on updating my wardrobe for the trip. Since French people are all French... and awesome and fashionista-y, I feel like I will be completely uncomfortable and gross in my normal boxy t-shirt and jeans ensemble. I'm a rising Junior, and I'll be living in Southern France (you have permission to swoon.), and I am short on funds (it's a rather expensive trip). I would appreciate any tips, suggestions, or advice you have for me about what to wear, what to pack, and all that other fun stuff.

Merci beaucoup,
Foreign Exchange Faux Pas

Dear Foreign,

First things first: SWOOOOOOOONNNNN!!

Ahem, now that that's out of the way, here's my number 1 top advice: Traveling, even to idyllic, fashionable France, is not a good reason to drastically alter your style. Whenever I'm packing for a trip, I dig around in the back of my closet for my coolest, wildest clothes that I never wear in my normal life, convinced that "Traveling Winona" is cool enough to wear them. Upon arriving at my destination, I am horrified to realize that "Traveling Winona," doesn't actually exist, and "Regular Winona" is now stuck in an unfamiliar locale with a suitcase full of leopard print maxi dresses and 7-inch heels.

Traveling to idyllic, fashionable France is, however, a good reason to slightly alter your style, especially if you've been feeling insecure about your jeans and t-shirts. My advice: Mix up your wardrobe enough that you feel stylish and comfortable in this new place, but not so much that you feel like you accidentally grabbed the wrong suitcase from baggage claim.

Here, take a look at this photo:

image via Garance Dore

What are the first words that come to mind when you see this girl? Chic? Stylish? European? Fabulous hair? WHY THE HELL CAN'T I LOOK LIKE THAT WHEN I RIDE A BIKE??

Sorry. Still need to work on my cute-girl-on-a-bike jealousy issues.

The point is, this girl is basically just wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Sure, she has supermodel good looks going for her, but anyone could throw on an outfit similar to this and look comfortable and put together.

Here are a few tips to easily (and cheaply) tweak your t-shirt and jeans uniform to up your style quotient:

Choose the right t-shirt
There's a big difference between a boxy white t-shirt emblazoned with the date and location of your last family reunion, and a great-fitting t-shirt in a super flattering color. GAP has a bunch of colorful tees with pretty details on sale right now for, like, $2 each. Load up on a few of those in your favorite colors, and pair them with some cuffed jeans and big sunglasses.

Don't underestimate the power of cute shoes
If you've never been into wearing high heels, you might not want to start practicing amidst this month of frantic packing and bribing the state department to overnight your visa. Instead, try some chic ballet flats, some lower height heels, or more manageable wedges. Aim for the comfortable, stylish footwear middle ground between sneakers and platform stilettos.

Zinc "Eunice," $27.90,

Add a scarf
I wrote about this concept more in depth here, but seriously--want to know the only difference between a frumpy tourist and a chic Parisian? A scarf.

To summarize: You don't have to abandon your old style, just reinterpret it according to your new surroundings. And eat a lot of croissants. And read this, if you want to feel a little less intimidated.

Any lovely readers have other suggestions for our harried exchange student-to-be?


Kathleen said...

Great advice, girl! I wish I could go with her! :)

Nancy said...

I went to France on exchange last year and though I expected to see immaculately dressed Garance Dore types on bicycles... Everyone actually dresses pretty normally. So don't worry!

Apocalypstick said...

Jeans and tees are fine. Maybe invest in a little black cardigan to go with? Sundresses are also good. I do know that in France flipflops as streetwear are looked upon with disgust. Use them only at the pool or beach. But Chuck Taylor lowtops are everywhere, especially in black or gray.

serpentine said...

I work for a French company and frequently go to Paris, Grenoble and Nice. Don't worry about it. The whole 'French people are so stylish' thing is a myth. Some of the tart-wear I've seen at the office doesn't bear thinking about. It's Italy you want to worry about...

jillian said...

I just returned from a semester in Southeastern France (and it was AMAZING. i'm so jealous of you, the writer of the letter). Anyways, I took a couple pairs of nicer looking jeans (one dark wash and one black, both relatively skinny) and dressed up but plain (as in lacking in graphics) t-shirts and sweaters. I echo the wearing flats, and I started a legit scarf collection while I was there. You can easily get really fun scarves at local markets for 5€ (about $7), so don't worry about buying those here.

I also echo the cardigan advice. I bought one there at ProMode, an excellent clothes store that's really cheap with good quality clothes. I got dark grey and it went with everything.

Here are a couple pictures of me and what I typically wore. My host mom complimented me on looking European, so I figure I got something right: (i'm on the left, said cardigan, scarf, vneck, etc.)
(another favorite outfit, and a sheep trying to eat my scarf. don't let that happen to you. scolding usually is a good deterent)

sorry about the epicness of this comment. i'm very excited for you. bon voyage, et j'espère que t'apprendras beaucoup et tu t'amuses bien là!! knock 'em dead :)

Suzy said...

