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Parisian Fashion: The Subtle Art of Blending In as a Study Abroad Student

November 02, 2021
by Mia Farris

There is a French saying, Il faut souffrir pour être belle, which literally translates to “one must suffer to be beautiful.” I have always found the quote amusing – the sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude of the price of being beauty from a French perspective. I always imagined people in Paris lived by this quote; seeing photos of girls walking down the Champs-Élysées in impossible high heels or wearing winter outfits unfit for the cold, rainy Paris winters only fueled my assumptions. After studying abroad in Paris for around two months now, I have realized that while they do not sacrifice style, most Parisians are big fans of comfort.


At home, my bookshelf is piled with “Fashion How-Tos,” Parisian lifestyle books and Vogue magazines. This collection, coupled with my Pinterest obsession, really should make me an expert regarding la mode de Paris, but I have found that this seemingly simple aesthetic is more complicated than apparent at first glance. I knew the necessities: a good pair of jeans, neutral converse sneakers, a timeless trench coat, various black and white shirts, black loafers, and a nice pair of black pants, but I could not achieve the level of effortlessness I wanted to capture. The French, specifically Parisians, have this special knack for wearing outfits that are simultaneously simple and prestigious. In my opinion, a Parisian could get away with wearing the same outfit to a café or a fashion show.

I still do not feel like I have mastered fashion in Paris, but I have been able to pick up a few tips.

Simple does not mean boring. I truly could not understand how to find the balance between fun fashion and boring basics. One solution I have found to this is going to & Other Stories. The brand centers around creating wearable basics with cute additions to make them stand out. When having to dress business casual for an internship, I have found buying a few pairs of black pants from Zara mixed with & Other Stories outerwear or accessories makes for a perfect combination.

There is no ideal Parisian. Once I got to Paris, I was so obsessed with the idea of blending in with the city. I wanted to be indistinguishable from a local. Blame my attachment to the idea of “becoming Parisian” from watching the movie Sabrina, where Audrey Hepburn goes to Paris and has a swan-like transformation before returning home. When I arrived in Paris, I dreamily wondered when I would achieve this level of grace and sophistication. I worsened by condition by closely following Parisien Instagram influencers who seemed to have the perfect life.

Screen Shot 2021-11-02 at 11.41.25 AM
 Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, 1954

I struggled with this idea until I met people from around the world who challenged this fashion standard. This idea that everyone needs to fit a mold was starting to seem boring to me, and after meeting a friend at an internship (whose Instagram is definitely influencer-worthy) this was reinforced in my mind. Alara Buyuran, a current luxury fashion student in Paris, is unsurprisingly exactly who I went to for advice on Paris fashion influencers. She told me that when she first moved to Paris, this condensed Parisian basics wardrobe was her goal, but as she was inspired by daring, colorful outfits at her school, she began to step away from her comfort zone. Most of us have heard of the “capsule wardrobe.” It’s an amazing concept that is great for study-abroad-sized packing, but do not be afraid to add your own touch.

One of the Instagram accounts she directed me to was La Parisienne Stylée whose bio literally states, “You don’t have to be French to be Parisian.” This is uplifting for all of those who feel called to Paris, but do not think they have what it takes to be a “Parisian.”

Yes, you will need a trench coat. Okay, this stereotype is 100 percent true. Everyone has one, and throwing on a trench is the easiest way to look Parisian with little effort. Trench coats are everywhere, too. I bought mine on an online thrift store. Since they are such sturdy garments, it’s perfect to buy them second hand. My favorite street style Instagram with many trench coat examples is Parisiens in Paris. Their entire concept is posting anonymous submissions of Parisian street style in order to further inspire others.

 @parisiensinparis on Instagram


It’s okay to not fit in. A month into my stay, after struggling through the misplaced September heat wave, having way too many embarrassing moments at my internships à la Emily in Paris and finally feeling a bit settled, I decided to not get so caught up in my shortcomings and just enjoy Paris. So, I put away my ballet flats and changed back to a wardrobe quotidienne of sneakers and jeans. This lasted around a week before I decided to just enjoy fashion. Fashion is certainly a billion-dollar business, but no one can deny its personal form of self-expression. If everyone in Paris dressed the same, it would not be one of the fashion capitals of the world. You do not have to stick to the muted uniform of beige, black and white; do not be afraid to be the only person dressed in pink on the metro (but be warned, you might be the only person dressed in pink on the metro).


You can find inspiration everywhere. The streets of Paris will always double as a runway, and Instagram will always be filled will stylized feeds, but you can look beyond this for fashion tips. Mine (and many others) favorite source is the book How to be Parisian Wherever You Are. Written by the iconic Paris it-girl Caroline de Maigret in collaboration with others, it is full of tips to be a Parisian in a hilarious, comedic format.


Another way I’ve been inspired is through art museums. My fashion history professor has made an effort to take us to expositions with the intention of showing us how the past affects the modern day. He explained to us how modern-day designers recycle fashion from centuries before and create entirely new creations. I liked this concept and liked the idea of taking colors and themes from paintings from la vie quotidienne of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Screen Shot 2021-11-02 at 11.46.06 AM

Seriously, pack light. I thought I packed light. Looking back, I probably should have packed even lighter. Since being here, I have bought clothes for specific events that I did not know about prior to coming. These purchases, coupled with the books and knickknacks I had to have, do not have me looking forward to packing for my return trip. Bring the necessities, some business casual, and maybe one nice outfit. I assure you, there is plenty of shopping in Paris. Don’t worry, if you have run out of outfits to wear, you can always throw your trench coat over everything.

Bon Voyage !

Mia Farris is the Spring 2020 Alumni Ambassador in Grenoble, France, and is currently studying at Samford University.
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