What have you heard about Parisians? Cocky people that love eating snails in their striped shirts and berets while constantly smoking? Those are just French clichés, as you probably know. The fashion cliché of Parisian-wearing berets is not the only one reflected in pop culture. Silk scarves, ballerina flats, the Birkin basket bag, red lips, vintage cardigan, trench coat, etc., are some of the fashion clichés that several non-French websites suggest buying as being Frenchy. But do people in Paris really wear berets?
Having lived in Paris for many years, I think there is merit to my conclusion that Parisians do not wear berets, at least not like how it is touted in pop culture. The French never used the beret broadly like it is some national symbol. It has its origin in the southwest region in the Basque country and Bearn; therefore, we cannot generalize and say it’s a French thing. Berets were later adopted in the military, given their waterproof and warm texture before schools used them for the pupils.
Whether guys or girls, Parisians wearing berets is just a stereotype that is not true. Not that no one wears berets in the city. Few do that, but since the late 20th-century, berets, just like hats, are no longer popular in Paris and most places in France.
What Parisians Think About Berets
As a tourist, the most important thing to know about French people is that they do not wear berets as a common dressing accessory. It is crucial because wearing one will give any Frenchman in Paris the impression that you lack sartorial savoire-faire. You wouldn’t want to come off as such in the fashion capital of the world.
It must be said, however, that in some corners of France, some older people wear berets for different reasons. But Frenchmen in most of the country do not wear them. You can stroll across the City of Light from the Porte de Clignancourt to the Porte d’Orleans, and you will not see one Frenchman donning this accessory. You might even see a Frenchwoman sporting a beret, but it is unlikely.
An overwhelming number of Frenchmen, even in wintry conditions, go around without headgear. They are content with scarves. Interestingly, berets are sold in France, but a vanishing few buy them. Tourists are the major patrons to show that they have visited France. When in the French capital, the highly fashionable ones don’t wear berets as they know that it will give their identity away. A very quick way of identifying foreigners is their wearing of berets.
They Don’t Wear Couture Either
Not just berets, Frenchmen and Frenchwomen do not wear couture. Being the foremost clothing design nation in the world does not mean that the average citizen is a lover of some fashion items. It is a myth that every French person has a brilliant fashion sense. An average Frenchman or Frenchwoman has little or no style sense. If you take a Metro ride or hop on a bus hoping to see the latest brilliant styles in the industry, you will be disappointed.
The beret has been around for a long while and has been connected to several types of identities, countries, and peoples. It has a long interesting history.
The First Berets
The shape of the beret we see today is not a new concept. It has been around for thousands of years. Archaeologists found traces of hats that look like beret inside Bronze Age (3200-600 B.C.) graves in Denmark and Italy. Berets were also depicted in paintings and sculptures across the west of Europe. In ancient Rome and Greece, historians conclude that people mainly wore two types of hats- the pileos, which were conical, and the petasos, which were floppy sun hats. These two hats evolved into a floppy, flat hats manufactured from wool.
While the shape and size of this hat varied as it showed up in the rest of Europe between 400 BC and 1200, the floppy flat hat was consistent because it was made of felt. Felt is affordable and easy to use, requiring just water and pressure and wool.
After noticing how weather-proof the material was, it was seen as a functional textile for weather protection, making its way from being put in shoes to being crafted into scarves, jackets, and hats.
Political Implications Of Wearing a Beret in Paris
In the 1970s, berets had a political connotation- the revolutionary symbol. Even though Guevara died in 1967, the interests of political leaders in berets did not die. In fact, in the 1970s, the beret was sported by activist groups across the world, including, most popularly, members of the Black Panther Party.
The members of the party were known to wear lots of black leather, black shoes, a blue shirt, and a black beret. There was also a group called the Brown Berets, a Mexican organization established in 1967 that clamored for the repatriation of seized Mexican lands. They were identified by brown berets. There was also the Young Lords Party that was a US-based Latino revolutionary organization. There was the red beret-wearing Guardian Angels, too, that was established in the 1970s as an anti-crime citizen patrol. During the 60s and 70s, the beret was how to associate with a cause. Today, berets mean less of a political statement than a fashionable one. Both performers and designers look to the past for inspiration when wearing one.
>>Also Read: What to Wear in Paris in the Winter
Other Popular Parisian Fashion Clichés
The Silk Scarf
You must have seen a lot of French girls on the internet wearing a silky scarf around their necks, in their hair, and on their bags. I think this French fashion cliché is as true as it is false. Perhaps it is true that many French women have silky scarves in their closets. However, French ladies do not wear those scarves every day as it is purported. Additionally, they often reserve them for special occasions and very fashionable outfits.
Marinière or the Striped Shirt
Coco Chanel, in 1917, made the Striped Shirt an icon of French fashion when she introduced the design. Now, several French girls possess only a few Marinières. The striped shirt is genuinely a French fashion cliché and is the most classic clothing piece to get. To rock this outfit, you can combine your best Marinière with a blazer, a pair of jeans, and a pair of sneakers (white). Nevertheless, do not wear your striped shirt with a red scarf and a beret.
French girls donning ballerina flats is a classic French fashion cliché that Brigitte Bardot popularized in the 1960s. Now, even if most girls in France have a pair of ballerina flats (Repetto or Chanel), French people do not wear them every time.
Birkin Basket Bag
There is a distinction between wearing a Birkin basket bag as an everyday bag versus wearing a market basket bag to go shopping. All the time, mostly, French girls wear straw bag (a market basket bag) to go shopping for a picnic, beach visiting, or just as an everyday handbag in the summer/spring, it is difficult to see a French girl wearing a wicker basket on Paris’ streets. In the country, wicker baskets are often used in the kitchen as a storage home décor to bear fruits, flowers, and veggies.
No, Parisians Do Not Really Wear Berets. Berets are cool but just dépassé. So the next time you see a T-shirt wearing or sausage-eating, Parisians sport a beret; they are most likely tourists and not natives. Before now, wearing berets used to have political meanings before they became fashionable in the 2000s. So before packing your bags to Paris next summer, do not forget that a beret is not a needed accessory.