How ‘Emily in Paris Misrepresents Paris and Parisian Fashion
Netflix’s new romcom series Emily in Paris has sparked quite a bit of buzz since its release last month. Audiences seem divided with some viewers loving the Sex and the City knockoff set in the city of love while others are finding the American in Paris shtick unoriginal and tone deaf. The show follows Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) as she navigates her new marketing job and love life in Paris. Emily in Paris keeps it lighthearted and fun by really playing into the Franco-American rivalry. However, Emily embodies all too well the oblivious American in a foreign country from the way she acts to the way she dresses. As a result, the show misrepresents Paris and Parisian fashion.
Emily in Paris represents the city of love as one big caricature. This typecast portrayal of Paris is the main reason why this show has faced some backlash. Parisians don’t recognize the city and its inhabitants being portrayed in the show. Her new coworkers are represented as the stereotypical, condescending, and rude Parisian bully for immediately snubbing her. Although, this isn’t the only way that Emily in Paris misrepresents this notorious city. The wardrobe, particularly the outfits worn by the protagonist herself, proves to be a misleading guide of what to wear in Paris. Parisian fashion has long been defined as effortlessly chic. It generally involves darker neutral tones to match the gloomier weather and sleek silhouettes. They value simplicity, elegance, and practicality in the way that they dress. Coco Chanel described it best when she said: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” Ever since, Parisians seem to use this quote as their style mantra. A perfectly tailored trouser matched with a long coat and a pair of boots or sneakers is the typical working girl uniform in Paris.
Emily missed the mark by consistently wearing clashing bold colors, mix-matched patterns and over-the-top accessories. For someone coming to live in one of the fashion capitals of the world, the desire to elevate her everyday clothing game is understandable. Although, showing up to work in a brightly-colored Eiffel Tower blouse, a green faux snakeskin skirt, and stiletto booties on her first day is not helping her make the best first impression. Only a naïve American visiting Paris for the first time would wear a piece of clothing showing off the city’s most touristic monument. As the show goes on, we expect Emily to take cues from the chic inhabitants of Paris and have a style glow-up. However, she clearly doesn’t get the memo, wearing a houndstooth beret, a multicolored denim jacket, and white booties one day followed by a burgundy fedora and an oversized jersey over a lacy blouse the next. Overtime, her outfits seem to just become more and more ridiculous. While Emily seemed to be sporting a new hat in every scene from brightly colored fedoras, berets, and bucket hats, a true Parisian would never be caught dead in a beret today. She looked like she’d been dressed by Hannah Montana’s stylist back in 2009 with her endless amounts of tacky accessories and unnecessary layers.
However, not all of Emily’s outfits were bad. She wore a breathtaking Audrey Hepburn-inspired black ball gown while attending the ballet at the iconic Opéra Garnier. In fact, she even looked quite chic in her gingham suit and red beret despite being dressed as a walking cliché. Regardless of everyone’s opinions on Emily’s wardrobe, there is no question that many of her outfits do inaccurately portray Parisian fashion. Had Emily toned down on the bold colors and traded the flashy accessories for a more practical look, her initial transition might have been smoother. A large part of Emily in Paris involves the protagonist being continuously called out for being an ignorant American and rightly so. She comes into a job in France without speaking a lick of the language or having done any kind of research on the culture and expects everybody to cater to her. It isn’t surprising that her new coworkers snub her. According Patricia Fields, the legendary Sex and the City costume designer who worked on Emily in Paris, the outfits were “intentionally cliché.” Emily’s embodiment as an unworldly American coupled with her ridiculous wardrobe aids the satire of the show. However, the overabundance of clichés embedded into the wardrobe opens up a narrative on how Americans act and dress when going abroad.
There is no question that it is fun to dress up in outfits inspired by the places we visit. Nevertheless, visitors should be weary of falling into the cliché trap, or even worse, appropriating culture. Emily certainly falls into the cliché trap with her clothing choices and she is not alone–Americans have the tendency to dress inappropriately when travelling abroad. They think it’s fun to wear chopsticks in their hair when visiting Japan or get cornrows for their vacations in Jamaica. This kind of cultural appropriation is much more severe and harmful to minority groups. The very definition of cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” Americans have the tendency to dress this kind of way in foreign countries and do very little research on the actual country and its culture. They end up looking ridiculous to locals and oftentimes outright offensive. Kim Kardashian memorably and quite hypocritically told her sisters that they “looked like f-cking clowns [for going] full Japan” while visiting the country. While Kim Kardashian is no role model as far as cultural appropriation goes, she does make a fair point. Just because you are visiting a place doesn’t give you the right dress in what you believe defines it.
While I don’t think anyone can accuse Emily of cultural appropriation, she certainly isn’t earning any brownie points with local Parisians. Wearing a beret doesn’t mean you are stealing French culture, it just makes you cliché and a little tone deaf. If Emily had only dressed more appropriately and made an effort to learn the language and culture, maybe she would’ve gotten along better with her colleagues. If the show had only depicted Paris for its true beauty and not as a cartoonish stereotype, maybe it would've received less criticism.