When in Rome… or Paris? Exploring Fashion After 60 in Two Style Capitals
Unless you are a native Parisian or Roman, your idea of a great escape might just be a trip to… Paris or Rome! And if you don’t want to be pegged as a tourist, here are some tips about what to pack so that you can more fully experience the fantasy of living there.
For starters, know what makes the French and Italians tick. They have a similar view of life: they love food, family and fashion.
The Italians Have a Word for It
There is something the Italians call sprezzatura: artful nonchalance. That pretty much describes the essence of the fashion style in both places.
They see what they wear as an artful expression of who they are, fundamentally. It belies the actual amount of attention and care that they put into what they wear, but it also gives them the ability to shrug off the suggestion that they care too much.
There are basic factors – climate and genetics – that explain how sprezzatura is expressed differently in each locale.
When you think of the archetypal Mediterranean body, the ‘hourglass’ comes to mind. It’s curvy and voluptuous (think: Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani and Gina Lollobrigida.)
That makes the more fitted silhouettes popular in Paris a bit difficult to wear. Tighter, fitted tops and wide-belted coats and dresses are more of a challenge for an hourglass body as wide belts shorten the torso and full skirts can hang oddly off of wider hips.
Although that never seemed to stop those Italian bombshells from wearing them!
A View from the Trenches… or Perhaps, the Venice Canals
Generally, Italian styles are simple. You won’t find a lot of frills or ruffles, except in those Dolce and Gabbana ads. Although they wear mostly neutral colors, there is some theatricality and drama in Italian style, as befits the climate… and Italian temperament.
They love colorful handbags – often cross-body ones to free their expressive hands – and are generally flashier and ornamental in their accessories: colorful, large, showy jewelry, chains and large pendants, brightly patterned scarves tied to handles of their bags.
That means, you can have fun with some costume jewelry and fit right in.
Being in a warmer climate and more laid-back culture, you can’t go wrong here with comfortable flats (sandals and loafers) instead of higher heels and boots. Just make sure they are well made. The Italians love high quality leather goods.
Speaking of the weather, the textiles worn by Italian women often are lighter in weight and the silhouettes, looser and more drape-y. That makes it pretty easy to mimic: jersey linen or cotton pants, flowing drape-y skirts or dresses, looser, longer or tunic tops worn unbelted or with a self-belt.
And you will be glad to know that your knee-length or slightly longer skirts and dresses will do just fine. You don’t see minis except in the resort areas, and they’re worn by younger women.
I Love Paris in the Winter… and the Spring
As with the Italians – and except for “street style” fashionistas on Instagram and during Fashion Week – the color palette for most French women is also mostly neutral, and they only occasionally give a nod to trends.
Theirs is a more classic look. They opt for luxe fabrics, high couture or at least couture-looking separates with the occasional pop of color. And they search for those in the discount shops and flea markets.
The Gallic female archetype has a primarily narrow body shape. Think: ballerinas. That means that you will see French women wearing belted and fitted jackets, coats and dresses, skinny leggings, leather pants and jeans. When you have a mostly rectangular-shaped body, all that bulk works well for you.
But it can certainly be a challenge to lug that kind of attire in your suitcase.
For an easy way to ‘go native’, tuck a simple solid-color blouse in a refined fabric like silk or cotton into a smart pair of slacks or jeans and finish with a leather or jeans jacket or coat. For cooler weather, just replace the blouse with a cashmere sweater.
You can wear flats and loafers, but they must be well made and – here’s where you can be “Parisian” – they can be a little trendy: patent leather, colorful, lug soles – something that stands out a bit. If you still wear heels, this is the place to do it, although walking on the sidewalks in heels might be a bit dicey.
And then there are the scarves. French girls must be taught in the womb how to tie them so artfully. Before you go, check out YouTube for videos demonstrating the finer points of scarf tying.
The point is to just add something to your simple sweater or to wear over your jeans jacket or leather jacket to complete your Parisian look.
Feminine, not Tawdry
What all this says is that you can express womanhood differently and still be comfortable, chic and have fun. And, you don’t have to scream “Hey, look at me!”
Now, this is not to denigrate the fashion sense of any of us in the US, the UK or any other country. It’s just that since both the French and Italians consider fashion a form of art, you might take a few pointers from them about how it’s done.
You might come back with some insights about how to express your own unique style without being a fashion victim.
And by the way, if you’re lucky enough to make it to both destinations, well, just untuck that nice shirt when you get to Rome.
Are Paris and Rome on your bucket list? Or, perhaps, you already visited? Have you been to Italy or France recently? If so, did you shop? What was your takeaway on the fashions there? Let’s have a trendy fashion conversation in the comments below!