Dress The Part
"Mam, I just wanted to tell you that you are beautiful, radiant actually. When is your baby due?" Walking my children home from school, past my due date I got stopped and told this. Cool, right? It was a hot day beginning of April; I was walking close to the Barrier du Medoc in Bordeaux, France, across the street from McDonald's; my daughter wanted a chocolate Sunday for her snack. The man wasn't picking up on me, come on; I was nine months pregnant and with a huge ball of a tummy and two kids trailing behind me one asking for ice cream. He merely stated what he thought. I took his compliment with a smile and a gracious, "Thank you, sir." It was proof that I was dressing the part well.
When I first moved to France, I wore jeans, shorts, tee-shirts and stuck out like a giant elephant. "Mam, we don't have your size" was a constant for me. I am not a 'petite' woman. I watched, learned and ignored the size comments... they all had my size. Within weeks, I was changing my style, and moving forward. I adapted well, and the compliments started flowing.
This week I went to an event and had fun people watching. I realized that some expats choose to continue with their home styles, the L.L. Bean jeans they can buy at home with a polo shirt and a sweatshirt, their usual styles.
If I can be so bold and give any expat a piece of advice, find the beauty in the place you are, take in some of their ways... I am not talking about giving up your beloved things, wearing something you don't like or going rollerblading in a G-string or galloping a horse through the streets of Amsterdam in your boxer shorts. But live a little... buy a top in a funky vintage shop, men maybe buy some tight fitting jeans or a different kind of shirt; look at your environment and fit in. Otherwise, you will move on and regret it. Life is about learning, what a great opportunity to learn from others and expand your style.
I'll never forget seeing a woman in high black heels, a black straw hat and a bikini hopping on a sailing boat in Switzerland. The entire harbor was looking. Sure, she looked good, but she stuck out just like I did in France in my khaki shorts. It was a real sailboat and a sports harbor, and she looked silly... she was dressing for Cannes and the film festival not a Sunday afternoon on Lake Geneva.
My husband makes fun of me because I am insistent on finding out the dress codes for everything. I have a blended style now or shall we say eclectic. I am still learning and hope my style and my mind stays open through all of my travels and throughout old age.
Oh and P.S., it's a good excuse for shopping!
—Allison Ochs Social Worker M.S.W. , Coach, Expat, Mother of three, Wife