The Apaches of Paris

The Apaches were street gangs that roamed eastern Paris prior to World War 1. They adopted their name after Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West Show to Paris in 1905. They lived wild, criminal lives and could be recognized by the distinctive clothes they wore. The Apaches took their clothes very seriously and were reputedly willing to kill for the right pair of shoes.The shop on Rue du Faubourg du Temple, above, where they bought their distinctive fashions still bears the original Tailleur sign.
Each gang was dressed slightly differently, often wearing something such as a red scarf that would be both a sign of belonging and a means of identification in other territories. However, certain elements were the same in all gangs. All wore a certain type of trouser, tight at the knees and flared at the bottom, known as a Bénard. These were named after the tailor who made them, a certain Auguste Bénard, and the word is still used in Parisian slang today to designate a pair of trousers (bénard, ben’ or bénouze).

On their heads there was always a hat of some description, generally something flat in the form of a sailor’s cap, but it was what was put on the feet that was the most important. Claude Dubois in his depiction of the Bastille area of Paris (La Bastoche, 1997) describes the ideal pair:

Le comble de la coquetterie apache étant les bottines jaunes à bouts pointus cirées de frais avec des boutons dorés”. (The height of Apache vanity was a pair of freshly polished pointed yellow boots with golden buttons).


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