parisian chic

Parisian Style Tips From a True Parisian Woman (Interview)

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nathaliepeigney

Nathalie Piegney is the author of Sophie the Parisian, a modern style guide about Paris, fashion, and what it means to truly be Parisian. Author by day, Chief Creative & Executive Officer by night, Nathalie Piegney is sharing her expertise and style tips with us so we can learn to become authentic Parisian women too!

What are the differences between French and American style?

Not being an expert in the American style, I prefer to describe the Parisian Style to you and you will draw the conclusions… Anyway, 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. So in everything, I think the difference is moderation.

To return to the Parisian style. Here is what I can say in summary:

  • We are said to be elegant. Even if our style is meticulously planned, it must look very natural.
  • There are strict rules for being and staying chic, whether we’re getting married, strolling the banks of the Seine, or sipping a cocktail at Café de Flore, a legendary sidewalk café in the quaint Saint-Germain-des-Prés district.
  • Paradox is second nature to them, and they are virtuosos of contradiction. The Parisienne is solid and rational but bohemian and insouciant. She’s sophisticated yet natural, sexy but lazy, impertinent but discreet. Her hair is immaculately styled yet deliberately tousled. She is the height of chic but wants her look to appear absolutely effortless.
  • Although her look may seem spontaneous, it has in fact been thoroughly thought out in advance.
  • She knows what looks good on her.
  • She has good taste but creates her own style. She has one eye on the latest fashions and the other on her figure.
  • Her creative spirit builds a look from the “basics” in her wardrobe. She anticipates situations and manages to look natural whatever comes up, in Paris or elsewhere.

    From the book “Style tips from a true Parisian” by Sophie the Parisian (Rizzoli)
parisian chic

What would you say to my readers that are age 40+ that still want to
look chic?

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 to rely on physical charms indefinitely.

Things the Parisian woman has going for her when she gets older:

  • she keeps weight off by watching what she eats and walking a lot; her hair is well cared for
  • she uses plastic surgery sparingly (100% wrinkle-free would be a big mistake, since smile lines, for example, make you look more beautiful, not less)
  • she’s got class (nobody over fifty wants to dress girlishly anymore—who wants to be mocked as an “over-the-hill Lolita”?); she wears 1½-inch heels to elongate her figure and wears mostly soft or neutral colors
  • she has spent her life taking almost compulsive care of her skin; she applies makeup for a simple yet feminine look. She’s attentive to detail (take care of your teeth, hands, and feet before it’s too late)
  • she’s careful about what she says, how she says it, and her body language; she knows how to show off her best feature, whether it’s her figure or the way she looks at you.
  • Last, but not least, the Parisian woman does her best to eat right. Fad diets are out! She knows that proper nutrition is the way to age in good health. Thanks to all these points, there’s no such thing as a Parisienne “past her prime.” She looks forward to aging gracefully.

    From the book “Style tips from a true Parisian” by Sophie the Parisian (Rizzoli)

How can an American look French without being cliche?

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….

The Parisian woman’s elegance is expressed in the choice of accessories, moderate but effective, to complement her basic wardrobe.
• Don’t put too much on when you’re getting ready. The same applies for makeup—for an elegant Parisian look, make a choice: bright red lipstick or ultra-made-up eyes. The rule is moderation.
• Choose what you want to enhance. Your neck, your waist, your face, a gorgeous necklace, a low-cut dress, the cut of a jacket that looks great on you—but not all at once.
• It’s good to get dressed up, but the best lipstick in the world won’t look great when it shows off stained or chipped teeth, and the same applies for a mini-skirt and badly groomed legs. If you want to show off an asset, make sure beforehand that you’re not going to draw attention to a fault! Whatever the case may be, the basic rule of elegance is “looking after our body.”
• Looking good with classy clothes isn’t enough to give an elegant finale if the manners don’t follow suit. Things you should stop right now: noisy gum chewing, unrefined gestures, coarse language, and a loud voice. A bit of self-criticism is the first step on the road to elegance.

From the book “Style tips from a true Parisian” by Sophie the Parisian (Rizzoli)

Related: Major Styling Tips to Get From The Top French Icons

Americans seem to be all about the huge walk-in closets…how many clothes do Parisians really have?

The most important thing not to have a huge wardrobe is to be sure first of all to have the basics, those clothes that make you never say “I have nothing to wear” again, after that you can have fun with some pieces from the current season. The Parisian does not have a huge wardrobe, she has a studied and fair wardrobe! But she gives a great importance to the quality of her “basics”!

To be honest, I love the basic items of my wardrobe! 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.

Often, I buy my “luxury” basics during sales or at outlet stores or private show rooms reserved for the press. I also buy quality second-hand clothing, especially black tailored dresses and evening bags. These are garments or accessories (classic models in neutral colors) that follow me everywhere, because they are timeless and easy to wear. When I am have to get rid of them because they are too worn or outdated, I often replace them with more or less the same style. They are the basics that prevent opening the closet in the morning and saying: “I have nothing to wear.”

