I know, the original expression was applied to the rich. A while back I read a book about an Australian that moves to Paris. The book is Almost French by Sarah Turnbull. She marries a Frenchman and this book details her adjustment to life in Paris. Chapter 10 deals with the contrast between these two individuals approach to presenting themselves in public: "One of the consequences of this pervasive beauty in Paris is that it makes leaving your front door feel like you're stepping onto a stage. It calls for dressing up. Just like actors in a play, the pressure is on those who live here to look the part. Perhaps my most revealing lesson in French dress standards occurs one Saturday morning soon after moving into Paris. Rushing to the bakery to get a baguette and croissants, I chuck on an old shapeless jumper and my warmup pants, which I'd rediscovered at the bottom of a wardrobe when we were packing up our place at Levallois. Catching sight of me, Fredric looks appalled. 'Warmup pants?' He's never seen me wearing them before. 'Whats wrong with that? I'm only going to the bakery.' There is a second's pause. Frederic's eyes implore me. Finally, he manages to speak. 'But it's not nice for the baker.'" .... later, in the same chapter: ""For a long time, dress remains an issue between us. Underpinning Frederic's reaction to warmup pants is a concept that to me is totally foreign: looking scruffy is selfish. Not only do you look like a slob, but you let down the whole city. In Paris, failure to dress up leads to instant ostracism." ... still later: "In France, vanity is not a vice. Rigorous self-maintenance is imbued from birth--it's a mark of self-pride." "Men are expected to pay close attention to their apperances as well. The loaded phrase ' se mettre en valeur' is used all the time. It means 'to make the most of yourself'. This is not something the French do when they feel like it: they do it every day. Sloppiness in appearance is considered a fatal disease. Once it takes hold, you're on an irreversible downhill slide. You've committed the unforgivable. You've let yourself go." This is part of what got me back on track with dressing nicer for the office, even though I'm in the midst of a casual dress code. Sure, I have to endure the endless remarks about having a job interview or questions asking if I'm attending a funeral. Wearing a sport coat and tie in a sea of blue jeans does not make me feel superior to my colleagues. It does make me feel good about myself. I hope it does not impart an attitude to my colleagues that I am snooty, because that is not the intent. Heck, wearing nice clothes even improves my posture, which is notoriously stooped. When decked out, the clothes make me stand up straight. Since reading this chapter, I can't even go to the hardware store on Saturday without shaving. Not because it would "not be nice" for the handy, hardware man, but because it now signals to me that I've "let myself go".
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2/11/05 at 11:01pm