What to pack for 30 stylish days of Paris/London winter

By Caitlin Kelly

I arrived in Paris on December 20 with 30 days ahead of pleasure and business, spent in two of the world’s most stylish cities, including festivities like Christmas and New Year’s. I live near New York City, so already have a big city wardrobe with a lot of black, which I knew, from previous visits, would work just fine in Paris.

Staying stylish -- and warm! Antique cashmere shawl; red suede wool-lined gloves; J. Crew wool shawl, purple wool beret
Staying stylish — and warm! Antique cashmere shawl; red suede wool-lined gloves; J. Crew wool shawl, purple wool beret

But which clothes for comfort and style?

For temperatures ranging from near 50 to a frigid 33?

For business meetings in London and long afternoons walking Paris streets?

To fit into local norms?

To be comfortable out walking for hours?

I chose very few colors: black, cream, white, scarlet, purple.

My weapon of choice…

Cashmere!

I see you eye-rolling at its cost, but cashmere can be found on sale, in thrift, consignment and vintage shops. It costs more than wool every time, but it lasts. It has the supreme value of being really, really warm but also light (i.e. not bulky) and, oh yeah, elegant.

So I brought a black cashmere T-shirt dress that hits mid-calf. The damn thing is, literally, 20 years old, and I have to keep sewing up little holes in it. But it’s the best investment I’ve ever made. A garnet-colored long-ish cashmere cardigan and a black cashmere turtle-neck.

I’m deeply regretting leaving behind several more cashmere turtleneck sweaters, (but whose colors didn’t fit the bill.)

My coat, (and I debated long and hard about the wisdom of this choice), is a black wool sweater-coat that I pin closed. Even at 33 degrees — which is damn cold! — I’ve been fine, wearing layers beneath it, a wool shawl, a wool hat and wool or lined suede gloves. I can shuck it off easily when on the Metro or stuff it into my carryall. It’s stylish, comfortable and adapts easily to any layers beneath it. (My other options were too bright and/or bulky.)

Also, two nylon T-shirts (warm but not bulky), one pair of black leggings.

Ohlalalalala. Yes, loose clothing is a good option!
Ohlalalalala. Yes, loose clothing is a good option!

Three skirts, black, scarlet and a dressier DVF one with those colors in it. Stockings in black, purple and scarlet. A black H & M cotton dress. Several pairs of comfy/warm yoga pants and a cotton sweatshirt for lounging and sleeping in. Two pretty caftans for when I’m a houseguest visiting friends in London.

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Two pairs of shoes and one pair of boots, all black, all low-heeled, all comfortable and tested before I left home. I’ve been walking all day here, on wet cobblestones and pounding the Metro stairs, all good.

I did pack (hah) a set of clothes for working out, and very light gym shoes. Unused, so far!

My one concession to dressy is a very thin print silk jacket I’ll wear over my black cotton dress, add purple stocking stockings and a devore brown velvet scarf, nice for New Year’s dinner here in a restaurant.

I did laundry in the laundromat across the street — Charlie Chaplin-esque! Washing only one washer full cost eight euros, (about $12), so I skipped the additional cost of drying and used the clothes dryer, (the non-electric kind that is a rack across which you lay or hang all your clothes), in our borrowed flat.

There are sales only twice a year in Paris, in January and June. They start January 7 and I’m back here January 11 ready to run for it! I’ve already mapped out some of my targets.

French women do dress differently than Americans — a lesson I learned at 25 when I lived here for a year. They generally buy many fewer items than Americans do, take good care of them and keep them for many years.

I’ve been checking out some of my favorite shops already and you can have anything you want, as long as it’s made in black, white, camel or navy. You see, at least in better stores, few prints or clothing made badly of cheap fabric. So you buy less, spend a bit more and love it.

I also love the colors you find here that are much more difficult to find in the U.S. — navy blue, a soft neutral peach, deep emerald green and every possible shade of gray.

One of the other things that makes a long trip easier is how many shoe-repair shops line the streets here! Our NY town of 10,000 lost its only cobbler a few years ago necessitating a 10-minute drive to another town — here in the 7th arrondissement, an upscale neighborhood, there are four cobblers within a five-minute walk of this apartment.

