By Donna Evleth
Fashion and France are intertwined in the minds of many. The stock image of the elegant Parisienne with a perfectly tied scarf persists. In fact, the scarf is so fundamental to the French dress code that one American women’s group in Paris has given a course in scarf tying. Yes, women want to be properly dressed for every occasion.
Some occasions are more challenging than others. Consider fashion standards for women visiting their near and dear in a maximum security prison. Their dress style depends on their relationship to the prisoner. Mothers and friends choose clothing that is practical—warm coats, pants and pullovers—because the prison visiting room is cold and dank.
For the young wife, a black lace dress with a very short skirt is the ultimate in prison chic. Young wives wear this kind of outfit to titillate their men. No, it’s not being mean. They know that in this maximum security prison, sex in the visiting room is tolerated. That’s why they also wear voluminous scarves, draped not tied in the fashion of chic Parisian women. These scarves will be used to turn the semi-private visiting booths into more private enclosures. The rule for everyone in the drab blue visiting room, from the guard on duty at one end to the other visitors in neighboring booths, is “don’t ask, don’t look.”
The sexy wives do not, however, wear shoes with spike heels. Those don’t make it through the metal detector. These wives know, as do all the other women, that stiletto heels contain hidden metal stiffening. They don’t want to attract attention by tripping the metal detector, especially if they are smuggling in contraband, drugs, or more innocently, chocolate chip cookies. Boat shoes or rubber sandals may not be very glamorous, but in a maximum security prison, fashion sometimes has to adjust.
© 2014, Donna Evleth
Donna Evleth is a long-time American expatriate living in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.