Sunday, July 25, 2010

Let It All Hang Out

Laundry day on rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
I’ve lived with a constant concern on laundry days that I would lose my underwear into the private courtyard two stories down and never be able to retrieve it.  If I did, I just hoped it was some of my new stuff that would show me in a good light.  At least the blue ones, something with color, and not the practical white Jockey ones.  French women are neither shy nor practical when it comes to what is underneath – just barely.

I’ve felt practically puritanical while in France because my foundation is both ecologically sound (made from quickly renewable bamboo fibers) and meant to cover and be covered.  Before leaving home I went shopping for a new bra with straps appropriate for wearing with the cut of tank top sleeves.  And the saleslady convinced me to choose the “nude” (ugly no-color) one because it would be invisible under light-colored tops.

 Was that ever a wasted afternoon because none of those practical, American, rules apply to lingerie in France.  Bra straps were red, purple, brown, white, black.  They had bows and flowers.  Forget those smooth Playtex cups we were taught to covet because they were invisible under the tightest top.  In France, the elaborate appliqués and topstitching couldn’t possibly be hidden unless under a heavy wool sweater.  Wearing white pants with blue underwear?  No problem.

The fashion faux pas that seem to grip my American psyche disappear when seen through the filter of a new culture.  After a few days here I became less concerned about the times my bra straps were showing and more envious that they weren’t more beautiful and worthy of display.  But that doesn’t mean that this is an environment of  “anything goes.”

French women may sunbathe topless at the nearby lake, but they remain fully covered the rest of the day.  They may have some part of their undergarments showing, but it’s calculated and coordinated and colorful, not a dirty bra strap showing under a baggy tank top for that “I’m-just-running-into-the-grocery-store-so-I-don’t-give-a-crap” look.  And lingerie shopping is serious business, with more than one male standing outside of a dressing room curtain, holding a selection of bras on hangers and not being shy about giving his opinions to the unseen female on the other side.

I’ve mastered the French autoroutes and winding country roads.  I think next time I’m here I’ll finally have the courage to navigate the lingerie section of the department store or any of the dozen lingerie shops in downtown Dijon.  After all, travel is sometimes just about taking risks, throwing caution to the wind, and letting it all hang out.  Or at least peek out from where I used to hide it.

Lulu, one of my neighbors (which has nothing to do with my story)

What do you think will be the next risk you take?  Share it here in the comment section.


Kristin said...

Julie, I love your writing and love this story. How to say "I can SOOO relate" in French? :-)

I have guests arriving any minute and don't think I didn't verify the clothesline (making sure nothing embarrassing might be showing, viewable from the picnic table where we'll be sitting down and enjoying the "scenery"!)

Excellent photos. Wonderfully whimsical!

Julie Farrar said...

Kristin, I remember reading one of your long-ago stories about the "topless or not topless" debates you had with yourself in France. I may go the way of French lingerie, but I still have to think about the "let it all hang out" attitude when I hit the beach at the lake near Dijon.

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