The French have earned a reputation for being a nation of fashionistas and being notoriously stylish. French women, and in particular Parisiennes, are often represented in pop culture as to having that certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to elegance, style, and grace.
And it is not hard to see why. When you walk around Paris, you notice that women of all ages with a distinct sense of “looking put-together”. And it doesn’t matter what size or age they are. While French women are supposed to be able to easily stay slim (this is a bit of a myth), the truth is that there are a lot of simple French style rules that can apply to all body sizes and shapes to give you the look you are going for.
The goal at the end of the day is that you want to be able to look as cool and chic as possible while still feeling comfortable. In a word, you want to feel fabulous. Even if you aren’t a runway model, because let’s face it, how many of us are!?
There are certain simple style rules that apply to all ages and all sizes no matter what your body type is. And that goes for whether you are aiming for high-end or affordable French fashion brands, as well as whatever event you are heading to.
Now, I do have general recommendations of how to dress if you are in Paris (taking into account the city’s logistics), but there are certain general French style rules that will work regardless of where you are and where you are going.
French fashion, and specifically Parisian fashion, usually aims for an outfit can go from day to night. This is because work days are long and people don’t have cars to keep an extra change of clothes/shoes. That Parisian metro isn’t the most pleasant to navigate with luggage, you know!
So taking all that into account, here are some easy French style rules that will help you dress well and look effortlessly chic.
1. Wear the proper size
The easiest way to look well-dressed is to wear the proper size. This may sound basic, but how many times have we seen even celebrities walk around in clothes that don’t quite fit?
Clothing brands often have sizing differences, sometimes within the same store. And not to mention that a “medium” in France is completely different from a “medium” in the U.S. So eyeball and measure the size if you can, and don’t be afraid to try it on.
2. Get tailored
And we’re all guilty of walking out of the house in pants that are too long because we haven’t had the time to take them to a tailor. Easier said than done, right? Nevertheless, if you want to go for that polished look, it becomes important to the time to get the fit correct.
3. Invest in classics
When we talk about French women’s style, we usually mean Parisienne women. Parisiennes live in small appartments, atleast when we compare to North Americans. The cost of living in Paris is quite high, so things like walk-in closets are rare.
With limited space, Parisiennes are forced to invest in classics that can be repurposed into different outfit. If you can’t turn that fitted jacket into at least 3 different outfits, perhaps it doesn’t belong in your closet.
On the plus side, if you avoid cheap fashion and invest in classic pieces, it will cut down on the amount of clothing to take to the tailor!
4. Pick good underwear
Wearing comfortable underwear that is not too light, in perhaps a matching set, is always going to make you feel more confident.
You could be wearing a dress from Louis Vuitton, but if your underwear underneath is uncomfortable, you are not going to look and feel fabulous.
5. Get your bra resized
One thing most women forget is beyond picking a proper bra size, is get resized every couple of years. Life changes and body routines change, so check to see that you still are the size you think you are. You may not be the same size at 25 before kids that you are at 35 after kids!
6. Avoid white underwear
Avoid plain white underwear as it isn’t flattering, even on Victoria Secret models. If you are wearing a white shirt or t-shirt, the most Parisiennes tend to wear a black bra, not a white one. (If you are not prepared to go that far, you can go for a nude-color instead!) You can read more French lingerie rules here.
7. Look where the seams are falling
Something might be sized correctly, but the seams may not be falling where they should. For example, shoulder seams should fall on the shoulder at an angle. Seams attract the attention of the eye as a line break, so if the seam is not falling where it should, the overall look is sloppy.
In addition, if there is a part of the body that you don’t want to draw attention to, a seam going right across it, is not going to have the desired effect.
8. Less is more
In the words of French fashion legend Coco Chanel, “get dressed, and then take one item off”. If you are wearing statement earrings, there is no need for a statement necklace as well. If you are highlighting the eyes and the cheeks, that bright lipstick might be too much.
9. Wear comfortable shoes
If your feet hurt, you are not going to be beaming in confidence. French women don’t usually wear tottering heels or other other comfortable shoes, because they are all likely to get stuck on those cute little cobblestone streets.
Low kitten heels or moccasins tend to be the order of the day, have an outfit that can adapt to any occasion, including that hot date in the evening.