Dry-cleaning is expensive here (which I knew) so I’m hand-washing anything delicate.

It’s been an interesting reminder how few clothes you really need and how many ways you can combine them to make a cool look.

A few wardrobe items worth buying here:

Jewelry, especially costume. The French make amazing costume jewelry! I’m still wearing and loving pieces I bought here 20 years ago. Look for bold, unusual pieces. A trip to les puces, the flea market, (esp. Vernaison) at Porte de Clignancourt, offers fantastic options.

Underwear. If you’re small enough! There are gorgeous colors on offer, and look for chains like Princesse Tam Tam. Much prettier than that old American standby, Victoria’s Secret. I’ve seen the most gorgeous jewel-toned lacy silks ev-uh!

Vintage. If you’re a label-girl, you’ll find plenty of Hermes, Chanel, Issey Miyake, etc. Just bring a sack full of cash.

Chanel, baby. Beaucoup d'euros!!!
Vintage Chanel, baby. Beaucoup d’euros!!!

Scarves. My weakness! I passed up a terrific wool piece with maps of the Megeve ski slopes at the flea market, but scored two pretty ones (so far) for $15 and $20 each.

Shoes. I’m forever fascinated by what stylish Frenchwomen wear on their feet. My favorite pair so far this trip? Petrol green patent oxfords. You don’t see many women tottering along on stilettos, so you’ll find plenty of cool, stylish flat or low-heeled options. (I’ve got my eye on a fab pair of pony-fur desert boots.)

 

 

Shop On (Size 16) Sister! British Retailer Debenhams Puts Larger Mannequins Right Where They Belong — In Their Windows

Debenhams
Image by zoonabar via Flickr

Curvy women, get out your wallets! An upscale British retailer, Debenhams, has decided to put size 16 mannequins in its windows — instead of the usual size 10 — acknowledging the reality that, as in the U.S., the average woman shopper is a size 14 or 16.

If I lived in the U.K., I’d vote with my legs and my pocketbook and head straight to Debenhams to thank them for their intelligence. I was furious to discover the other day, (having driven to the mall and already paid, as it demands, to park there), that women’s clothing retailer Ann Taylor no longer stocks anything larger than a size 12 in their stores.

J. Crew. has been doing that for years, relegating the pooch-y crowd, no matter the size of their pocketbooks, to their limited catalogs and on-line options. Ann Taylor was — like Talbots — one of the few national chains who get the basic fact that women of all sizes want and need well-made clothing made of lovely, elegant fabrics like wool, silk and linen, not just disposable junior-style nylon crap from H & M.

Just because a woman is bigger than designers or retailers want — and maybe she wants — doesn’t mean she can spend her time in sweats. Retailers who sell lovely clothing to women over a size 12 earn repeat sales, no matter if the woman remains a 14 or 16, or slims down to a more “acceptable” 12, 10 or 8. “In the meantime”, for those trying to lose weight, should not add the punition of finding few attractive choices for the lives women lead right now, not six or 12 or 18 months later after they’ve gotten thin(ner.)

The two Ann Taylor skirts I liked in the store were $90 each, for simple gray or black wool. Add to the insult of being shoved to the retail margins a price-point out of reach for many women in this recession and Ann Taylor’s CEO really needs to re-think this misguided decision.

All women need elegant, flattering clothes that fit — not only when they are a size that stores find flattering to their “brand image.” Women with big(ger) bums also contribute to your bottom line.

Big Girls Dress Up, Too — Ashley Falcon's Plus-Sized Fashion Advice

NEW YORK - JANUARY 31:  Writer Candace Bushnel...
Joanna Coles, (r), big girls' champion. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

How do big(ger) girls get dressed up for the holidays? Ashley Falcon — setting a new standard for women’s magazines’ embrace of size 16+ — dishes in this month’s Marie Claire.

Anyone who reads women’s magazines knows the typical beauty drill: women who are deemed beautiful only come in size 0-6, tops. Usually Russian or Slavic, with thighs so thin they look like arms. There will no editorial discussion of, or acknowledgement of, how very few fashionable options exist for women over a size 14, now the U.S. average — let alone real, first-person tips on how to dress attractively and comfortably.

