How to add French style to any wardrobe

I traveled all over Europe in my 20s and spent the last two days of my first trip ever in Paris. Unfortunately, not having learned the value of pacing myself or budgeting, I spent those last 48 hours in the city of light and love blank-stare exhausted, and empty-pocket broke. What I remember most about my visit isn’t the breathtaking view from the Eiffel Tower or the warm, crusty bread I nibbled at an outdoor cafe, but how I truly wished I could just go invisible. So frumpy and alien did I feel walking about bleary-eyed and travel-worn in my slouchy jeans and clompy trainers amidst some of the most beautiful, sleek, elegant people I’ve ever seen.

Twenty years later, I’m still completely intrigued (and a bit jealous) about what the rest of the world aptly muses upon: that certain je ne sais quoi of French style. I imagine someday I’ll go back to Paris, older and wiser, and hold my head high as I sip wine mid-day among the beautiful people, so I’ve been self-schooling myself in the ways of French style, reading French style blogs and magazines and watching YouTube videos and gleefully checking out books on French culture from my local library. None of this, of course, makes me an expert, but I’m beginning to recognize some basic patterns of thought in the realm of French style, and outlining a few simple ways to impose a bit of the French sensibility on my own wardrobe.

I’m going to tell you about a few of my ideas here, and next week I’ll share more. We’ll conquer French chic together, oui?

3 Basic Elements to French Style

1. French style chooses classics over trends

To replicate French style, you absolutely do not need to rush out and buy all new clothes and accessories.  You’re likely to find that you already have some, if not most, of what you need in your current wardrobe.  You’re just going to make a mental shift from trend-watching to style-owning.

Instead of filling your closet with faddy pieces that will be out-dated before next year this time, you’re going pull together simple but timeless neutral underpinnings like a black pant (in a style that flatters your body, not necessarily the style du jour), a pencil skirt, a crisp white blouse, a cashmere sweater, a versatile little black dress, a leather jacket and a striped tee or two.   And don’t worry, later you’ll add your own personal touches to each outfit by carefully curating accessories that flatter your coloring and express your individuality.

Audrey Hepburn, although admittedly not French,
embodied the French flair to allow classic pieces
to provide the perfect foil for her natural elegance.

 

2.  French style chooses quality over quantity

Less is definitely more in the French-style closet.  Classic style means timeless style, with each piece lasting years versus mere seasons. This means that when you shop, you should expect to pay a bit more for each piece, to get higher quality clothes of more discriminating cut and style, constructed to last and made of rich, elegant textiles.

Quality also extends to a garment’s fit. Better to pay a tailor to fit a pair of beautiful trousers or a blazer perfectly to your body than to have multiple pairs of pants and jackets, not a one of which fit to flatter you. As you move from season to season and add to your wardrobe, you’ll begin to think of each piece not just to wear in the next three or four months, but for years to come, and invest accordingly.

It didn’t look this good right off the rack.
Have it tailored, darlings.

 

3. French style chooses highlighted natural beauty over dramatic alteration

By imposing a bit of French sensibility to your make-up and grooming routines, you can earn back some of the extra money you’ll be spending on clothes and accessories. Dump the costly acrylic nails and cut your own nails short and neat, and keep them painted with a natural color polish.

Make-up can go bare bones with just a flawless foundation and a bit of blush, mascara and optional eyeliner. For days, a flattering neutral lipstick and for evenings, that one perfect red, and you’ve got all you need for the graceful, feminine look of the French. Oh, and to be perfectly French, you’ll also need a tiny, subtle dab of your own signature scent.

Fresh-faced Catherine Deneuve, natural French beauty personified.

These are the three basic elements I’ve been able to recognize in French style no matter where I’m looking at it.

Next Tuesday, I’ll talk about how and when to add accessories like scarves, bags and shoes to personalize your outfits, and how to edit yourself to achieve a look graceful, feminine elegance that’s both simple and elegant.

I’ll see you next week. Bonjour!

Do you already implement French style in your wardrobe? What tips do you have to share with us?

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Comments

  1. Love this article! I love the French style and often refer back to my mental list when I’m out shopping for clothes. I’ve found that this is a process of refinement – not an overnight transformation. Taking time to focus on one piece at a time has been key for me – also making it less overwhelming. Another thing is that not everything that I associate with the elegant French look is flattering on me – so finding pieces that accentuate my positives while still being timeless is somethng I keep in mind. For example, I really like cigarette pants they just don’t like me – so finding a pair of flattering, slim, black pants is my current focus.

  2. I actually do and I just didn’t know it. You’re so grand, Megan. Seriously, I love this.

    And you.

  3. Tres chic, Megan! I adjusted to the idea of quality over quantity a few years ago, one good piece at a time. It’s definitely a change in mindset but it’s worth it.

  4. avatar
    the Blah Blah Blahger says:

    This is MAGNIFIQUE!

  5. I looooove Audrey H. – so anything having to do with her is A+ in my opinion!!!

  6. Amazing! Woman, fly to me, dress me.

  7. Oh my, I love all of these ideas especially the quality vs. quantity!

  8. I love this! Audrey is my style icon, and I’ve always wanted to dress French. This makes it seem very attainable :)

  9. I love this & also? SO timely for me. This is the year I’m trying to ‘grow my a$$ up a little since I turned 30 I decided it was time to do things right instead of easy, and what you shared here kindof flows with what I’m looking for. Between this & Anne Bogel’s post today, I fell like I can do this adulthood thing- ready & armed!

  10. This is fun! I am so interested in this classic French style. I am afraid I am more cheap faddy prints than classic quality.

    ~FringeGIrl

  11. This is SUCH a good reminder. It’s so needed. Style is different from fashion which is (way) different than trends.

    I can’t wait to read part two.

  12. Wow! Great tips! Loved this post and the freedom I now feel from trends :)

    Just wanted to point out, as a Canadian, the phrase is actually “je ne sais quoi”. C’est and said are homophones but “sais” means ‘know’ and “c’est” means ‘it is’ :)

  13. I absolutely love this post – it turns out I’ve been dressing French for years, without even realizing it!

  14. Who makes the light brown shoes with the black tips- I love them!!

  15. How fun! I had to click over because I went to Paris for the first time this summer. My first Europe experience ended in Sweden in my 20s, where I felt the same way you did in Paris – wanted to disappear! Swedish women are naturally beautiful, and also have a great sense of style. I’d never felt so brunette and frumpy in my life. I was better prepared for this most recent trip across the pond, with basics like you describe and a scarf or two. Can’t wait to read your piece on Tuesday.

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