These items also shoes (a typically Parisian disease), belts, and scarves.
• Twelve basic black garments that I would take with me to a desert island. A well-made tuxedo jacket (vintage or contemporary), evening pants to wear with high heels, a pencil skirt (my reference in case of weight gain), a shaped cashmere cardigan (ideal over any evening dress), a short schoolgirl skirt (not mini), a cocktail dress “without sparkles,” a glamorous and chic long dress, a shaped coat for all occasions, a cashmere stole to use as a shawl or blanket (while watching TV or on an airplane when I’m cold), a beautiful two-piece swimsuit (nice classic model that fits well) and a one-piece swimsuit for water gymnastics and spas, a masculine-shaped jacket, and leather pants in an ultra-classic, feminine style.
• Seven basic blue items of my childhood. A nice pair of dark trousers for all occasions (Joseph); an elegant well-cut blazer; a sweater (cashmere, of course); a coat with buttons in a matching color; a striped long-sleeve marinière (sailor shirt); a light turtleneck to wear under a jacket in the winter and with white pants on a cool evening in the summer; and jeans, the “good ones”—which is to say, perfect for me.
• My “so French” basic items in light shades. A go-everywhere trench coat (even over an evening gown); stylish white cotton trousers; a white top with a perfect neckline (neither too much nor too little), an ecru cashmere V-neck pullover; an embroidered white cotton tunic that goes with everything in the summer; a shaped white shirt (nice cut and neck); and a white two-piece swimsuit; an ultra-white T-shirt of high quality cotton an ultra-white T-shirt of high quality cotton that is not damaged or deformed by washing.
• My favorite accessories. Low black ballerinas (for all seasons) and a beige pair for spring; high quality “nude look” sandals that I wear like jewels on manicured feet; low black boots (Italian, but don’t tell anyone); black moccasins; a pair of patent-leather ballerina shoes with a low heel for the evening; black sandals with a four-inch heel to wear year-round; a big shopper bag for the daytime; a black patent-leather clutch for the evening; a black leather belt for pants; a black mini belt for pullovers and jackets; and a pair of oversized dark glasses. And finally: scarves and shawls, caps and hats, and lingerie, especially in black or white lace and some in beige or red.

From the book “Style tips from a true Parisian” by Sophie the Parisian (Rizzoli)

If someone wants to find a signature style, how should they start this?

It’s a difficult question! The signature comes from within us. Before finding a signature if you don’t really have a clothing culture of your own, you have to study a genre. In your case I imagine you want to talk about the French style. 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. A garment must be an accomplice, a friend and not an anonymous element that everyone wears. At the end of an evening we almost have to thank a dress that highlighted us “Thank you, tonight thanks to you I felt confident and comfortable in my skin”.

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!

Related: 9 French Girl Style Tips to Steal From the It Girls

Are there any French fashion cliches that aren’t actually true? For example, do French women really walk around in stripes, berets, and trench coats while holding a baguette?

Nothing is true of that !!! American cliché! We sometimes wear stripes and trench coat but not berets and never hold the baguettes under the arm !!!! Not true at all. The Parisian has an immense culture and staged her mood with a touch of creativity.

What are some outfit combos you can always count on?

Tight jeans and pumps
Simple and chic mini skirt and simple t-shirt and fitted men’s jacket
Romantic dress and boots
Trench coat and white basketball or pumps
Sexy dress and heel boots
Tight white T-shirt and nice black pants
White short pants and men’s moccasin
Belt on a man’s jacket
Ballerinas and mini skirts simple but elegant
Tuxedo pants and low-cut jacket and ballerinas or pumps

If a lot of Americans draw outfit inspiration from French women, where
do French women get their outfit inspiration from?

We have a history older than America, so our clothing culture dates back to at least the 15th century, from shirt collars or ruffles to dresses, from sailor’s outfits to sports jackets…
Designers draw on culture to produce collections each year that will gradually improve our taste. French culture with its rigid rules of good taste and fear of vulgarity and ostentation make the French dress every day with prohibitions, a cultural baggage transmitted from mother to daughter and an intrinsic good taste. A rule is fundamental “less is more” and “never be vulgar”. You can learn that! I think that already in my book I explain the rules and the famous how to do!

According to the Italian philosopher Giacomo Marramao, whom I recently interviewed:
France must surely owe its sobriety to the Republican revolution that shaped its personality and made execrable any display of wealth. Over the centuries, the French have learned the precious arts of nonchalance and irony as the expression of a deep-rooted self-awareness. Their sense of social belonging is increasingly linked to image and increasingly recognizable gestures and ways of behavior that reflect and, together, filter out ones inner life and leaving only a glimpse of the deepest emotional reactions.

So refinement and moderation are the foundation of the Parisian woman’s clothing style.

Parisian-chic

People often talk about the elegance and “harmonious gracefulness” of Parisian women. But what’s really behind this concept that has been the shared objective of all couture houses for centuries, the basic rule of French style? To what do we owe this reputation? Is it because we give the appearance of simple sophistication in our figures and movements? Or because we dress with simple refinement, secretly terrified of being classed as tasteless due to too much bling or artificial improvements?

Our French education teaches us the ability to avoid excess; a sort of game of subtraction that helps us retain our essential chic. We learn from a very young age that, to be elegant, we have to dress in such a way that our elegance isn’t visible to others and that “if we’re too elegant, we stop being elegant,” as my friend Juliette told me yesterday.

Parisian style tips book

I hope you picked up as many Parisian style tips from Nathalie that I did! You can check out her blog or her book to get more in-depth answers to many more French fashion & life questions!

Did anything in this interview especially stick out to you?

Also, stay tuned because I have more interviews headed your way! 🙂

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Carolyn Arentson
Carolyn is the founder and creator behind My Chic Obsession. When she's not dreaming up new content, you can find her watching a funny tv show with her husband, raising her two boys, or planning her next trip to Paris.