Alyson’s short story was the undisputed winner of our contest with Blend Magazine with a well-written and alluring story about her first days as a student in Paris. She won Sugito’s Ambassador bag.

Disclaimer: This story is not about my first days as a freshman in college, but actually about my first days as a 3rd year. Why, you may ask? Because for my third year in college, I moved to Paris to study abroad. Moving to Europe has been like starting my first days in college all over again; not only is it just as nerve-racking, it’s also a million times more exciting. And since this is a fashion-oriented blog, I’ve decided to revolve my story around just that. This story is about how moving across the world has forced me to reevaluate my sense of fashion — not just in how I dress, but in how I live my life.

What it really means to be fashion forward

I am an American in Paris. Actually, that statement is a bit misleading; I’m actually a Californian in Paris. It may sound pretentious, but I stand by that distinction — not just for the fact that Europeans act significantly nicer to me, but for the pure reason that Californians are notably better different than most Americans. No, we don’t all know how to surf or hang out at the beach all day — though I may be guilty of overusing the phrase “dude” — but compared to the rest of America we are generally more relaxed, more open-minded, and even, dare I say, more fashionable. (Take that New York!)

I moved to Paris exactly a month ago from today. When I left, I made sure to pack all my best clothes. Every blazer, scarf, and cocktail dress I ever bought would finally be put to proper use. See, probably what I love most about Paris, despite the dog excrement in the streets and overpriced espressos, is its undeniable style. People here dress to impress everyday, whether rain or shine, warm or freezing subzero temperatures. Considering how laid back Californians can be — San Franciscans especially — at my university it was always acceptable to go to class in a pair of flip flops and basketball shorts. Doing that here would be worse than going out naked.

It’s only been my first 3 weeks at school, and already I’ve maxed out some of my best pieces of clothing. But the greatest thing about fashion becoming a challenge is learning how to be innovative. Already, I’ve learned the importance of picking and choosing the right accessories that can make or break an outfit– whether it be adding a beanie or a different colored scarf, knee high boots or some casual boat shoes. And of course, there are the formulas that never fail: with a pair of flats, cuffed jeans, a blazer, and a boldly colored scarf you can never go wrong. The best part is that mixing and matching provides you with endless options.

But of course, moving to Paris hasn’t been the fashion perfect fairy tale I’ve made it out to be thus far. The first week I moved in, I was kicked out of my apartment by the neurotic woman I was renting a room from. I should’ve known better than to try and live with a 50+ year old divorcee living by herself in Paris. She may not have owned 10 cats, but she also sat in front of the window and stared off into space for five hours every day. I think it was best that she kick me out instead of getting chopped into pieces and hidden under her floorboards.

So yes, I am technically homeless, but how I’m solving that situation is another story for another time.

On top of the debacle that is my housing situation, I’ve also been chased by gypsies through the Métro, nearly fallen off of a boat while riding on the Seine, been unexpectedly molested by male strippers at a club (though I wasn’t complaining), been told by an old man not to eat his dog (I’m of Asian descent), and got kissed by a taxi driver that looked like Mario Batali.

So have the past 3 weeks of my life been exciting? You could say.

But the greatest lesson that Paris has taught me (besides not to trust fat taxi drivers or smile at Parisians on the bus) is that style is more than just dressing the part. For my international program, I’m attending a posh school, and to say that the other students here are intimidating is a bit of an understatement. Like I said, people dress like they’re expecting to get their photo taken by the Sartorialist everyday, standing outside le bibliothèque while holding a Longchamps bag in one hand and a cigarette in the other. They’re classy, they’re nonchalant, they’re French. Not to say fashion requires you to be stoic and apathetic — but when you look at them, you know, that they know, that they look good. (Bit of a tongue twister, that one.)

And it’s the truth; these people could probably be wearing trash bags and still look flawless. So I suppose that’s my real point. Looking good requires you to know you look good. And as out-played and cliché as it may sound, confidence is your most vital accessory. For me, that lesson is even more important, now having moved to a country where my cultural barrier is more than just the language. To survive in this concrete jungle of designer labels and posh, elitist Frenchies, I have to do more than wear the clothes, I have to wear them confidently.

And you know, maybe having the perfect leather backpack to complement all my outfits every day of the year will help me do just that. Just kidding. I’m not kidding.

So what have these first few amazing, exciting, outrageous, and all together unforgettable days of college taught me? To be fashionable you have to be innovative, but to be stylish you have to be confident. And slowly, but surely, I am learning how to be both.

Thank you for this opportunity, and I hope you enjoyed my entry.

Best wishes,

Alyson Noele Sagala