Have you ever found yourself staring at photos of Parisian It-girls like singer Lou Doillon or actress Clémence Poésy and wondering how they look so utterly perfect all of the time? You aren’t alone. When it comes to style, the French do it better. Hell, they pretty much do everything better: They eat better, they drink better and they definitely dress better.
Break down the wardrobes of these women, and the style rules they live by begin to crystalize: Forgo a trendy embellished sweatshirt for a perfectly fitted LBD dress you’ll wear for years, for one. Invest in a few classic luxury items, like a Hermès Kelly, knowing it will ultimately be a value spread over time. And above all, work to perfect a unique style all your own, because half the battle when it comes to dressing well is feeling good in what you are wearing.
Parisian fashionistas develop a signature look, and stick with it. They might update their wardrobe with a few trends, but they always stick to a similar aesthetic. This also makes shopping a hell of a lot easier.
Ever notice how French women never seem to have hair that looks fussy? When fashion editor Carine Roitfeld shows up on the red carpet in an evening gown, she always wears her hair down. It barely seems brushed, yet it looks utterly perfect and sexy.
Get the look yourself with Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray ($27 at Sephora), which will add a sexy wind-blown look to your hair. Or, try your luck simply waking up and not going to the trouble of styling your hair. If Roitfeld can do it, why can’t you?
A French woman in a Breton striped shirt is a bit of a stereotype, but with good reason: Nothing looks quite as effortlessly cool. Pair one with a pair of skinny dark washed jeans and a pair of flats for a weekend of errands, or with a print skirt for a more dressed up bohemian look. The classic Breton striped shirt is the Saint James Galathée (price varies at Saint James), but less expensive options abound at places like H&M, Gap, and Zara.
Parisian women have made the trench coat their BFF. Wear it on the weekends with jeans, over gowns to formal events, layered with a fur stole when the weather gets colder, over your shoulders during the spring—the possibilities are endless. It’s no wonder French style icons like Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy were rarely photographed out of a trench.
“French women wear clothes that flatter their bodies, regardless of trends,” designer Sophie Theallet told Oprah.com. Step one is buying clothes that fit your body well. Step two is finding a great tailor to make sure that everything in your closet fits to a T—from your everyday black pants to your go-to black tie gown.
For the most part, French women dress in a grown-up neutral palette of black, white, beige, and brown, and add pops of color to their look with accessories—say, a red handbag or a brightly patterned scarf. It makes mixing and matching from within your closet pretty effortless, not to mention sticking within this palette makes it hard to make a fashion mistake.
Actress Catherine Deneuve wore a single pair of Roger Vivier buckled low-heeled pumps throughout her 1967 classic “Belle de Jour,” which got us thinking—you don’t need a thousand pairs of shoes to look fabulous, you just need one or two really great pairs to get the job done.
Karl Lagerfeld muse Inès de la Fressange is carrying on the tradition today, regularly wearing Roger Vivier Gommette patent-leather ballerinas ($550 at MyTheresa.com) with just about everything. In the words of Coco Chanel: “A woman with good shoes is never ugly!” It’’ a sentiment that’s hard to argue with.
Save up for the pieces that you know you’ll have for life—that Hermès scarf, a Chanel bouclé jacket or a string of Mikimoto pearls, if that’s your style. It might seem like a big investment, but divided over a lifetime of wear, a big-ticket purchase that you love can actually turn out to be a value when compared with an endless string of disposable purchases.
In 1966, Yves Saint Laurent invented his famous Le Smoking tuxedo suit for women. It is a style that has been in fashion ever since. So do as Parisian girls like Lou Doillon continue to do and swap your gown for a tuxedo for your next evening event. Sexy and sleek, you’ll definitely stand out in a crowd of over-the-top evening-wear.
French women have mastered taking their look from day to evening with the red lip. No need to bring a change of clothes to work, lipstick is all it takes to add a little evening glamour to your outfit. Yves Saint Laurent is a shade you can’t go wrong with, but we advise spending some serious time at the makeup counter finding the perfect shade of red—and then stocking up.
She redefined the way that women dressed in the early 20th century, but the look that Coco Chanel created is just as significant today. No wonder some of the most stylish Parisian women like Clémence Poésy have made jeans and a Chanel jacket their uniform. Other Chanel standards you can’t go wrong in? A little black dress and black-and-white cocktail attire.
It’s a rule that not only stylish French women, but also pretty much all stylish women have mastered: Great style is about dressing for yourself and yourself only. “You should dress to feel good, not show off,” Inès de la Fressange told The Guardian. “It takes life to learn that.”
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