Ooh La La French fashion

OOH LA LA!

You would think that France isn’t really all that far away from the United Kingdom. You can get there on a ferry, on a plane and now by train straight from London. In your local Sainsburys you wouldn’t be surprised to see a baguette or a croissant, and you probably could ‘get by’ over the channel with the odd word or two of GCSE French.

However, I can confirm that in one sense France is actually very far away…. in fact light years away from Britain. That distance is all in fashion. As this is my second time of living in la belle France I was not quite so shocked as the first time I arrived by some of the more unusual trends. First let’s start with accessories. Any trendy lady in a French city needs a dog. Think Geri Halliwell with her pooch, or Paris Hilton with her tiny Chihuahua. You can take it anywhere and everywhere with you, without batting an eyelid.

Only yesterday the woman opposite me in the hairdressers was having her highlights done complete with a terrier on her knee; and no visit to a French market, fairground or even department store would be complete without getting your legs tangled up in the lead of a passing Labrador or cocker spaniel.

Also, if you have a small dog don’t forget the dog bag. Instead of spending your euros on Louis Vuitton or Balenciaga, the latest in French fashion is a patterned, quilted shoulder bag that you put your dog in to take it round the shops.

Next we come to scarves. Various lengths of material, in any pattern or colour, frequently with tassels are always to be seen around a French girl’s neck, and somehow they always manage to look chic. Anything goes; silk, wool or cotton in pinks, blues or just plain black.

When I have tried to appropriate this trend I invariably end up looking like a polar explorer, with material up to my eyebrows, or my scarf has long, trailing ends which get caught up in doors. As I try to untangle myself, the real mademoiselles swish past me with a mixed look of disdain and pity, their neckscarves blowing prettily in the breeze behind them… This is a look worth persevering with, though, as a pretty scarf can brighten up a plain shirt or even used instead of a belt to break up an average jeans and T-shirt outfit.

If you can’t get over to Bordeaux and raid the unbeatable Salsa scarf shop (you know you want to!) then I have always found Accessorize, Dorothy Perkins and H&M to be the best bet for bright, trendy scarves. For a bit of vintage glamour try raiding your Gran’s wardrobe or take a deep breath and go into a charity shop – they are an absolute treasure trove of cool, one-off accessories. Check out the bags and brooches too.

At first, French style struck me as being a little strange. However, a second glance was quite refreshing. Girls were covered up with no boobs or belly on show, and in the bars there’s barely a bare shoulder to be seen. The men are mostly co-ordinated too, carrying dinky little shoulder bags with style and layering along with the ladies – casual T-shirt under a soft, matching, v-neck sweater along with jeans that are just the right length and fit.

When I first arrived across the channel in Autumn 2002 I chuckled at the flat shoes, and the tailored cropped trousers worn with knee-high boots. Now, two years later, if you open up any British fashion magazine you will see the same thing. The French have been doing amazing, feminine, pretty sleepwear for years whilst all you could find in England was a long nightie with Winnie the Pooh on the front.

In the last year the British High Street has caught onto frilly shorts and vests too, and not a moment too soon in my opinion. On arriving in Bordeaux I goggled at the amount of girls wearing their skirts over their trousers, or their dresses over their jeans. Five weeks on and I’m about to purchase a funky, stripy sweater dress from French fashion leaders Kookai, to wear to work over the top of my black trousers. Give it 18 months in England and I bet we’re all doing the same thing.

Fashion French style is not always easy and is often plain bizarre – I don’t think Debenhams will appreciate your Dachshund coming along on your next visit. However, it is not nearly as prescriptive as British fashion, and leaves a lot more room for creativity and colour. Though I have told my friends to stop me, with physical force if necessary, if they see me going near the bright red flared trousers.

Katie McCullough

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