Culture & Textiles

A Field Trip with French II

Let me start off by saying, I decided to take French at Swarthmore as a way to complete my language requirement. I had studied Latin in high school, but Latin is a dead language so I assumed it could not count towards the language requirement—not true. Even so, I wanted to officially learn French. Half of my family speaks the language, but I just never caught on. So I enrolled in the introductory French classes taught by Professor Benjamin, Professor Arnaud, and Professor Micheline. One thing to know about these professors is that they are eager to get you immersed in not only the language, but the culture as well. It goes without saying that fashion is very much a part of French culture being that Paris is the fashion capital of the world, so we spent quite some time on the topic. 

We learned how to describe someone’s outfit pretty early on, par exemple, maintenant je porte mon Swarthmore t-shirt rouge, une paire des baskets roses, et des jeans. For those of you who are not familiar with French, that translates to I am wearing my red Swarthmore t-shirt, a pair of pink sneakers, and jeans. The Francophone instructors said that it was a spur of the moment idea to go visit the Fabulous Fashion exhibit, but I have a small inclination to believe they had a plan all along. 

On the first Saturday of March, those who were interested got a free trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to take a tour of the Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now exhibit. It was so crowded because the exhibit was ending in two days, but it was worth it. Our tour guide explained to us—unfortunately in English—how the mixture of types of available materials, societal ideals, and the emotions of designers ultimately influenced what people wore. For instance, the 90’s were all about wacky color combinations. In the exhibit, there was a room dedicated to this turn of the century style in which a collection of dresses designed by Issey Miyake were featured. These dresses highlighted color-blocking, bright colors, and mixing of patterns. 

Miyake suit.jpg
A collection of Miyake dresses from the 90s

We saw the original garments of Kathleen P. Field, the wife of a Philadelphian magnate. One thing I liked about her sense of style was that she was not afraid to be bold. On display was a hot pink skirt-suit with a jacket that was bursting with pink fur around the neck and down the lapel. However, the outfit of hers that really caught my eye was this soft sovereign purple dress designed by Oscar de la Renta.

Mrs. Field’s dress designed by Oscar de la Renta stands in the middle

The professors who went on the trip with us continued to speak French throughout, which was pretty cool because they were more relaxed and taught us slang. Like instead of saying “je suis,” you can just shorten it up and say “j’suis.” We got a bite to eat before we left and they tried to teach us the names of the pastries we ordered, but that was pretty uneventful since most people got croissants and muffins which translate directly.

Overall, it was a nice trip for a Saturday afternoon. I got to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and get lost for a little bit, I got to meet other students who either speak French or who are taking Francophone course at Swarthmore, and I did not spend a single cent.

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