Basic French Style
What is it about French fashion that makes it so appealing and, well, French? I would sum it up in two words – confidence and class.
The French woman wears the clothes – the clothes don’t wear her. There is a classic simplicity that never goes out of style and looks right for every occasion – neither under nor (god forbid) over dressed.
French women always look properly “put together” in a very un-fussy way. Clothing flatters the body. If it’s jeans and a T-shirt, the jeans are well fitting, current, and correct for the body type, and the T-shirt will have a flattering fit and neckline and not just hang like a box. Flat shoes are often worn because Parisians do a lot of walking, but never gym shoes (which belong in the gym) or flip-flops (which belong at the beach). The exception would be Converse sneakers or a modern leather sneaker, which could be paired with anything from jeans for a tomboy look, to dresses for an interesting bit of juxtaposition.
Here are some of the essentials of French style:
The French woman is not a slave to fashion.
Translation: Forget trends. Know what looks good on you and stick to that.
I’ve fallen prey to some pretty cringe-worthy trends over the years. I think the worst was a sort of upscale semi-bohemian look with long, flow-y layers of fabric and lace and crap. I’m a short little woman. Not a good look.
The important question is this – “what is this (sweater, jacket, dress, etc.) doing for my body?” Is the length elongating me or pulling me down? Is the top adding shape and accentuating my best assets, or just making me boxy? If it doesn’t flatter you, don’t wear it. Period.
Proportion is critical too. The hem has to hit at the exact right spot- half an inch in either direction can make the difference between frumpy and fantastic. As a general rule, think in terms of opposites. Pair a fuller, blousy top with a slim skirt or pants, and vice-versa. Wear flats with short skirts and heels with longer skirts. Baggy clothes top to bottom often adds weight and looks sloppy. Tightly fitted top to bottom, especially paired with heels, can look street walker-y.
And if you don’t have a perfect super-model body? The fact is, probably less than 1% of the population even have the ability to attain the “perfect” body – it’s called genetics. If you need to lose some weight, then by all means lose some weight. It’s healthy for both body and psyche. But in the meanwhile invest in good shapewear and flatter the heck out of what you’ve got.
French style is effortless.
Translation: Don’t look like you tried so hard. Unless you are going for a haut couture sort of runway look which happens, what, four or five or never times a year, the look should not be over-adorned. Ever hear of “Christmas tree chic”? No, you have not.
Coco Chanel is noted for having instructed “before you walk out the door, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Except she said it in French.
Stick with the simple classic basics with one bit of stand-out flash – a statement necklace or scarf, a pop of color on the shoes or bag, or just a fantastic red lipstick (a wardrobe staple).
Another key element of French style is comfort. No, I’m not talking sweat pants and Ugg boots, I’m talking about clothes that fit your body properly so you aren’t continually futzing and pulling up this or pulling down that. No heels so high that you can’t walk gracefully or neckline so low that you’re constantly doing a boob check.
As Chanel model and style icon Ines de la Fressange has said, “If you don’t feel comfortable in a plunging sweater, skin-tight jeans and killer heels, go home and change.” She probably said that in French too. The point is, nothing is better than feeling confident or worse than feeling conspicuous.
Start to follow just these two simple guidelines and feel your French woman confidence start to emerge.
Bonjour! Je suis Kelley
Hi, I’m Kelley – thrower of parties, drinker of wine, and lover of all things French. I hope you enjoy my Lessons in Becoming French!