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Back to Paris in Black

Oldtime photo of rue de Bretagne in the Marais in Paris

I started packing over the weekend for our upcoming trip to India and realized with one look at my Parisian wardrobe — black, black, black and black (with an occasional red) — that I was going to look like a Westerner with bad taste. Help!

When we moved here from Los Angeles in the early 90’s, the suitcases were filled with what was California style — crisp white tailored shirts, blue jeans, white Keds, cotton sweaters, a leather jacket and a whole closet-full of party clothing that sparkled and glittered. It should have all been left in California, as it still sits gathering dust in a closet never opened. The cotton shirts that needed ironing were replaced by knit turtlenecks in basic colors, the jeans replaced with black slacks, the Keds replaced by black boots, the cotton sweaters replaced by wool, the leather jacket acquired a lining and wool coats were added. That closet-full of party clothing was never replaced nor disturbed…there are simply too few occasions to need something so splashy.

Now, in black, black, black and black (with an occasional red), I don’t look like a tourist having just “stepped off the boat.” Tourists are so easy to spot. Many American tourists are wearing their most comfortable walking shoes (white athletic variety), shorts in the summer (almost never worn by Parisians, even on the hottest days) and sometimes, couples can be seen in matching rain ponchos (sweet gesture, isn’t it?). It’s not quite as acute as it used to be, now that Parisians themselves are dressing more casually than in years past, at a time when women over 30 wouldn’t dare be seen in jeans.

Still, style is way ahead of comfort for French women, who are still traipsing all over town on the cobblestoned streets in their sexy high-heeled shoes and boots, short skirts and fishnet stockings to show off their legs in the dead of winter. When I asked one French friend how she can stand being out on a snowy day with nothing more than little pumps, and lacy stockings under a mini-skirt, she replied, “I’d rather by chic.” (at the time I was wearing tights under my jeans, a turtleneck under my sweater and fur-lined boots.)

Now, when I travel to Florida wearing black, black, black and black (with an occasional red), they ask me if I’m from New York! Guess New Yorkers have a similar style to Parisians, although the women in New York are wearing their athletic shoes and carrying their sexy high-heeled pumps in their bags for when they arrive at work. That’s New York style at its best — comfort first, style second.

So, here lies the dilemma about what to bring to India to attend two traditional weddings and not to look like a Western fool. I rented the Bollywood movie, “Monsoon Wedding,” to get an idea about Indian style and was amazed by the lush and colorful fabrics, elaborate saris, abundance of jewelry (gold, not silver), and the obvious lack of black and white (the color of death). That was a big help!

First, I opened that closet that has virtually sealed itself from years of neglect to rediscover some of the splashier, more glittery and colorful things. Then, a friend came by with a big bag of silk saris and slacks (like pajamas, loose and ankle-high) she hadn’t worn in years, happy they might get some use. I went deep into the jewelry box and unearthed gold earrings, pearl necklaces, amethyst bracelets that hadn’t touched my skin in years (too ostentatious for riding on the Métro!), leaving the silver for another day.

The suitcase is filling up and I’m feeling more relaxed about fitting in, at least a tad more. Then, we are sure to amass our own big bag of colorful silk saris (that can be purchased there at a bargain price)…and after, they’ll end up in that

same closet for many years to come. Do you remember the last time you visited Florida and came home with all those palm-tree-printed short-sleeved shirts that you never put on your body again for fear your Chicago buddies would think you had gone nuts?

We’ll be traveling in India till March 1 (from where I hope to bring you news whenever I can find Internet access) and then it will be back to Paris and back to black, black, black and black (with an occasional red).

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

Click here to comment on our new Reader Forum…

P.S. Carol Pucci, Seattle Times travel writer, has been visiting Paris last week and this week and is regularly writing her “Postcards from Paris.” We spent a fun-filled afternoon together wining and dining at one of my favorite good-value restaurants (Chez Omar) and experiencing some of the Expat world. Read all about it at the Seattle Times online.

P.P.S. Hope to see you tomorrow at the Parler Paris Après Midi coffee gathering at La Pierre du Marais 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more details.

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