On Blending In

My closet consists of so many colors, you’d think there was a pot of gold on the floor somewhere.

Some time a while back, I started color-coordinating it, with red, pink and purple hues hanging together, followed by oranges and yellows into greens and blues and, finally, blacks. There was never so much of the latter. This may seem odd since I am a New Yorker, and there’s some unofficial clause somewhere that states New Yorkers only wear black. I guess I’m an exception to that rule. For the past 20-something years of my life, I’ve reveled in being the exception. Being the odd girl out when it comes to what I’m wearing. Being the non-“Basic” one who can “get away” with that weird sparkly shirt or those odd-shaped shoes. Being unique—in fashion, especially—allows me to declare who I am; who I’d still like to become: a Takes-Chances, Seizes-the-Day, Not-Afraid-to-Make-a-Statement or Speak-Her-Mind Kinda Gal. Someone who cherishes standing out from the crowd as opposed to getting lost within it. (See the Man Repeller and Anna della Russo, my mis-matched, outlandish, super chic oddball fashion heroes.)

Then I decided to relocate to Paris. Where women don’t get fat from eating baguettes and Brie, probably because they smoke way too many cigarettes and wear only black, which elongates legs and slims torsos.

And herein lies the problem. I do Brie and baguettes, but I don’t do black or cigarettes. As a result (or reaction, maybe), in preparing for my departure three weeks from today (!), I’ve found myself doing something I haven’t done since I was in middle school and wanted so desperately to wear Z-Cavaricci’s and Farlow’s like every Brooke, Kim and Kelly in my class: editing myself—my closet, mostly—so I will fit in in Paris. Or, rather, blend in and seem Parisian rather than the New Yorker Who’s in Paris for an Indefinite Time.

There’s been so much talk about “leaning in” as women over the past year, what about blending in? That insecure, totally lame excuse so many of us use when we’re too scared of being scrutinized or judged. (Like, say on Fashion Police, a Worst Dressed List or as a Glamour Don’t, aka my idea of a Nightmare on Elm Street, or, more appropriately 7th Avenue.) Yet, in the process of worrying so much about what other people think, we end up completely disregarding what we think and masking what’s really underneath whatever cloak we choose to cover ourselves with.

I wish I could say my sudden shift towards blacks and grays and muted tones comes from a more mature place. That I’ve begun to edit my outfits because I, myself, find my tastes changing. And sure, part of it is that. I admit to feeling a bit old for sequins and neon, and I appreciate the currently trendy mod-squad style and textures of black paired with white. But the truth is, I’m really just worried about sticking out like a sore thumb in a royal blue Rebecca Taylor bustier while walking along the banks of the Seine.

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An ensemble I “made up” for a dinner out with friends last year.

My inability to converse with anyone over the age of four in French and remember to kiss both cheeks upon greeting someone will be obvious enough that I’m not a local, the least I could do is look the part, n’est pas?

The question is, what is “the part” anyway? Who defines it and why should their word be bond?

Funnily enough, I write the “Wear In…” page for Hemispheres magazine each month and for it, I’m tasked with finding a stylish subject and asking them a few standard questions on their personal style and that of the city they live in. One of these Qs is:

What should a tourist wear—or not wear—in order to “blend in” with the locals?

While there are some overall rules that vary depending on the city—from “Don’t wear innerwear as outerwear” in Miami to “Less is more” in Stockholm—there’s usually one collective answer no matter the subject’s nationality: Don’t try too hard.

Case in point, don’t wear the beret in Paris if it doesn’t sit on your head perfectly like this.

Talk about au naturale. (She's French and her name is Amelie.)

Talk about au naturale. (She’s French.)

And maybe don’t wear head-to-toe black if doing so isn’t authentic to who you are or want to be.

After all, I wouldn’t tell someone to wear only black in New York, would I? No, because there are no real rules here—or anywhere for that matter. For lack of a less-cliché example, look at Carrie Bradshaw. She’s a bright, shiny, kooky thing who honks and twirls and shines as if she herself were Times Square in the City that Never Sleeps. She may have worn black and white on her first day in Paris at the end of the series, but she had a big ‘ole flower attached to her chest. If that ain’t a “Hey, look at me! I am who I am!” look, I don’t know what is. (Consider this foreshadowing to this year’s Halloween costume.)

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So I will not fall into the trap of being generalized and classified. Or, worse, generalizing or classifying myself. I may add a touch more modesty or refinery to the way I style my wardrobe in Paris, because perhaps it’s really not what one wears, but how one wears it that truly displays that certain Je ne sais quoi that’s so appealing to us all. But mostly, I will not to be afraid to let my true colors show…like a rainbow.

 

3 thoughts on “On Blending In

  1. I know exactly how you feel! I’m from southern California, where neon and flip flops are normal. While living in Italy I often felt like I was drowning in a sea of black…After recieving rude looks and comments on my colorful clothes, I gradually added some more muted pieces to my wardrobe, but didn’t change my style for anyone. I would never have gotten along with those people anyway.

  2. Pingback: You can take it with you | News Girl About Towns

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