Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Busted... and What the French Know

I keep seeing variations on this sorry sight: a pretty summer dress or blouse that is cut low or slit open in the back to reveal an expanse of skin — bisected by a bra, and usually a rather dingy, basic one.

Like this one, spotted tonight in Tasty Burger:

I've been having an ongoing conversation with my husband where I keep trying to convince him that women with style never deliberately display their bra straps. Sometimes it does happen, with, say, a sleeveless top that moves around a bit as we walk, so the straps will show from the back, a little. But no self-respecting woman ever goes out wearing, for example, a top with spaghetti straps and a bra. It was a Madonna thing in the '80s. It's over. If you see it now, it's just sloppiness. 

Unfortunately we see quite a few women walking around that way. And they never look good. Of course, they'd probably look even worse if they wore those tank tops without a bra, but let's not go there. Some items, like tank tops with thin straps, are best worn as layers under other clothing. They are lingerie, in other words.

But how can we explain what's going on in the photo above? Either she doesn't have a mirror at home, or she forgot to check herself from the back before she went out, or she was counting on her hair to cover her bra (her hair is long enough to do that, but she twisted it up before this photo), or she was planning to spend the evening wearing that jacket slung over in chair. Whatever her idea was, it failed.

 * * * *

I have finally learned the reason why Parisians insist on being well dressed at all times, even if they are just running up the street for a baguette or taking out the trash. They believe that dressing elegantly contributes to the collective beauty of their city. I gather that they all see themselves as actors on a gorgeous stage, each making an important contribution to a perfect scene — and as a result, that's what they are. So throwing on a pair of sweatpants and an old tee lets your countrymen down and ruins the effect that everybody else is working hard to achieve. 

Can you imagine Americans having such a sense of aesthetic solidarity? I can't. We don't think this way at all. We are strictly interested in our own comfort, it seems, and we would often rather dress badly or else so casually or unremarkably that we blend into the scenery, rather than stand out as looking chic. I think we have taken this Independence thing a little too far. We may be free to wear those cargo shorts below our knees with socks, hideous sneakers, and a fluorescent, printed tee, because we answer only to ourselves... but that doesn't mean we should.

Sometimes it seems to me that a really well-dressed person in Boston stands out like a sore thumb or, more picturesquely, a rose in a field of crabgrass. Actually they are not all that rare. I keep seeing women wearing sleeveless, knee-length, simple black summer dresses, with flats or sandals and a simple bag, and it's a winning recipe for elegant simplicity. I saw my first one in a bagel shop in Augusta, Maine, last month (a straight linen chemise, a black-and-white leather shoulder bag, and black flats with tiny wedges, hair tucked casually behind her ears) and I still remember every detail. I think she was the first woman in a chic LBD I've ever seen in Maine. I hope she's not the last.

I will probably go back to Paris someday, and the first thing I'll spot on the Boulevard St. Germain will be some devastatingly chic young woman showing off her bra straps. But there will be a difference: it will be executed perfectly. The bra will be from Cadolle, costing at least 800 Euros. It will not be dingy, and its straps will be the finest silk. The French can pull off anything — because they practice every single day.

1 comment:

  1. Agree that I can't imagine Americans having that collective aesthetic... it is almost like people are surprised when they see a well-dressed person in a grocery store, as I learned on Tuesday when I had to drop by a downtown store on my way to work. I wasn't dressed in anything special - knee length pencil skirt and sleeveless dress top - and you would have thought I was wearing a ball gown for all of the attention I attracted from the staff and customers alike.

    I must relate a fashion story from when I was in Paris in 2010. Apparently at that time the big trend was wearing shorts with opaque tights (often ripped). My friend and I were just shocked that the Parisians actually wore that look out and about - and in droves! Not the chic, elegant looks we were expecting. We took pictures of many of them because we were just so shocked and didn't think anyone would believe us!


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