by Jean-Marie Baiardi
You peer at her through the corner of your sunglasses, as she casually saunters down the mid-afternoon city street. Her messy auburn hair is perched above her forehead in a messy top knot- her spare make-up just a smidge of nude pink lipstick and slightly smudged black liner that hints at a late night tryst the night before. Her striped, silk, off-the-shoulder blouse is over-sized and loosely grazes the top of her dark-rinsed skinny cigarette jeans. As you sit in your yoga gear (which you wear despite the fact that you haven’t been to an actual yoga class since 2012) you feel a slight ache in your chest. What is this pang? Is it jealously? Envy mixed with intrigue? Do you want to be her? Channel a bit of her je ne sais quoi? This creature is more than mythical, so much more than merely iconic. She is a contradictory bundle of feelings, emotions and exsquisite angst. She is everything you’ve ever wanted to be, and all at once, nothing. She is the quintessential French woman, and her image burns strong in our collective subconscious.
So how do we capture even just a bit of this complex being’s aura, and translate it into style? There are a multitude of articles on “how to dress French,” “how to have French style” etc. A simple google search reveals the extent of our cultural fascination with this figure. But these articles and didactic “how to’s” are missing something and are at odds with the actual spirit of the French woman. French style cannot be distilled down to a simple formula and is not at all what this allure is about. If anything, it can be loosely summed up by the French saying “Bon chic, bon genre” or, good style, good attitude. French style is a mood, it is an attitude. It is a self-assured way of walking, a quiet sigh, taking the time to read a treasured book on a hidden park bench, or taking a longer lunch in a beautiful park rather than being crammed in an office cubicle. It is wearing your nice loungerie even though no one can see it, it is letting your smile linger a second longer as you lock eyes with an attractive stranger, and it is highlighting the beauty mole on your face that the magazines tell you to cover up with concealer. It is being the true you, and not just what society tells you to be. Lou Douillon, the French model and actress, once said to Vogue “French style has got to do with a certain form of arrogance, which I love. French girls have a tremendous respect for themselves in a way, and so they have what they want to wear, and what they won’t wear even. If every magazine is saying ‘This is what you should be wearing’ French girls are funny like that. They have their own thing going.”
Okay, okay, so how does this je ne sais quoi translate into real style advice? While there are no hard and fast rules- mais non! There are just a few tips to keep in mind. First, grab a copy of the cult classic “How to Be Parisian, wherever you are” by Caroline de Maigret. Virtually every article on French style references it, and you can savor reading it over a beignet and latte at your favorite local coffee shop. It will put you in a relaxed and confident state of mind and keep you entertained for hours. Next, consider these very loose guidelines for channeling your inner French woman.
- Be done with following trends.
French women are not slaves to fashion. They find and cultivate their own unique style and stick to what works. Invest in a few elegant pieces that will last much longer than a quick season. For example, a beautifully tailored trench coat in beige or black, a smartly cut blazer to wear over jeans, or a luxurious grey cashmere sweater will stand the test of time. No major brand flashing is allowed. Carefully avoid ostentatious displays of wealth like the plague. If it has an LV, a CC, a D r a YSL emblazoned on it, ditch it. Besides, the only people shopping at these brands anyway in France are American tourists.
- Stick to a neutral color palette
Think navy, beiges, greys, white, and black. This will be a simple backdrop for you to easily work with, and you can add a little pop of color here and there- a burgundy neck scarf, a blue sweater draped over your shoulders etc. You can also riff on this uniform by changing up a piece or two with an unexpected twist- change just a detail up- add a graphic tee or ankle boots for a slight edge.
- Keep things simple
Don’t go overboard and wear all your great pieces at once- otherwise you’ll look like you belong at a tacky euro-club on the Riviera. Pair down your wardrobe and edit it. Coco Channel once said “Before leaving the house, a lady should look in the mirror and remove one item.” There is beauty in editing down a look to the basics, and you will stand out in your simplicity.
- Have a signature piece
“The signature piece is a gift that a woman gives herself, and it is a symbol of independence and freedom, which states: I bought this for myself. I earned it and it makes me happy.” Will it be a black leather moto jacket? A gold hammered wrist cuff? A well-tailored pair of wool slacks? A soft pima cotton tee? Give yourself this gift and wear it with pride.
- Enjoy costume pieces
Don’t hesitate to wear costume jewelry. Be it rhinestone baubles or a lucite cocktail rings these pieces are gems that can be mixed in with abandon with your more expensive wardrobe items.
- Have a backstory for everything.
You don’t need a lot of items in your wardrobe- but every piece should tell some sort of story. Did you purchase your brown suede hobo bag while thrifting with your lover on the Left Bank of Paris? Is your mini-dress a gift from a dear childhood friend? These pieces value lie in the sentiment attached to it, not the actual price tag.
- Keep a few key updated essentials in your wardrobe.
Some pieces to always have on hand are a well cut pair of jeans, a gorgeous bag, a sharp pair of mens lace-up Oxford shoes, a pair of ballet flats, a sumptuous sweater, the perfect red lipstick, a chic little black dress, and plenty of well-fitting cotton tee shirts. You can mix these staple pieces with trendier items in your wardrobe.
Despite all these guidelines, the soul of a French woman has a pulse and sensibility that is unique to her very own persona. Get in touch with your true self, hold true to what is special about you and you will be your own siren. Isn’t that what it is all about anyway?