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Jeans and Sneakers: Fashion Don’ts in Paris?

Are sneakers a barely acceptable ‘dress-down’ accessory in Paris, or a fashion statement which US tourists can use to their advantage? The Senior Editor of web magazine Paris Eiffel Tower News, Phil Chavanne, discusses the topic from all angles. Being the Senior Editor of Paris-Eiffel-Tower-News.com, visitors’ e-mails have a magical tendency to find their way to my desk. The good side of it is I am allowed to pause vainly as an expert on all that is Paris, and impart my thin knowledge of the French capital to studious travelers. Amongst the many questions offered, one keeps coming back: “Is it considered bad taste to wear sneakers in Paris?” Ah-ha! That’s an issue P. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster would have been delighted to jump on. Following in the footsteps of this worthy role model, I shall bring an answer to this existential torment once and for all with thundering authority. Paris, French fashion, sneakers Paris-bound tourists are often of the opinion that French women are die-hard fashion victims. This claim is definitely exaggerated, though access to stylish clothing is heavily facilitated in Paris where women magazines such as ‘Elle’ and ‘Figaro Madame’ dictate what’s fashionable and what’s not. In my humble opinion, perennial tastes look very much alike in Paris and New York City.

Globalization tends to homogenize fashion, making work-a-day wear similar in large cities. No matter, the sneaker concern remains valid. Sneakers are now such a commodity in the US, how is it in Paris? The generally accepted business dress code in France usually bars sneakers from entering the corporate environment, except for low-level positions. Thus the Parisian woman wears good-looking city shoes to go to work, unless the business which employs her cultivates a sporty image in which sneakers find a natural home. Yet sneakers have become design icons in their own right. Adidas, Puma and Nike each have their own Parisian stores, and crank out more models a convincing fashion-victim could easily shake credit cards at. Adidas recently teamed with iconic fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto to create Y-3, a new line of dress-up sneakers. Stella McCartney also has her own Adidas line. What major difference in shoe-attitude could we identify between American and French she-consumers? The latter will wear sneakers as design items, not as workaday shoes. Sneakers won’t be bought for comfort, but will find an easy way into a tight purse when they compliment dress-down pants and make their owner look good.

The She-Parisian loves sneakers which make her feet look thin, small, and classy. A mere glance at the types of sneakers most commonly seen on women’s feet in Paris is telling: you won’t see any wide, cushy, comfy-looking, plain vanilla sneakers. You will see small, thin-looking, flat-sole, designer sneakers. For the same reasons, a pair of Stephane Kelian or Robert Clergerie shoes will almost always be favored over a pair of good-looking Pumas. Shoes are a fashion statement, and the more understated it is, the better. That’s another major difference between French and American women. Understatement is a cardinal rule in French fashion. Anything that is too visible is considered garish. This is why the little black dress is such a fashion icon, and why Audrey Hepburn will always be remembered as The Quintessential Fashionable American Woman. Tourism in sneakers All this does not mean you can’t wear sneakers when you travel to Paris! For one thing, sneakers are usually comfortable walking shoes.

As the very best way to discover Paris is to stroll along its streets, wearing shoes in which you feel comfortable covering five miles a day at a leisurely pace is an important decision. It will influence your general mood during your stay in the French capital. Do not back off from wearing sneakers if these are your best walking shoes. My second point refers to the ‘look issue’. Will I look good in the streets, or will I be the laughingstock of all these snooty, dressed-up, fashion-conscious Parisian women? Frankly, you should not ask yourself this question. Because who cares about your looks in the street? Never be self-conscious, just be comfortable in your shoes. You are a tourist, this is your very own time in Paris! Jeans and sneakers are international. People will not be offended by your attire. Unless you dress in 80’s disco garb with polka-dot sneakers, nobody around you will mind your looks. And if they ever notice your jeans, LL Bean trekking shoes, and Patagonia jacket, well, push come to shove, they might think you’re American.

And so what? In all likelihood they will appreciate your visiting Paris. Dining out in sneakers Does it mean you can wear sneakers everywhere, on any and every occasion? Not so. For instance, can you have dinner in a restaurant shoed with your brand-new white sneakers? For the sake of it, let’s imagine you are strolling along in your Levi’s jeans and Lands End boots. It’s now dinner time, you are hungry, and scanning the landscape looking for a promising restaurant. There is it! The menu displayed outside is appetizing, prices are within your comfort zone, the place is not so crowded. Ah, but guests are dressed smartly. Will they let you in? Will you fit in? I have yet to see a door sign indicating ‘No Sneakers Allowed’ in Paris. Some high-brow places may expertly leave you at bay: “Do you have a reservation? Sorry, we are full tonight”. But beside those rare snobbish places, no restaurant will refuse to seat you because you wear casual sneakers.


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