I think Winona's totally on with the simple look; when i went to paris i was expecting something a bit more extravagant before realizing that all the french girls were waay formulaic in their simple chicness. The only thing I'll add is that you should keep your makeup simple and clean because no confident french girl would ever hide behind layers of eyeshadow. or so i've gathered.

Have so, so, so much fun!! :)

Anonymous said...

I think you've pretty much nailed it, W. Might also suggest keeping the jewelry simple and classic: Hoops, some plain metal bangles, and a delicate chain necklace.

Maggie said...

I'd also suggest some wintery things: cashmere-lined leather gloves are both beautiful and warm, and I remember a lot of leather riding boots (tall, mostly flat or with a very small heel) in gorgeous browns and blacks regardless of the season.

WendyB said...

I'm never blown away by the native style in Paris. Especially not the shoes. Don't wear a fanny pack and you'll look fine.

Anonymous said...

You can never ever go wrong with a great coat in a classic cut either. Sure it's August but you'll be able to knock 'em dead by November.

Also, Im SO SO SO jealous. I spent a week in Paris a while back and I just wish I could go back.

Kitty said...

Lots of great advice here! I'm an American girl living in the UK, and I've spent a lot of time in France. First of all, don't worry. As a number of the others have said, it's not all that different. Second, take Winona's advice on the flats. cobblestones and heels DO NOT MIX. Everyone walks everywhere in European cities, and no one looks chic while wincing with pain. Third, DO invest in a drop-dead gorgeous coat and a couple nice pairs of low-heeled boots. It's cold here most of the year, and this will more than likely become your uniform so splurge here. Finally, you must wear a scarf. That, my friend, is the source of French Chic power.

Pret a Porter P said...

some advice ive picked up through various sources, the style is more charlotte gainsbourg then everyone walking around in haute couture and being carine roitfeld. the style is quite classic, "quiet luxury."
and a scarf is essential!

ricanprincess said...

Oh my god Wy: I just found an item named after me, Eunice...I remember your post on the bag named after you...I am so getting those flats and yes I am getting them based purely on the fact that they are named after me:)!!!

daddylikeyblog said...

I'm totally loving all these "French women really aren't all that chic" comments! Sing it loud, sing it proud!

Great advice, and never worry about posting epic comments, I love them!

Yeah, I can only imagine the thousands (millions?) of American girls who attempt to traverse Europe in their highest high heels to impress the locals, only to go home with a broken ankle and a bruised ego. It's a dangerous idea!

DO IT. And send me a picture!

Anonymous said...

I love pashminas. Adore them. Sometimes I even use pins to dress them up.

Anonymous said...

Definitely keep it simple, wear comfortable cute flats that are durable (i've ruined two pairs of shoes because of cobblestone!) Once there stock up on chic basics at H &M and Zara. Instead of shorts wear light spring skirts with beautiful tank tops. You can pick these up at farmer's market there! Definitely no flip flops, but some leather sandals would be a great essential too. Right now it is going to be hot, so plan accordingly!

Rosie Unknown said...

Don't spend all your budget, so if you find something once you get there, you can get it. Also, this will help because it sounds like your style is in a bit of a shifty time, so you may find that the region you are in has a style you love and want to incorparate.

Anonymous said...

Lucky you! My advice is to wait and buy scarves over there. It has been a few years since I was there (and it was winter) but one thing I recall was very few bright colors on people (my red raincoat stuck out like a beacon).

Have a grand time.

J said...

Definitely scarves. Also no exposing your midriff. NEVER saw that in Paris or Venice. However I saw a LOT of heels in Paris. Appropriately, tho, not with jeans and all.

lo. said...

Winona, I have stalked your blog off and on for what feels like forever and I never fail to l-o-l, for real.
You're such a great writer!
I love this post because I am also moving to France within the next month and have been contemplating what will be appropriate to wear...the language barrier will be enough to have me labeled an idiotic American but I don't want be deemed "stupid" based on my clothes alone! THANKS for the advice!
And, love your blog! :)

ambika said...

It really depends on your goals. Fitting in and not looking like a typical American? Lose the flip flops and sneakers and follow the advice laid out above. Relentless hoofing it around town? A pair of Converse might then be worth taking.

B. said...

this is great advice!

Ellen said...

All right.
I lurk on here a lot, and this is probably not the way I'm supposed to Stop Lurking, but can we get a follow up from this girl in like a month or two?
I just got back from three weeks in the south east of France, in the mountainy part, and everyone was still wearing cropped jackets and polka dots.
Love your blog!

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