Please note that this post may contain affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward us a small commission – at no extra cost for you.
I’ve spent the past 5 years researching French fashion as a job and before that, as a very enthusiastic Francophile. From visiting Paris multiple times to poring over French books and magazines, I’ve learned a lot about Parisian and French fashion in my studies. But I’ve learned the most from going straight to the source(s)- which is Parisian women, of course!
I interviewed 4 French women that have not only worked in fashion in one way or another, but have all written best-selling books on the matter. There are so many principles that make up a Parisian wardrobe, from mastering a casual chic aesthetic to investing in quality basics. These are the 7 wise and foundational style tips I learned from these stylish women!
- Sophie Gachet, fashion journalist for Elle Paris & co-author of Parisian Chic
- Nathalie Piegney, CFO & author of Sophie the Parisian
- Isabelle Thomas, personal stylist & co-author of Paris Street Style
- Aloïs Guinut, style coach & author of Dress Like a Parisian
1. If You Want To Look French, Don’t Try So Hard
Even if a French woman’s style is meticulously planned, it must look very natural. A true Parisian woman is sophisticated yet natural, alluring but lazy. Her hair is immaculately styled yet deliberately tousled. She is the height of chic but wants her overall look to appear absolutely effortless.
And though tousled hair may seem spontaneous, the secret is that this look has been thought out in advance. So though dressing like a true French woman doesn’t mean you stop caring, it means you just appear to care less.
“One thing is certain is that the American when she does something is very perfectionist and probably a little too much. The French is moderate.” (Nathalie Piegney)
And when striving to capture the French aesthetic, not trying so hard also includes not being cliche! Yes, French women wear stripes and trench coats, but it’s usually not an exaggerated, overemphasized look complete with a beret and a baguette.
“Especially do not make a total exaggerated look, such as a hermetic scarf, sailor’s hat, polka dot skirt, etc. It should point to a Parisian detail and not a total look. And above all, the whole thing must be very natural with very little make-up and jewelry. Simplicity above all!!!!! Less is more.” (Nathalie Piegney)
And on the topic of looking like a true Parisian, there are some dead giveaways that make you look like a tourist when visiting the City of Lights.
“Outerwear gear is a big giveaway. Wandering in Paris is not hiking 🙂 There are lots of comfy sneakers out there. On the opposite side, too much pampering. Like the full face of makeup + iron straightened or curled hair … basically anything that makes you look like you spent too much time on it :)- Displaying aaaaalll the brands. Visible Chanel + visible Vuitton ironically make you look like a foreigner. No more than one visible branded item at a time. If a Parisienne wears some Vuitton it will be a bag that does not look brand new and that she will mix with an outfit that contains no other labels. Same for a luxury watch or the Chanel slingback for instance. Only one at a time. The worst fashion faux pas is to have two logos on the same outfits. Wearing obvious rich items in France is considered tacky… maybe it has to do with the revolution and getting rid of the privileges.” (Aloïs Guinut)
2. Accept That Aging Gracefully May Mean Giving Up a Few Things
Aging gracefully means not just accepting your age, but embracing it. And yes, perhaps the same styles you wore in your 20s won’t work for your body now, but it doesn’t mean you give up or throw in the towel!
A few tweaks here and there make up an effortlessly stylish look for a woman that’s entering (or well into) her mature years. Instead of dressing girlishly, dress classy.
And to age like a Parisian, keep in mind that plastic surgery should be done very sparingly. Parisians view smile lines as a sign of beauty. 100% wrinkle-free is not the goal!
If you follow the Parisian skincare rules, then you’ve already taken compulsive care of your skin and have paid attention to your teeth, nails, and feet up to this point. Though some things are out of your control (wrinkles), you can still have radiant skin by following the right skincare routine.
