Le housecoat – it’s not exactly Jean Paul Gaultier darlings

Written by on February 15, 2012 in My French Life

The housecoat - essential garment of ladies in the village

Over the past couple of decades I’ve been all over France and it’s fair to say that this is a country of immense variety in many ways– landscape, culture, traditions, weather and – fashion!  I’ve bought silk stockings in Paris which were the only things I could afford from an amazing lingerie shop in the Champs Elysées, I got a wonderful Breton fisherman’s shirt in Brittany and in the South of France I was absolutely spoiled for choice in amazing espadrilles, leather handbags and summer dresses.

Where I live in the Nord-Pas de Calais it’s very much agricultural and farming country, it’s very fertile and I’m absolutely convinced that we get more rain here than anywhere else in France.  There are few pavements such as you have in town – grass verges maybe or fields line the roads. As a consequence, it’s often pretty muddy and what with the animals I seem to have acquired, for the last couple of years I’ve dressed like the locals – wellies, sturdy jeans, sweatshirts, fleeces and T shirts that don’t show the dirt in 5 minutes! My New York hooker shoes are in boxes wrapped in tissues and my designer jeans are lingering at the back of the wardrobe possibly never to see the light of day again – or at least never in this village.

There is one thing though that I am resisting and will never give in to – the housecoat.  I don’t mean the housecoat as a dressing gown or an apparel of glamour as designed by Vivienne Westwood I mean a full on housecoat as it was 50 years ago and more.

I did not think that such a thing existed any more.  I remember my Nan wearing a nylon housecoat when I was a toddler – all the old ladies where I was brought up in the Old Kent Road in London wore them but before I moved to the Pas-de-Calais region I hadn’t seen one for at least 40 years.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about – it’s like a long thin unlined coat type garment – sometimes with sleeves and sometimes without, usually with vomit inducing patterns of a floral or psychedelic nature or pastel coloured.  I’ve never seen one made of anything except nylon – presumably because it makes them easy to clean and iron (yup – people do iron them!).

This garment has got to be one of the most unflattering pieces of clothing ever invented but here in the north of France it is immensely popular.  Ladies of a certain age wear them during the day to keep their clothes clean and whilst I can see the merits of this I just can’t bring myself to don something that is so utterly horrible!

I must have looked a proper mad woman taking a picture of this lady cleaning her doorstep!

Everywhere I go I see them, old ladies weeding their gardens wear them with wellies, ladies cleaning their door steps (yes they still do that here) or cleaning their windows wear them with sensible shoes and rubber gloves and if you knock on the door of anyone in the village here you can bet it will be answered by a lady in a housecoat with slippers – the sort that you can slip off easily to don wellies or sensible shoes.  (I even took a picture to prove it as I wasn’t sure you would believe me!).

I’ve told my husband that if I ever look like showing signs of giving in and buying one of these items he’s to send me back to the UK at once – although looking down at the cat fur, dog paw marks and paint stains I’ve got on me today perhaps just one wouldn’t hurt…..


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