Most designers simply refuse to make their lovely clothes in sizes over 10 or 12. J. Crew added 14’s a while back but you’ll only find their size 16’s on-line. Fatties, ugh! Falcon, who admits she weighs 220, even names the source of her black boyfriend blazer featured in the current issue — Walmart.

Here’s her blog and her list of 12 websites for plus-size fashion.

Her confidence is remarkable, after growing up in the Cuban community of Miami and surviving the vicious stiletto-stabbing hothouse of New York City’s fashionistas.  Props for shaking up that snobby, dictatorial, butt-hating world to Ashley and to Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles, a Briton (married to Peter Godwin, author of one of my favorite books, When A Crocodile Eats The Sun, a memoir of Zimbabwe.)

She's 5'11", Weighs 180 And Has A Belly — "Glamour's" New Poster Girl For Real Bodies

McCall Magazine, Night Before Xmas
Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

When Glamour magazine ran a photo recently of model Lizzie Miller, her belly hanging ever so slightly over the top of her panties, I thought I was hallucinating. Happily. A girl with some meat on her bones! Gorgeous, check. Happy, check. Pooch, check.

Readers’ reaction to this image — truly revolutionary in the insane women’s magazine world of praying-mantis 15-year-old models we’re told we should look like (genes and age be damned) —  was huge, visceral and emotional. “Shame on Glamour for thinking this was sexy!” wrote one reader. “Holy hell, I am normal!” exulted another. “Thank you for the self esteem,” said another.

Any woman who wears a size 14 or higher continues to struggle finding beautiful clothes, because most high-end designers — even mass marketers like French Connection (nothing over a 10) — refuse to let fatties wear their schmattes. J.Crew, basking in the reflected glory of filling out First Lady Michelle Obama’s wardrobe, only has size 16s on-line or in their catalogs. In the current, November issue of Glamour, we’re told of the very few clothing makers — Michael Kors (expensive), Isaac Mizrahi for Liz Claiborne (a much-hyped commercial disaster) and Baby Phat (please) — who’ll even tolerate the excruciating embarrassment of a woman-with-hips wearing their designs.

In a long feature by former Glamour editor Genevieve Field, Glamour promises many more photos to come of heavier, more realistic models. Call it the pooch manifesto.

Here’s a really radical idea. Let’s judge all women — and deem them valuable — by the size of their hearts and brains, not their asses.

'I Am Not A Size Two And I Have A Complicated Life': Donna Karan Dishes

Donna Karan at the premiere of I Am Because We...
Image via Wikipedia

Bless you, Donna Karan!

Few designers, even those still at the top of their game and the food chain, are (as) honest about who’s really buying their clothes and what we need most when we open our closets. Pick up any fashion magazine and it’s praying-mantis 15-year-olds from the Urals stomping down the runways in six-inch-plus heels, wearing clothes that leave seasoned editors grasping for kind adjectives.

Women in their 40s, 50s or beyond, some fighting a meno-pooch and hot flashes, have no desire to wear costly clothes cut for anorexic teens. And very few 22 year-olds, even 32 year-olds, actually have the spare coin for unforgiving four or five-figure designer frocks.

“The designer business and the media spend so much time paying homage to about 7 percent of the market,” NPD analyst Marshal Cohen, tells W magazine. “That’s where all the action goes. But did everyone decide they want to dress like a 25-year-old? I don’t think so.”

Any woman who’s not a size 2 — and the average American woman is a 12-14 — knows the purgatory of clothes-shopping for items that are gorgeous, well-made and offered in good fabric like thick cashmere, soft cotton or crisp organza, at a price point less than a Manhattan mortgage payment.

Women play many roles: mom, wife, lover, boss, athlete, traveler, public speaker — each of which we want to look terrific for. Karan’s life, like many accomplished women her age and her size: “stretches from the boardroom to dinner to traveling…feeling sexy while still feeling appropriate is really important.” Continue reading “'I Am Not A Size Two And I Have A Complicated Life': Donna Karan Dishes”