“The Parisian also knows that after age forty, there are a few things she will have to give up if she wants to be chic and elegant. She knows the limits of her body and face. She is perfectly aware that to age graciously the worst thing she can do is to dress like a teenager and rely on physical charms indefinitely. But there’s no such thing as a Parisienne past her prime. She looks forward to aging gracefully.” (Nathalie Piegney)
3. Parisians Keep a Streamlined, High-Quality Wardrobe
Though a Parisian has all the basics, they surprisingly do not have a huge wardrobe. Instead, they keep it meticulous and streamlined, paying much attention to the quality basics, as these are of utmost importance.
“Since they are the “pillars” that must last over time, they must be of quality, so I choose great designer labels. It’s a sort of long-term investment in clothing, garments purchased after strategic reflection and rarely on impulse.” (Nathalie Piegney)
If Parisian women are on a budget, they like to shop at outlet stores and quality second-hand stores for their luxury garments. The classic pieces in neutral colors are timeless and easy-to-wear items that will follow you everywhere. As you may know, having the right basics in your wardrobe will prevent you from feeling like you have nothing to wear.
Whether you’re shopping at a luxury store or not, there are always a few key things to look for to judge whether something is of high quality or not.
“When shopping for high-quality clothes, remember that fabric is more important: fabric makes the clothes fit and look stylish. Keep it simple: when the clothes are too busy, something is wrong. Beware of the finish and the buttons. Every detail matters.” (Isabelle Thomas)
Even being on a budget, building a quality wardrobe is still of importance. The secret? Just shop less. Instead of buying 5 new shirts every month, just buy 1. Instead of buying 15+ cheap things from Shein that constitute a “clothing haul try-on”, just buy 5 well-made things.
“Honestly I think this is really rare for people in occidental countries to REALLY need clothes (most people have enough to wear at least for a year). So I recommend taking time, spare, and going for the quality. It will last you longer and make you look a million. Plus the purchase will be a thrill. Especially when it comes to basics. And if you want to inject some fun into your wardrobe at a low price and low impact on the planet, go vintage and second-hand! Tons of websites and shops out there 🙂 Half of my own wardrobe is not first hand and the more eco-conscious I get, the more it increases.” (Aloïs Guinut)
Shopping sustainably and having the right well-thought-out clothing items is just as important as keeping a tidy wardrobe when it comes to streamlining your wardrobe. Keep in mind that just because a clothing item is a staple item it doesn’t mean you need to hold onto it forever. If it’s starting to show its age or look a little worn, then replace it with a similar style.
Parisian personal stylist, Isabelle Thomas, would get rid of all your clothes that are in bad condition: white t-shirts that look grey, wool that looks worn, shoes with too many scuffs, and clothes that look out of place.
“Body and mind are changing, so should the clothes. I would toss expensive clothes that haven’t been worn because they don’t look like you and I would keep clothes that never have been worn but you can wear them now with new shoes, skirts, or shirts.” (Isabelle Thomas)
4. French Fashion Is About Mastering a Unique Style
True French fashion isn’t just about pairing some trendy top with a pair of jeans and calling it a day (à la the majority of fashion bloggers today). It’s about mixing and matching to master and create a unique style. When an outfit seems created and not just worn, is when you’ve started dressing like a French girl.
“You have to master the mix and match: vintage and new brand, expensive and cheap, simple and bold. Basics should be twisted with more eccentric pieces (example: leopard derbies with classic denim or classic man tweed jacket with a rock band t-shirt).” (Isabelle Thomas)
5. Finding a French Signature Style Starts With Your Most-Loved Basics
There seems to be a lot of mystery surrounding a French woman’s signature style, but rest assured, it’s not that difficult! First and foremost, it’s about staying true to yourself and going from there.
“So above all, we must practice the 3 basic rules: moderation in everything, natural (or give the impression of natural), and be sure of ourselves in clothes that suit us well (we do not buy a garment because it is a brand but because it enhances us.
When you master the French know-how of French chic, you can start looking for a signature. For example, scarves don’t fit me, they age me and I don’t know how to wear them, but a woman who learns to wear a scarf well in a natural way and not “as such or such a star” will probably get compliments and will have to keep wearing them because it will become a signature.
