Day 28: I’m so not French

2014-03-02 11.35.39Ads like this are my weakness. I tell myself I could pull it off, this two-piece print ensemble, even though I know I wouldn’t be able to shake the feeling that everyone will think I am wearing pajamas, especially if I don’t wear it with heels, which I probably wouldn’t.

Someone in my family would ask, “Are those pajamas?” or, “Are you really going to wear that?” and so maybe I could get the top, just to prove that they can’t boss me around, but of course the idea with an outfit like this is the total effect, pajama-like as it may be.

This is why doing the capsule wardrobe project last month was, for me, arbiter of bad calls in my own closet, a relief. I moved most of the clothes to the other side of the closet and enjoyed the luxury of space.

Dressing was faster and easier. I rediscovered a 20-year-old jacket and a skirt with deep, not just decorative, pockets. I acknowledged my capacity for questionable judgement and I restrained my urge to buy printed things.

I had forgotten about this, but I spent my last two years of college in a capsule wardrobe of about seven items. Very unisex. Things wore out. Hems frayed, seams came undone, coins were lost in the jacket lining until the pockets wore out entirely. All the while, other clothes languished, unloved, worn a few times while the same favorite items were in steady rotation.

There are many ways in which the Americans are not like the French. First of all, they don’t dress with irony, as with the two-piece ensemble above. But I think a big part of it has something to do with how they view clothes in an entirely more three-dimensional way, that it is a form of two-way communication rather than self-expression, my/our perusal of print media and liking of a certain color or trend or idea. I will stand in front of a mirror and contemplate something, and have thoughts about it, as I did in the communal changing room of an Agnès B. in Paris last summer. I asked the woman I was with what she thought—she gave the ensemble a once-over and commanded, “Marchez un peu!” No, she shook her head. The skirt is stiff.

Maybe I’ve been hanging out in the wrong communal changing rooms, but an American would tell you to turn around, not to walk. We think about our self-presentation in a more static sense. It was a revelation. It explains the way French clothes can have annoying little drawstrings and ribbons hanging off of them. These are not for you, the wearer, but for others. You are not just dressing to suit yourself.

2014-02-02 08.04.58So, I didn’t buy the long black skirt or the jacket at Agnès B. I would love to have a grey or a black trouser suit that I could dress up or down, but it eludes me. It is in my fantasy capsule wardrobe. Yet I didn’t find the month of 33 items a hardship. Thirty-three items means you know your mind and you are in control of your circumstances. Four pairs of shoes out of maybe 30 or 40, if all footwear actually counts, can see a person through a month.

Sometimes I buy something like a red skirt because I wonder what it would be like to wear it. I imagine it will create possibilities. I love my red skirt but it is a troublemaker in a closet of more neutral things. You look at your clothes and it’s shouting, Me? Are you gonna wear me today?

Why would I wanna wear you? I should wear you with a neon pink blouse.

I’m thinking of getting together another capsule for April. I liked having the small selection of things that went together. But they don’t have to go together like pajamas.


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