How to dress like a French girl

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Let's just get over the cliché of American women wanting to dress like the French and accept that it's cliché for good reason: walk around Paris for a few days, and you'll observe that (with just a few exceptions) French women seem to be effortlessly stylish.

Although raised Irish Catholic, I've always been a Francophile at heart. Marrying into the last name "Bordeaux" added a whole new layer to my love of all things French, leading me to sharpen up my language skills for the flight attendants who greet me in French and try (almost) every wine on the market (for under $50) from my namesake region. Learning to dress like a French girl has been an aspiration of mine since my first trip to Paris, and one of the goals behind my decision to stop buying new things for a year. After all, French women are the standard-bearers for timeless style and working with what they have in their wardrobes. Here are some of the basic lessons I've learned from observing (and attempting to emulate) French style:


1. Wear the same quality basics repeatedly

The French don't seem to have the emotional need to constantly buy new things for their closets. Instead, they buy quality, versatile staples that can be worn over and over again. And they wear them forever, styling their basic pieces in new ways to keep things interesting and fresh. This makes me feel better about how many times per week I wear my trusty Transit Par Such wool blazer. In addition to a black wool blazer, some of the other French winter wardrobe staples include silk blouses, oversized cashmere sweaters, pleated dresses, pencil and A-line skirts, cigarette pants, and quality leather boots.

2. Keep your outfits simple and comfortable

Putting together an outfit that it both simple and comfortable sounds easy, but it actually takes some thought and restraint. Looking French is synonymous with being comfortable with yourself and your style, and this is impossible if you are freezing in ill-fitting clothing that you don't really love. Prototypical French girl outfits are both functional and stylish, so trying too hard is a faux pas.

3. Be slightly unkempt

A la air-dried hair that has been slept in for a few days sans shampooing, limited (or no) makeup, visible signs of wear on well-loved wardrobe staples, and clothing that's worn a few times before a washing. Honestly, I think this subtle disheveled-ness exudes the confidence (and great hair) that French women are famous for and is the secret to the "je ne sais quoi" of French style. I jumped on the no 'poo train a couple of years ago, and my hair has never looked better. It's forgotten what a blow drier looks like, and (with the exception of the balayage blonde) is always in an au naturel state. My next move is to start wearing dirtier clothing and no makeup...
  
4. Wear typical French classics

Like wool berets and Breton tees. French girls have been probably been wearing these staples for a hundred years, and nothing makes me feel more like a walking stereotype than wearing this St. James tee with my favorite old wool beret. It makes me feel like Madeline mixed with Brigitte Bardot mixed with a French mime.

5. Always have on one unexpectedly edgy item 

Like motorcycle boots, a studded bag, or a unique, conversation-starting piece of jewelry. Or a crazy pair of high heels balanced with tights and a knee-length or longer skirt.

If you're a fellow lover of French style, please let me know what factors should be on this list!

11 comments on "How to dress like a French girl"
  1. it's always fun and inspiring reading your posts Colleen! I love those tips especially 4,5 :) my style icons are Ines de la fressange and Clemence Poesy.
    Have a great weekend and stay warm and safe!

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    1. Thank you Echo! Agreed on Clemence Poesy - her style is French + boho and she always looks comfortable and herself! Just Googled Ines de la Fressange, haven't heard her name before but love her style as well! Will need to do some more studying up! Have a great week! :-)

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  2. Agreed - a wonderful post!

    In my view, the key to that effortless style is simplicity, which you've already summed up in tip #2. Whenever I see a great looking French woman she wears minimal make up, stylish clothes that don't compete with each other, and if she wears jewelry she keeps it to just one, maybe two pieces (always elegant, but never gaudy). I would also add that she might make a good use of a few choice accessories, especially scarves. (BTW, French men love to wear scarves, too!)

    I often look to Emmanuelle Alt for inspiration - she exudes the confidence, beauty, and feeling of being comfortable in her own skin that is so desirable. Because she is closer to my age, I'm always drawn to her style choices.

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    1. Hi Ivanka, and thank you! Your point about the jewelry is so true. That's something that I struggle with because my everyday jewelry actually consists of several pieces. And, scarves! How could I forget that one! And I feel the French are really creative in how they use scarves too - both men and women! Emmanuelle Alt is so amazing - she really inspires my work style, and does amazing things with blazers and cigarette pants. And, her style is really ageless but definitely exudes the confidence of someone comfortable with who she is which I think (and hope!) comes after the 20s!! Will need to do another post with just images taken from Google of wonderful French women. Thank you again for your thoughts, and hope you have a great week!

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  3. Love this post, Colleen! I am so inspired by what I've been reading about Parisian style. I've been to Paris a number of times, of course, but it wasn't until I read about Americans living with Parisian families and contrasting it to our ways that I better understood what goes into their seemingly effortless beauty. I love the idea higher quality clothing and of balancing fashion with function. I never look good when I'm uncomfortable. No shampooing has done wonders for my hair too. Are you sure about the dirty clothing thing though? That seems to conflict with what I read.

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    1. Hi Jill, thanks for your comment - would love to read observations of Americans living with Parisian families, let me know where you found that please! Every article I read about French pharmacy beauty enlightens me (GOOP did an overview of this topic that was great). In terms of the dirty clothing, this is an observation about the French tendency to repeat outfits and wear pieces more often between dry cleaning / laundering than we do in the US. Would love to know what you're reading and collect more opinions on French style, can use all the help I can get!

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    2. Hey Colleen, Indeed, I too have read they repeat more and I'm not surprised to hear they launder less. I've fallen in love with the book Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris. It is by Jennifer L. Scott who while studying aboard lived with a French family. So interesting and so inspirational! From her accounts, indeed the French have a limited collection of high quality pieces she refers to as their 10-item wardrobe. And they do have to be strategic about laundering. But from her description, they would never wear clothes when they have visible wear and tear. Just a thought! If you read the book, I'd love to know what you think! And I'm going to check out the GOOP article! Thank you! I love reading your blog.

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    3. Jill, I've added that book to my list! It sounds amazing and just what I need, some fresh inspiration! And, I'll update this article because I probably should not have phrased it as "visible signs of wear" and instead "well-loved" like broken-in blazers, patinaed leather bags and shoes, etc. It's very different than ripped, missing buttons or other quality control issues! Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughts and suggestions! :-)

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    4. Colleen, Maybe I just mis-read your post! I totally understand the beauty of well-loved and broken-in pieces. I so appreciate how you get me thinking differently about putting outfits together. Would love to know your take on the Madame Chic book!

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  4. This is a great post! I decided not to buy the bodysuit in my online checkout bag, thanks. "I feel like Madeline mixed with Brigitte Bardot mixed with a French mime" GOALS

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    1. Hello Mrs. Olive! So wonderful to see your name pop up here and happy to hear that I've been a deterrent from a bodysuit (they are just leggings paired with a matching tank top, n'est ce pas?) Hahaha love the goals! Will I be seeing you in Charlotte next weekend?!

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