March- the month in Paris where some days feel like spring and others forecast snow. One of the best parts of this ambivalent weather is the fact that Parisians end up unsure of what each day’s appropriate head attire should be, thus upping my odds of a few non-ironic beret sightings.
What is a non-ironic beret sighting, you ask? Well first, I’ll tell you what it isn’t. The majority of people you find walking the streets of Paris in a beret fall into two categories, both of which are dripping with irony.
Category 1: The sightseeing tourist who has purchased a beret from a corner stand along Rue de la Huchette or Place du Trocadéro in order to feel “more French.” Their presence, particularly the red variety, seems to explode around Valentine’s Day. The irony lies in the fact that many of these tourists either already know or come to realize that the other people around them wearing berets are as non-French as they are- but don’t really care. Somehow the whole world remains convinced that French people wear berets, a belief perpetuated by non-French people continuing to wear berets while visiting the country.
Category 2: A smaller, yet even more ironic group of beret wearers exist, and they are actually French. Some of the younger French generation is having fun “bringing back the beret” in the same ironic way some Americans can be found sporting butterfly clips à la 1999 Britney. Look for them in the Latin Quarter or along the canal, where they may very likely be fulfilling two French stereotypes at once thanks to a cigarette in hand.
I’m not hating on either of these two categories, c’est la vie parisienne these days. Both categories make me smile when witnessing them out on my daily runs around Paris, but not nearly as much as when I occasionally witness the third category of a non-ironic beret wearing Parisian. It is rare and therefore gratifying.
This third, albeit small, category are the true sustainers of authentic beret life: older Parisians who pull out their old, crumpled beret to run an errand or take a stroll in the neighborhood. Their gait is a little slower and the vibe is pure old Parisian charm. In fact, my favorite non-ironic beret sightings are complimented by a baguette in one arm and folded newspaper in the other.
These are the non-ironic beret sightings I am always on the lookout for. They seem to become more common in March, when Parisians are no longer fully bundled for winter, but still in need of protection from the elements. Look for them up in the hills of Montmartre or buried deep in the 14th arrondissement, strolling along Parc Montsouris.
Their beret holds no irony, just years of memories- the kind I’m grateful to be making here.