There were many things that I wouldn’t hesitate to do in my sweatpants back home- go for breakfast, a trip to the grocery store, grab a coffee with friends, a movie even. Why be constricted when you can be comfortable? (You can write that down by the way.) You never know when you’ll be called upon to perform some sort of acrobatic feat of genius or you know, need to sit cross legged on the floor somewhere- and I’m certain you can’t do either of those things in skinny jeans. You have to be ready for anything.
Fast forward to France- one of the most stylish cities in the world and one almost completely devoid of le sweatpant (no, not even for sleeping- get yourself some proper pajamas already). Mon dieu! At first I thought it would be good for me, and I suppose I’m slowly coming around to the idea of dressing for every task that may present itself throughout the day, but sometimes, it can be exhausting.
Going to the local boulangerie for a morning baguette et croissant requires no less than a pair of pants, shoes and respectable shirt- an epic undertaking when you consider that this is all before the more civilized hour of 9am. Messy bed hair (unless intentional, in that model-y way), is completely unacceptable so grab a hat and some sunglasses unless you’re ready for some serious stare downs. Grabbing a pizza a emporter? Better think twice about those shoes. You never know who you’ll encounter on your four block walk back.
The reason for this requirement of respectable dress is simple: any other way is just not pleasant to look at. It is nicer for the woman who hands you your viennoiserie each morning to gaze upon someone who looks put together and polished rather than a disheveled mess of baggy cotton. Appearance matters. And if yours negatively impacts the eyeballs of the French, you better go home and change, stat.
In our first apartment on the fourth floor of an old French building, the resident common area (housing the mail, trash and recycling bins) was located in the courtyard. No matter the time of day, appropriate attire had to be worn because human interaction was simply inevitable. I’m pretty sure even Mimi, the French cat who lived next door, would roll her feline eyes at me if I left the confines of my humble abode in anything less than chic. Who wants to be known as l’Americaine who can’t seem to dress herself properly to check the mail? Don’t you want to look your best for your letters? I can hear them thinking.
When we moved into a ground floor apartment (so many valuable life lessons have been learned already this year), this reasoning became even more relevant. I never knew when someone would pass by the door or window, both of which were easily visible from the courtyard, and pop in with a question or request. On a regular basis, and in broken French, I would need to apologetically explain that I was unable to assist.
One weekend I made the mistake of lounging in a navy Brooklyn sweatshirt, pink (pink!) sweatpants and Minnie Mouse socks (clearly I have no shame) when I was called to the door by an impeccably dressed French man. After explaining that I could not be of help, he asked, “You are a student?” Because that is the only explanation for my extreme fashion faux pas and even then. Nothing came after that- he was just making sure, and pleasantly so at that. Mortified, I shut the door and took off my socks (hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day).
It is tiresome sometimes, when you groggily roll out of bed only to realize you’re out of coffee and now need to begin the process of dressing up to go get said coffee a mere 50 steps from your door. But, it’s just Paris being Paris, and who can fault a city like this for wanting to look its best?
So, I apologize to all who have encountered my appearance in less than ideal conditions and I promise I’m working on it. And, if I simply must walk to the recycling bin in sweatpants, I promise that at least they will be black.