10. Embrace the neutral
Most Parisiennes tend to stick to neutral colors and then add an extra touch of “something”. Again, this has to do with having small closets and really finding pieces that can be worked into multiple outfits. Neutral colors can include any of the following:
- navy blue
11. Not more than 2 colors
Color blocking may be a trend, but you have to know which colors to pull together. Limiting yourself to 2 colors in terms of pairing clothing and accessories is a simple way to look stylish. It looks like you put some thought into it, but doesn’t overwhelm.
Add more colors into the mix, and it starts to get complicated to get the balance just right.
12. Color Theory
And while picking colors, it is important to pick the counterpart appropriately. Warm colors together, and cool shades together.
We all know the basic bright color wheel but when it comes to clothing, colors are usually more subtle. Picking shades and matching opposites on a color wheel can be a useful trick while getting dressed.
When picking an outfit, look to match clothes using the following rules:
- Work on Harmony: Look for colors that are complementary (on the opposite sides) of the wheel, or are next to each other on the color wheel.
- Check the temperature: Combine colors that are on the same side of the color wheel. For instance, in the color wheel above, the warm sunshine colors are on the right, while the cooler wintery colors are on the right.
- Experiment with tints, tones, and shades: Each circle of the color wheel takes the primary color and adds either white, grey or black. When picking outfits, staying along the same circle will make it easier to find colors that go together.
13. Skincare is important
One of the best ways to look and feel good is taking care of your skin. And that means not too much makeup. The caked-on look only works if you are on tv. French women don’t usually put on a lot of makeup, other than eyes or lips. A tinted moisturizer or concealer should usually be enough if you have a good skin-care routine.
At a minimum, it a regular skin-care routine should include:
- Washing your face and using a cleanser
- Toning and balancing the skin.
- Moisturizing and hydrating the skin
In addition, a good sunscreen will help preserve your skin from a sun.
14. Size up white garments
White outfits can add a touch of elegance to your attire (as people wonder how you manage to remain stain-free!). Eye-catching as they are however, they can draw your eye to the wrong place if they are too tight. A simple trick is to always buy a white top or pant in a size up from your normal size so that you don’t fall into this trap.
15. Create visual interest
With all these rules, it is easy to fall into the trap of just wearing black all the time. Don’t! Bland is boring. Minimalism is fine, but don’t be afraid to pick a piece (top, bottom, accessory, etc.) that breaks all the rules and is unusual enough to bring some interest to your outfit.
16. Use layering
Layering with a thin sweater or jacket is a great way to create visual interest. Some things to try:
- have a collar peaking out of a sweater
- wear a long jacket to create a long vertical line
- use a different texture material when layering
- play with proportion, eg. baggy top and skinny bottom
- vary your sleeve lengths
- throw in a pattern
17. Accessories are key
Amp up your outfit with an distinctive accessory to make a statement. An ordinary outfit can easily be elevated with a beautiful accessory like:
- large earrings
Now, remember not to overdo it. Based on the size of the accessory, stick to just 1-3 accessories to keep in style.
18. Attention to details
If you want to look put together, pay attention to the details. Things like chipped nails, scuff marks on shoes, stains, rips, etc. can look like you are not taking care of yourself. A scuffed up Longchamps bag is still going to look cheap, rather than the polished look you are going for.
19. Shades of red
So French women can be rather unoriginal. Creativity in makeup colors is not encouraged in France. If makeup stores, you will find many shapes of red, but forget about finding pink or purple. And don’t even think about blue nails.
Red lips and red nails is the French way to make a fashion statement and add a pop of color. (Finding that perfect red however, is a whole another story!)
20. Leave your hair alone
The French look is all about being natural. Like you just bounced out of bed, and went on your way. No need for overdone curls and a can full of hairspray. Plus, you’ll feel better if you don’t have a sticky helmet on your bed.
I also find that my hair tends to “sit” better in the days after being washed, rather than on the day itself. Obviously this depends on your hair type, but I encourage you to try not washing your hair everyday. It takes a couple of weeks to get used to it, but you’ll love how your hair looks.
21. Drink lots of water and sleep well
It is not always easy to do what we know is good for us. But when it comes to looking good and feeling great, a well-rested and hydrated person is always going to look and feel better than someone overworked and exhausted. So take care of yourself!
If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about what to wear when visiting that fashion capital, Paris. A bientôt!
¹ Featured Image: Jeremy Marasigan