I haven't succeeded in passing for French myself, since shopkeepers tend to greet me in English before I open my mouth, but here's what I've observed about the average — and that means very chic and put-together — French femme:
1. Dramatic scarf. Why they don't teach us this skill in high school, I'll never know. I do know that the Frenchwoman's methods aren't intricate, although there's a simple perfection that's next-to-impossible for the average American to achieve. Scarves tend to be big, statement pieces. I especially like the ones that trail behind the woman, flying in her wake, as she's clattering along the sidewalk. Men know how to wear big scarves here, too.
2. Exquisite wool coat. I rarely spot such lovely, tailored coats, such as I've seen on countless Parisiennes, in the US. They tend to fall above the knee, fit to perfection, and have unique, vintage-style details. A spectacular coat is a worthwhile investment since it can cover a multitude of sins and can be worn daily for months. It's too bad they are endangered species around Boston.
3. Black tights. There are some patterned versions on the streets of St. Germain, which strike me as strange, but the classic, heavy opaque is also ubiquitous — most often worn with short skirts or tunics and low-heeled, simple boots. I'm sorry to report that, as in America, some women here mistake tights for pants. I suspect they are tourists, since they usually aren't wearing scarves.
4. Big leather bag. I haven't noticed a lot of heavily chained and clanking status bags, just discreet, roomy leather shoulder bags, often in beautiful colors, like wine or green.
5. Ponytails. French women seem not to fuss over their hair, except to keep it shiny, healthy, and a great color. Beyond that, they seem to prefer it to look a little messy: why look like you have nothing better to do than fuss over your hair?. I'm seeing lots of fluffy, messy buns and basic ponytails. Parisiennes are turning out to be as sensible as Bostonians!
6. Skinny jeans tucked into tall boots. This trend is still going strong, and it's very practical in the pouring rain.
Today, as I waited in line outside the Musée d'Orsay, I watched about 30 teenaged French schoolgirls troop to the group entrance, wearing a uniform of sorts: heavy black tights and leggings, cute little coats, flat boots (if they are ankle boots, they are worn with laces untied), and shiny hair. They reminded me of those Beauxbatons girls from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Inside the museum, I found myself near a group of English girls about the same age. They all wore too much eyeliner and two were struggling to stay upright in those absurd, high-platformed stiletto boots that are all over the magazines (these were the only examples I've noticed in Paris, and they are hard to miss). One of their schoolmates was wearing loud, pink-flowered leggings and a baggy, black-striped top, the worst mismatched pajama look imaginable. At least she wasn't the one who loudly called to the others, "Can't we just go to shop for postcards and get out of here?"