Chicago Manual of Style—October 6, 2009

In France, stylish students get an “A” in fashion.

By Jessica Hester

I spent most of the summer sequestered in the library stumbling through Sontag and by the time September rolled around, I was eager to soak up some sun and some style. I took a whirlwind tour through Europe, where I gorged my stomach on crêpes, pizza, and tapas and feasted my eyes on gorgeous coats, cropped pants, and tote bags. Though I loved sifting through luxurious goods at chic boutiques, I found the best fashion inspiration in a somewhat unexpected place: Not on the well-edited racks of high-end stores or on the bodies of lovely, lanky locals, but in the adorable ensembles of Parisian school children.

I stayed in a little hotel at the corner of Rue Cler and Avenue La Motte Picquet, which was right down the street from an elementary school. I loved watching the kids parade into their building each morning when I popped into a nearby patisserie to pick up a baguette. Despite the language barrier, the kids’ tailored, textured style didn’t get lost in translation. Their school yard staples translate perfectly to a Chicagoan’s fall wardrobe.

Paris is teeming with well-dressed youngsters; there’s even a monthly edition of French Vogue dedicated to the enfants. Their school clothes dramatically upstage the sloppy hoodie and sweats I wore to grade school. Instead, they head to class in cropped patterned trenches, leather bomber jackets, tweed suspenders, pocketed felt vests, and cable-knit cardigans with leather elbow patches.

I channeled school-kid style when I picked up a pair of monogrammed maroon-and-plaid knee socks in the Marais district at the Tabio store, the first Parisian branch of the Japanese specialty hosiery store known for highly-saturated tights, leggings, and socks. The socks will look preppy and polished sticking out above a pair of brown boots, and easy and gamine when paired with flats. I also picked up a cheeky, puppy-patterned silk handkerchief from Arnys, a high-end menswear atelier. I plan to tie it to a purse for a fun, fresh look.

You, too, can emulate the school-yard look without crossing the pond. Head to the Gap for Parisian-inspired shrunken blazers ($98) and cropped capes ($68). Their black and gray rugby peacoat ($128) also references the clean lines and muted color palate of school uniforms. Anthropologie is the place to stock up on 3/4-sleeve blazers that look like little boys’ coats. I’d splurge on the double-breasted Pietra blazer ($118) or the cute, cuffed Ponte Bleu ($98). Forever 21 has some beautiful, budget-conscious options, like the adorable Lady Capelet jacket ($34), a short-sleeved, gray pleated jacket accented with a bow.

Take a hint from French school children and earn an “A” in style when you update your fall wardrobe with Parisian-inspired fashions and a little je ne sais quoi.