Monday, April 24, 2017

Spring (Sports) Fashion Notes From Paris

Baseball caps are surprisingly common headwear among French men. Not just generic caps, or ones for soccer teams, but the real American McCoy. In 10 days in the country, I saw at least three twentysomething chaps wearing Red Sox caps, and one bicycling down the Quai de Chartons in Bordeaux wearing an Astros cap!

Before Rob Manuel believes MLB has reached marketing heaven, he should listen to my expatriate daughter Hope's explanation. These caps are not worn as allegiance to OUR national pastime. The heads under the caps may not have ever seen a game, or name the team whose logos are on the caps. They are most often souvenirs, purchased by French tourists/students/business travelers in the United States as an authentically American souvenir which also keeps the sun out of their eyes.

(I will confess this does not explain the grizzled street person I saw outside the St. Paul metro station in Paris' 3rd arrondissement last Saturday. He was 45 going on 70, in the uniform of the down and outer complete to wine in a brown paper bag. He wore a grimy but unmistakable Buffalo Sabres cap!)

But by far the most common ball cap seen in France, by a factor of maybe 100 to 1, is a Yankees cap. A decent minority are the genuine dark blue/black article, but more are fashion statements made in Europe, or at least in Vietnam, in all colors of the rainbow plus brown. The Yankee logo on each, however, is unmistakable.

These caps really ARE fashion statements. The real ones are worn by young black men (and some white) as a means of standing with hip-hop culture. One kid near Place de la Republique made a real commitment, wearing a Yankees cap and a Brooklyn Nets jersey.

But the non-regulation Yankee caps make a more general statement. They say that the wearer identifies with, has been to, or wishes he could go to, New York City, which is one of the three places in the US about which the average French citizen has some hazy knowledge or at least mental image, California and Texas being the others. Don't sneer, dear American readers. Aside from an image of Paris and maybe the Riviera, what do you know of France? Could you tell what are the distinctive qualities of the Auvergne or Dordogne? Why expect a lifelong Parisian to know about South Dakota or Oregon?

I suppose it's no surprise that the most relentlessly and irritatingly branded sports team of the most relentlessly and irritatingly branded city in our country and probably our planet has penetrated as far as France's metropolis and its provinces. But after awhile, the sight of all those Yankee caps generated a certain sad comparison, one that evoked no surprise but much pity.

The one thing I never saw in 10 days in France was anyone wearing a Mets cap.


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