OK – so, I am a little obsessed with how French women dress and there’s a reason for this: French style pretty much follows the guidelines I write about in my book, Shopping for the Real You.
I’m not talking about the artful way they tie their scarves, which, actually, they’re wearing pretty loose and casually these days. Nor am I going to reference some of the more eclectic and extreme street-style outfits a lot of the “influencers” are wearing to the spring and fall fashion shows. I’m just going to share how the average, very chic, very self-aware French woman dresses on a daily basis.
French women opt for simplicity. They choose Classic basic pieces of the highest quality that they can afford. That means perfectly fitting trousers or jeans, jackets or coats, and outerwear. But then they add a feminine touch. That’s because French style is inherently feminine.
For example, they might pair a more menswear look in a jacket or pants with a more flirty blouse or sweater. Or they will add just a few strategic pieces of jewelry that draw they eye where they want you to look. Or they might spice up their neutral clothing with a handbag or scarf in an eye-catching color or design.
Their closets aren’t a jumble of fads, multiple prints, or complicated pieces. Like all chic women, they know the silhouettes that are most flattering for their bodies and only choose those. They shop intentionally. Altogether, it is a very simple but effective approach to fashion.
So let’s look at a few things that are available now and explain why you might find them in a chic French woman’s wardrobe.
A signature leather jacket
Fundamentally leather is a considered a “yang” textile because it is durable, dense, and derived from nature. (I’m not going to get into a faux vs. real discussion here.) But the cut, color, type of skin, and style can make it appear either softer, more “yin,” or more edgy, “yang.” For example, you’ll see a lot of leather blazers in the stores right now. The leather adds an element of yang to what is a classic piece, Classic being neither neither yin nor yang. But any leather or suede jacket will project a different essence based on type of skin and color. One with a metallic finish will add a bit of drama – yang. If the color is, for example, pink or pale blue, that takes down the yang quality of the skin. If it’s in a very fine lamb, suede, or kid leather, it’s not as “tough” as a stiffer skin or a texture.
Here are a few examples of both faux and real jackets that are a little off the beaten path.
Boots and good flats
The next thing you’ll see on most French women is either a great pair of boots or a pair of pretty flats. Although the younger women may experiment with what I consider ugly shoes, (those sneakers with exaggerated or wavy soles) most stylish French women will opt for comfortable, well-made boots and flats that are simple but elegant. Boots with heels will elevate (pun intended) almost any outfit, but flat boots can do the same. Elegant ballet flats or tastefully adorned ones take footwear from a utilitarian necessity to more of a statement. Here are some examples.
I’ve been trying to analyze why trench coats have had such longevity in the wardrobes of chic women. Personally, I love them, but that’s because I have a lot of yang in my own personal style. They are, basically, a menswear style. Here’s what I believe. When you see a woman who is elegant, gentle, and alluring (I’ll talk about those elements at the end of this post) wearing menswear, she looks even more sexy. It’s the counterpoint of all that femininity against a man’s type of clothing that simply highlights her womanliness. A great trench coat can pull together many a feminine, casual, or more classic outfit. The longer ones are a bit more timeless than the jacket-length ones that are also being shown now.
A Great Cardigan
There are two sweater personality styles you will see chic French women wear, and they are pretty much opposites. One has a kind of casual insouciance and the other, a measured flirtation. For the former effect, you’ll find them wearing simple longer cardigans thrown over a basic tee and worn with a great pair of trousers or jeans. The effect is, “I didn’t try too hard.” But the look is enviable. It’s both comfortable and hip. Then there are shorter cardigans that have some allure. What’s popular among those now is a cropped shape with billowy sleeves. Depending on how cropped they are and how billowy the sleeves are, they will either be a short-lived trend or something your granddaughter will steal from your closet years from now.
There are some other elements that you’ll typically see on French women, such as a few simple pieces of jewelry. Those might be layered delicate chains or one statement necklace that they wear with everything. Or they may be a grouping of bangles or something sentimental like a charm bracelet. And of course, they always carry a great handbag. But handbags are a whole story unto themselves. In general they will likely spend the highest percentage of their wardrobe on a great handbag, and use it for decades.
Finally, my very favorite book on the subject of how to define French style is Tish Jett’s Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance. It is simply delightful and highly informative. She goes over so many other areas that make French women the subject of numerous books. I re-read it periodically just for fun and inspiration.
Vive la France!
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