The Woman In a Red Business Suit

cartoon: Bankers at the Loto
Mannequins without tans in a winter-sunlit window.

Or, the Safety of Looking 'Anglaise'

by M-R. O'Rahilly

Paris:- Tuesday, 7. January 1997:- I love fashion - it's hard not to when you go to Paris every day and are lucky enough to work right beside the 'Grands Magasins' main stores - Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. I love looking at the dream outfits displayed in the windows - the latest in Chanel or Lacroix, Kenzo, Lagerfeld - it is free dream time except for the 'dream prices.'

When my mother first came to visit from Ireland she was so disappointed in the way the people on the streets of Paris dressed. She had a point. Many people one sees are wearing pretty awful stuff.

There are the little skinnies - and there are many of these - their matchstick legs sticking out of black leggings, a huge bulky sweater on top and 'Doc Martens' or the latest in platform tennis shoes on their feet.

A typical male version is black pants that flap in the wind above ankle level, white socks, brown shoes, often a colorful jacket - red and green were recently popular - and they are always carrying a very battered looking satchels, looking like they carried it since their first day at school, thirty years ago.

Once in a while, you will see a true Parisienne - often not overly young - oozing chic from head to toe.

I saw one such lady last week. She was in her mid-fifties, tall and slim and was wearing a great silver-grey poloneck sweater with a beautifully cut dark grey patterned mid-calf A-line skirt, a red belt which matched both the cherry red jacket and leather court shoes.

Her silver grey hair was cut attractively short and she wore one elegant ring that was made up of four tiny rows 2 models, 50 % off of emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. This lady was not financially suffering - at least not in a way obvious to the eye.

Having said this, I don't pay enough attention to what my colleagues wear. There are about 500 employees at our bank so I get to see a wide variety, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I never knew that there were some Parisian women who have only as much dress sense as a flea; but in general they have a bit of "je ne sais quoi" that separates them from the rest.

This is why if anyone has the misfortune to tell me I look cute because I look 'anglaise,' they are insulting me on two counts - first of all I am Irish and very proud of it and secondly I know they mean I look like I'm dressed like the Queen. I will not comment about how she dresses - with no apologies to Hardy Amies.

Annick and I see a lot of each other at the moment because we are both on a month-long training course to learn how to become documentary credit experts.

Last week, she arrived at the course in a bright red suit with black velvet collar. The jacket has two smart slits on either side and despite it's bright colour has a slimming effect. Annick is, to use one of my mother's expressions, a little broad in the beam.

I instantly 'recognized' the outfit as she told me about buying it just before Christmas. The only thing that seemed wrong with it was that it was a little loose around the waist and kept turning around - a bit like one of the 'revolving documentary credits' we were learning about.

Annick likes clothes - she must have fifty outfits which, she told me is a source of marital discord at times; but that doesn't stop her from buying more. She has sweaters of every colour with diamonds, or baubles and sequins, which she brassieres in window wears with short skirts - leather, knitted - and that she is on the plump side doesn't stop her either. She also has a variety of two piece suits.

Admiring her new suit, I realized that what I could glimpse of some black garment she was wearing underneath the jacket appeared to be made of shear netting.

When I asked her what it was, she opened the jacket to reveal the 'body' to me - a shameless affair that was sheer net until it hit her uplifted breasts, which were covered in embossed leaves made of black silk. It was gorgeous. Then in a swift movement, she buttoned up and became the woman in a red business suit again; we were in the middle of the coffee bar in the training centre and ten people were just coming in for their break!

"Sais-tu qui me l'a donné?" - Do you know who gave me this? - as if I would know.

"Well," she said, "My boss and a few friends, they gave it to me for my 40th birthday. Seven years ago."

Then I was asked another riddle: "Sais-tu ce qu'ils m'ont donné en plus?" - Do you know what else they gave me? - Not daring to guess; she told me they got her a copy of the Kama Sutra. Now, she's a pretty sexy lady - so I'm not entirely sure what the interpretation of that should be.

She told me she hid it under the bed for a few years for fear one of her innocent sons should find it. Recently she decided to have a look at it. She discovered it was completely boring - so now it has now taken its place on our family bookshelf. She doesn't know how anyone could get past page five.

Two Ladies at the Sales; Not Together

In the bank's office, when we are not training, there are two women besides me and the rest are men.

Myriam is a tall attractive brunette of 42 who used to be very fat and now is slim. She favors the 'business dress' code which is skirt, blouse and jacket; or pants, blouse and jacket. Every so often she turns up in an outfit that looks like she is going out that night - that means she didn't get time to go to the launderette.

Nency, who is 37, is totally different. She is half German, has short red hair and wears tweeds and colors like olive green and brown. I could see her married to a gentleman farmer and living in the country in a manor; horse-riding every day.

Myriam is a bigmouth and Nency is discrete. Just for the record, I am short, blonde, medium size - verging on round and I like to wear knits - I like stockings in window to be comfortable and try to be chic at the same time - sometimes I look like 'an anglaise' whatever that is. My mouth can be big or small depending on where I am.

The sales are on right now and everyone is out looking for bargains . Myriam came back from her lunch break last week with a bag from a chic clothes store called '1-2-3.'

She was very happy with herself - she got herself a suit for something like fifty percent off - in turquoise blue. She showed us a short, straight skirt with a zip-up jacket with a round neck, and a zip on each side.

About an hour later, Nency arrived back, out of breath and late. She too was carrying a carrier-bag from '1-2-3.' On mild interrogation from Myriam - "What did you buy?" - Nency disclosed the contents of her bag to reveal - you guessed it - the exact same suit; admittedly in brown, but still...

Now, they are both a bit upset - they are French. Nency will shop elsewhere in the future. Maybe it's not so bad to look a bit 'anglaise' after all.

M-R. O'Rahilly©1998

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