For Paris youth, rags are the rage

The pinnacle of Parisian chic for the ``under 25s'' this year is tatters, rags, and antique clothing. Yes, fripe is in. That's the slang term in France for secondhand clothing. Paris has vast sources for fripe. There are couture fashions for sale in expensive emporiums such as Anna Lowe on the Avenue Matignon, where film stars and wealthy socialites place on consignment gala gowns that were seen once too often at the big charity balls. At the opposite end of the scale are dozens of small shops specializing in ravaged garments full of holes made either by moth or age -- garments that have certainly never had the least acquaintance with the dry cleaner.

An important wholesale source is the United States, which ships container loads from New York packed in miscellaneous bundles that are purchased by the kilo and distributed to bulk-clothing warehouses. The vast majority of stock at the Porte de Clignancourt Flea Market comes from these dealers. Another flea market at the Porte de Montreuil deals at an even lower echelon. The street vendors do a thriving business selling shabby discards that had been strewn along the sidewalk. These sell at rock-bottom p rices.

Specialized shops are more choosy and select higher-quality goods. Many are actually not even secondhand, the prime requisite being that they are overlarge, sloppy, and sport a certain feeling of retrospection.

``Retro'' effects emanate principally from the 1950s and '60s, before many of today's enthusiasts were born. Looking backward represents a certain individualism achieved at low cost, a sort of gesture of disdain at the designer initials and prestige logos.

Twins, a shop owned and run by twin sisters, Veronique and Dominique, has a vast assortment of 1950-ish clothes: men's outsized tweed jackets priced from 250 to 300 francs, baggy pants in the same price range, and neckties with eye-searing patterns for around 50 francs. The store sells both American and European secondhand garments, and the small shop on the Left Bank has proved so successful that the owners are moving to larger quarters.

The latest boutique for unisex fripe, appropriately named Rag Clothing, opened this summer on the Rue de Turbigo near Les Halles. Various imports from the United States are called ``American rag components.''

Maybe next year the neat-and-nice look will take hold. Who knows? But right now rags are the rage.

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