Three Americans in Paris–a Tale of Heroism and Fashion

Francois Hollande, Alek Skarlatos, Jane Hartley, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler - French President, Francois Hollande receives US-France Ambassador, Jane Hartley and honorees attend a reception at Elysee Palace on August 24, 2015 in Paris, France. Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Chris Norman are being awarded the Legion d'Honneur after overpowering the gunman, 25-year-old Moroccan, Ayoub El-Khazzani, on board a high-speed train after he opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris. El-Khazzani, who had a Kalashnikov, an automatic pistol and a box cutter, was arrested when the train stopped at the French town of Arras./picture alliance Photo by: Gisele Tellier/Geisler-Fotopress/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Among all the words written about the three young Americans who charged and subdued a heavily armed terrorist aboard a high-speed train in France, preventing what could have been a massive loss of life, was the fact that each received the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration given by France, while wearing polo shirts and khakis. (The British businessman who assisted them put on a suit to accept his award and spoke to his hosts in French.) Even the country club casual attire (built on “basics,” as retailers explain it to us) had to be scrounged up on the quick for the young heroes by friends and associates. Their detour from the Netherlands to Paris having been a spur-of-the-moment decision, their luggage had contained the usual assortment of shorts and T-shirts of young American travelers going just about everywhere. In light of their selfless heroism, much of the sartorial commentary about the ceremony has been along the lines of charmed recognition of the informality of the heroes in contrast to the great formality usually present at such events, particularly at the Élysée Palace.

We should first put aside the obvious: when a guy in his twenties packs for a summer vacation with his pals, he does not typically fret whether he should stuff into his backpack clothes suitable to get married in, on the off chance that he might either (a) find a bride or (b) receive the Légion d’honneur from the president of France. Those are three brave young men, but even they do not claim to be omniscient.

The more important point is that fashion is indeed everywhere. There is no way to avoid it. Even those who insist they do not care about fashion or style and dress how they please in order to be as anti-fashion and anti-style as they can are making fashion and style choices by so doing. That is, choosing to show that you are not keeping up with fashion is, in itself, a fashion choice. The fact that the two uninjured Americans (one of the men had been badly cut up by the attacker) did not first sprint down the Rue Saint-Honoré and throw themselves at the mercy of the head fitter at the Hermès flagship, begging to be form-fitted into business suits in time to get their medals pinned to their chests by President François Hollande, was itself a fashion statement. It said, “Given what we managed to do, we just didn’t think anyone cared how we looked as long as we showed the courtesy of making an effort appropriate to the moment and behaved respectfully.” And that is exactly what they did.

If there are fashion rules to draw from what happened at the Élysée Palace, it is this:

  1. Military heroes wear uniforms.
  2. Superheroes wear costumes strange enough to remind and assure us that they are the stuff of fantasy and nonsense.
  3. Ordinary citizens who do acts of heroism can wear whatever the hell they please.

And bravo to our three brave young men for making that fashion statement for all the world to see.

Credit: Alan Behr

Photo Credit: Used by Permission – Gisele Tellier/Geisler-Fotopress/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images