Are sneakers a barely acceptable dress-down accessory in Paris, or a fashion statement which US tourists can use to their advantage? The Senior Editor of web magazine Paris Eiffel Tower News, Phil Chavanne, discusses the topic from all angles.
Being the Senior Editor of Paris-Eiffel-Tower-News.com, visitors e-mails have a magical tendency to find their way to my desk. The good side of it is I am allowed to pause vainly as an expert on all that is Paris, and impart my thin knowledge of the French capital to studious travelers. Amongst the many questions offered, one keeps coming back: Is it considered bad taste to wear sneakers in Paris? Ah-ha! That's an issue P.G. Wodehouses Bertie Wooster would have been delighted to jump on. Following in the footsteps of this worthy role model, I shall bring an answer to this existential torment once and for all with thundering authority.
Paris, French fashion, sneakers
Paris-bound tourists are often of the opinion that French women are die-hard fashion victims. This claim is definitely exaggerated, though access to stylish clothing is heavily facilitated in Paris where women magazines such as Elle and Figaro Madame dictate whats fashionable and whats not.
In my humble opinion, perennial tastes look very much alike in Paris and New York City. Globalization tends to homogenize fashion, making work-a-day wear similar in large cities.
No matter, the sneaker concern remains valid. Sneakers are now such a commodity in the US, how is it in Paris?
The generally accepted business dress code in France usually bars sneakers from entering the corporate environment, except for low-level positions. Thus the Parisian woman wears good-looking city shoes to go to work, unless the business which employs her cultivates a sporty image in which sneakers find a natural home.
What major difference in shoe-attitude could we identify between American and French she-consumers? The latter will wear sneakers as design items, not as workaday shoes. Sneakers wont be bought for comfort, but will find an easy way into a tight purse when they compliment dress-down pants and make their owner look good. The She-Parisian loves sneakers which make her feet look thin, small, and classy.
A mere glance at the types of sneakers most commonly seen on women's feet in Paris is telling: you wont see any wide, cushy, comfy-looking, plain vanilla sneakers. You will see small, thin-looking, flat-sole, designer sneakers.
For the same reasons, a pair of Stephane Kelian or Robert Clergerie shoes will almost always be favored over a pair of good-looking Pumas. Shoes are a fashion statement, and the more understated it is, the better.
That's another major difference between French and American women. Understatement is a cardinal rule in French fashion. Anything that is too visible is considered garish. This is why the little black dress is such a fashion icon, and why Audrey Hepburn will always be remembered as The Quintessential Fashionable American Woman.
Tourism in sneakers
All this does not mean you cant wear sneakers when you travel to Paris!
For one thing, sneakers are usually comfortable walking shoes. As the very best way to discover Paris is to stroll along its streets, wearing shoes in which you feel comfortable covering five miles a day at a leisurely pace is an important decision. It will influence your general mood during your stay in the French capital.
Do not back off from wearing sneakers if these are your best walking shoes.
My second point refers to the look issue. Will I look good in the streets, or will I be the laughingstock of all these snooty, dressed-up, fashion-conscious Parisian women?
Frankly, you should not ask yourself this question. Because who cares about your looks in the street? Never be self-conscious, just be comfortable in your shoes. You are a tourist, this is your very own time in Paris! Jeans and sneakers are international. People will not be offended by your attire. Unless you dress in 80s disco garb with polka-dot sneakers, nobody around you will mind your looks.