Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fashion and Anti-Fashion

Despite my occasional frustrations with the fashion industry, I remain fascinated by clothing both in a historical costuming context and in the everyday wear context. Try as I might, I can't always wear garb to class (blast!), so I have learned to appreciate modern clothes much more than I had previously liked wearing 21st century attire.

One of the aspects I anticipated for this year abroad was the chance to study, nay, scrutinize many a French woman's wardrobe. Aren't we all told that French women have few items of clothing, but all of very high quality, and that they always look chic and put-together? This mythical woman owns one white button blouse, one chic trouser (in the singular, as Stacy London would demand), one LBD, one pair of black pumps, a very good brand of mascara, and a Chanel bag.

Well. Perhaps those women live in Paris, and I was too busy taking pictures of flowers to notice their completely fabulous yet simple style. However, now that my time as a tourist is largely at a close whilst I settle into Tours, I have begun to examine the fashions and trends alive in Tours. I have come to several conclusions, some of which I have found rather surprising.

First, the classy women do exist, and they pull off chic (not trendy) and classy looks -- mostly it seems to be the businesswomen. They'll wear the pointy heels (especially impressive in a city where most people walk or bike) and hose with a well-fitted skirt and that iconic white blouse, all with a tailored trench coat (it's already cold here). Their hair looks tidy, their makeup is immaculate, and they don't look like they woke up half an hour before they had to leave.

As if to counter-attack this picture of elegance, we have another style that currently flourishes in Tours. This style isn't new in the world; in the 90s, it was big in the States. It was called grunge, and it was terrifying for anyone who enjoyed the occasional shower and shampoo. Now, it lives on in its natural habitat in Tours. It's difficult to delineate whether perpetrators of this style are in fact French (whether they are from Tours or elsewhere in France) or foreign students. However, many of foreign students that I have observed (at l'Institut de Touraine and elsewhere) tend to lean toward the classier end of the clothing spectrum. So, I am forced to include that it is mainly French university students wearing grunge.

What does grunge involve? you may ask. Well, it typically involves several of the following elements:
1) A melange of rather grubby clothing items, some of which are more hippie (tunics, harem pants, wrap skirts) and some of which are just old (ancient sweatshirts)
2) Dreadlocks. I have seen more dreadlocked hair here in Tours than I have seen in my entire life to this point.
3) If no dreadlocks are involved, then hair is highly unkempt and may be kept partially obscured by a scarf
4) Piercings in the facial region in addition to ear piercing, a.k.a. eyebrow, nose, lip, and so forth
5) A general air of casual disaffection and lack of grooming

All this may sound judgmental. I am fully aware that is is a perlious post; I can hear the arguments now: "Well, isn't that how you dress?" Dear readers, I do laundry. I take the occasional shower and/or bath. I don't wear sweatshirts from 1983. While I am a propronent of layering and the headscarf, I don't wear grubby clothes.

This post is also serving as an intro to a hoped-for stealthy photo series in which I will document these travesties. It's rather disappointing, perhaps, to read a fashion post without pictures. I do apologize. Snapshots are forthcoming to illustrate the reasons for my particular frustration.


Mel said...

Haha that was cute, Caroline! I approve. And ew grunge.

Moriah said...

darling, you rock my world.
I'm glad you do laundry and bathe.

Tina said...

Oh, Caroline! I've been awaiting some fashion savvy posts from you. I know you were raised as a clean person - a well-layered, clean person. Please share photos of your recent wardrobe additions. Mostly I want to see 'the perfect winter coat' - even it if it isn't white! I'm anticipating some fabulous photos real soon. Love, Mom

Cameron said...

I LOVE Mom's post. Absolutely hilar: "well-layered", indeed. What a great look at the French fashion you've encountered. Please continue to share more -- and include photos. Of people? What? Love you lots and lots!!

Oh, and I echo this Mel... "Ew grunge."