For my part, I like simple and high pumps and pencil dresses in the evening, I often get compliments, and now it has become my evening style, of course with natural hair and little make-up!” (Nathalie Piegney)
“Get the basics! And build from that. Basics are versatile timeless pieces that go with everything. But find YOUR OWN basics. For instance, the trench coat is one of my basics but maybe it does not suit your style/ personality. Maybe a jean jacket will be YOUR mid-season basic. Or a sleek black light coat? Anything is a basic as long as it is both versatile (meaning it can be worn with a lot of things) and atemporal (meaning you cannot tell what year it is from.) Those Valentino nude studded heels? Not an atemporal – though they are versatile – because you CAN tell they date from 5 years ago.” (Aloïs Guinut)
6. Create a List of Go-To Outfit Combos To Always Count On
We all know the benefits of waking up and already having an outfit ready to go that we know will make us look and feel amazing. And though it’s one of the best feelings, it doesn’t always happen because it requires a little bit of thought and effort.
But once you nail down a list of 7 looks (I recommend at least 7 because then you have one for every day of the week), then fashion just became effortless and fun.
Picking a uniform and a foundation base of a pair of bottoms, a top, and possibly a jacket, allows you to create outfit ideas that work day to night for any occasion. Just change out the shoes!
For example, for errands around town, you can wear booties or ankle boots and at night, you can switch them out for heels. If you have a formal event, party, or special occasion, opt for pumps or sandals with jewels.
And if you’re feeling uninspired, there are some easy ways to shake it up.
Isabelle Thomas says if you only have money for 3 items, then get a pair of white jeans, a man navy coat, and flashy shoes. The staples (white jeans and navy coat) will match everything, while the flashy shoes will provide a much-needed dose of style.
“It is better to invest in quality and long-term shoes because good-looking shoes change and upgrade your style like a chic jacket or an elegant and simple coat. Beware of high-end brands: when you buy a name, you don’t always buy style.” (Isabelle Thomas)
“I would throw on my go-to outfit and shake it up: add jewels to a basic outfit. Go for a statement lip. Put on some fun shoes with a basic outfit. Do a cool color combination (a monochrome, opposites, neighbour colors, etc).” (Aloïs Guinut)
7. Indulge in Trends Wisely
One goal of a studied wardrobe is keeping items that can be mixed with new pieces. Once you clean out your wardrobe of clothes that make you say “I have nothing to wear”, and after the basics are taken care of, then can you have fun with some pieces from the current season.
Emulating French style in your wardrobe doesn’t mean you can only wear black and can never have fun with fashion or experiment with trends. In fact, adding a few new pieces can liven up your wardrobe. The key is to not indulge too much.
“The Parisienne is known to have an effortless style. I think that she is more someone who sticks to her style and tries not to follow the trends too much. That can lead to a classical style (neutral colors and simple timeless pieces). But she can sometimes add a few trends to her low-profile style.
I always wear black, but in order to follow trends a little bit, I like to add colorful accessories like a burgundy bag or leopard loafers. This season, I often wear a neon pink sweater with my black uniform.” (Sophie Gachet)
“I buy trendy pieces only when I have a crush on them (apparently you do not say a crush for clothes but it makes sense to me so I will keep saying this!). Meaning I really like them and they match my overall liking pattern so I will still wear them 5 years from now and won’t want to get rid of them as soon as the trend is gone. Therefore I never go for items that are too widely spread on a short period of time and scream what year they are from … I also wait and do not jump in with the crowd since I may not want the item once everyone has it. ” (Aloïs Guinut)
Refinement and moderation are the foundation of the Parisian woman’s clothing style, with fundamental rules that “less is more” and “classy over vulgar.”
With these foundational fashion tips, you don’t have to be French to look French. If you want to keep indulging in French fashion, then check out 8 Things French Women Don’t Wear (And What They Wear Instead)!