I am not what you would consider a fashionable person. During the course of a typical year, I am supplied with new clothes twice a year: on my birthday and at Christmas. These clothes arrive by way of my lovely wife, whose fashion sensibilities run a little more sophisticated than “hoodie and flipflops.” Occasionally, at a nice dinner out, I will look presentable, but most of the time when you see me on the street I look like a character out of an Adam Sandler movie.
Every once in a while I feel compelled to augment my array of ill fitting polo shirts and awkward length shorts, causing me to head out looking for the holy grail of men’s fashion: girth obscuring apparel. Yes, my entire approach to fashion is the same as Kirstie Alley when she was pregnant on Cheers that one year. In the United States, I can navigate stores like Ross Dress for Less and Marshalls to satisfactory results. Shopping in Paris is quite a different beast, though. If you ever find yourself similarly situated, I created this handy, dandy guide to surviving the Parisian shopping scene. Enjoy!
I find it helpful to have a set of well established principles to guide me when out looking for clothes. With all the potential prats and pitfalls that go along with any shopping trip, if you have no foundation for your search, you might just drown in details. Here are mine:
1. Nothing white. The only people who should wear white clothes are chemists and orthodox Christians on their way to church. The rest of us have life to deal with: coffee stains, kids with grubby fingers, toothpaste mishaps and such. White clothes will usually only be used once or twice before they become a walking announcement of how much you suck at life.
2. Absolutely no denim above the waist. Really, the last time it was acceptable to wear jean-like clothing was the two weeks following the first time you saw, “The Outsiders.” Now, if you wear a denim, you look like a 1940’s mechanic.
3. No used clothes. Many people consider vintage clothing a great way to find unique clothes that are often a fraction the cost of their new counterparts. I don’t. When considering wearing someone else’s clothes, all I can think is, “These are the clothes that someone else wore when they went to the bathroom.” Pass.
Those are my rules. Make your own and then stick to them when you head out.
The first thing you need to do here when buying clothes here is knowing where to shop. You might think that there a lot of options to choose from in Paris, but really the clothes are pretty much the same at every store here. Really, the only decision you need to make is “What size store do I want to shop at?” For me, the critical consideration is how much I want people to laugh at me. The smaller the store, the more they will laugh. Bitchy shop clerks at large stores have to spread their condescension over a large customer base. At a big enough store, they may never even see you! At a small store, you are often alone, meaning the small gaggle of employees focus their entire attention on you. Try on something ridiculous enough, and the snickers will emulate a pack of hyenas. I generally stick to the larger stores, but when feeling particularly masochistic I will head to a small boutique for a lesson in humility.
Having selected the right store to fit your needs, you will head in and start looking at clothes. Upon entering, clerks greet you and ask if you are looking for anything special. They will turn on you, I promise. All of them. Just preemptively sneer at them and tell them you are looking for clothes for your dog. Anything else will give them the upper hand.
If you are lucky, you won’t find anything that you like and and you will be free to leave to go have lunch. Occasionally, however, something may catch your eye. This is really a shame, because this means you will have to try something on. Find the “Cabine” and select your size for the stuff you want to look at. It’s really hard to find your size here, so with any luck you won’t find anything. For men, the most common size for pants is 28 W x 36 L. WTF? These dimensions suggest that the men of France are as tall as Shaquille O’Neal and have the same waist size as one of his legs. Occasionally I will read the pant sizes backwards and only realize my mistake when I am unable to pull the pants up above my knees. For god sakes, definitely don’t ask a clerk for helping finding a size. You would be better off just bringing in a cricket paddle and asking them to whap you upside the head with it. Find the size yourself or move on.
Even when you think you find things in your size, you really haven’t. This is because fashion designers here lie about sizes. I try on clothes here in the same size that I have been for 20 years and find that I look like Doctor Banner about 3/4 of the way to his transformation to The Hulk. Not good. In the US, I wear clothes size “L.” I have clothes here that say “XXL.” I AM NOT A FUCKING XXL! The sizing here are a pack of lies. To figure out your European size, use the same formula used to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and then rip the tags off to hide your shame.
If, when trying on clothes, the clerk asks if you are OK tell them that you are just shredding up the clothes to rework them into something worth wearing. Do not, leave your cabine and ask how it looks. If you do, the following will occur:
Clerk: Is everything OK in there?
Clerk: Can be of any assistance?
You: How does this look?
Clerk: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. It looks like a marshmallow man bound in saran wrap!
Having made many, many mistakes while shopping, I found a store where I can happily find clothes that fit. The store is called “C & A,” short for a name that translates to “Short and Fat.” It is the French equivalent of a store somewhere between Target and Home Depot. It is chronically understaffed, making the cabines wonderfully hyenae-free. I can’t say I look particularly good with the clothes I buy there, but my clothes are not white, not denim and have not been previously used by anyone who has gone to the bathroom. For this stay at home dad, this is just fine. Good luck shopping in Paris. Unless you are one of Shaquille O’Neal’s legs, you are going to need it.