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France has been recognized for years as one of the world’s most enduring and influential fashion hubs, and for good reason. Whether they’re walking a busy city street or a Fashion Week runway, there’s often just something effortlessly elegant about French women’s style. It somehow manages to be classic without being boring, polished without being stiff, sophisticated without being stuffy or above-it-all. This balance can feel so delicate and so difficult to achieve that you might almost imagine these looks were put together by magic.
Luckily, styling yourself like a real Parisienne is actually pretty simple. In fact, it’s all about knowing how to do more with less. As a basic principle, you want to build your outfits around combinations of well-tailored, quality basics and a single artful statement piece that will catch the eye without being over-the-top. And if you’re strapped for ideas on how to do just that? Just keep reading—we’ve got lots of great advice on how to cop the perfect French-inspired look.
Wear Clothes That Fit You Perfectly
Well-fitted clothes will go a long way toward making your overall outfit look more put-together. Hence, before all else, it’s important to make sure every item fits you perfectly. Consider taking pieces that are too long or too loose to a tailor so they can make the necessary alterations. If you have the budget for it, you could even treat yourself to a dress shirt or a blazer made exactly to measure.
Mix Casual and Dressy Pieces
Dressing in the French style means the last thing you want is to look like “too much” of anything. An outfit entirely composed of casual pieces, for instance, can look boring or even sloppy. Being too dressed up, meanwhile, instantly sends the message that you’re trying too hard to impress. Instead, don’t be afraid to mix and match your dressy pieces with more casual ones. Try buying denim leggings online and wearing them out under a basic white T-shirt, but polish the look with a smart-looking coat. Reaching for ballet flats instead of platform pumps can lend a more relaxed vibe to your favorite LBD. Experiment with different combinations of elements over a few different outfits and you’ll be a master of this balance before you know it.
Dress Mostly in Neutral Colors
The French favor discretion, so you don’t want to make a spectacle of yourself with bold prints, glittery makeup, or flashy accessories. Try for a relatively subdued, neutral palette—blacks, whites, greys, beiges, and browns, as well as shades like navy blue, burgundy, and dark green. If you’re the sort of person who just can’t resist a splash of color, consider limiting it to one statement accessory. A cute hat, purse, or pair of shoes in a bright shade should pop nicely against a more neutral outfit without being too much.
If patterns are more your speed than bright colors, the same principles apply. Forgo any bold or bizarre styles in favor of more classic ones that have stood the test of time—think stripes, plaid, or houndstooth. Limit your use of prints as well to a single piece rather than mixing patterns.
Add a Masculine Touch
French women love to suit up. That’s as true today as it was in the 60s, when the fashion world was rocked by the creation of the first ladies’ tuxedos. Nowadays, introducing masculine shapes and details to otherwise traditionally feminine ensembles—and vice versa—remains a major hallmark of French style. For instance, you might match a drapey chiffon top with some tailored slacks, or throw a leather jacket over a cocktail dress. On the flipside, a silk scarf or a pair of delicate kitten heels can soften up the severe lines of a full suit quite nicely. The idea is that you want to look modern and empowered, but still in touch with your womanly charm.
Get Creative with Styling and Restyling
Oftentimes, what truly carries a great French-inspired outfit is the wearer’s attention to detail. French women tend to be very meticulous about styling their outfits, so don’t just throw your clothes on and call it a day. Even the most basic pieces like a white dress shirt or a black blazer can really come alive if you change up how you wear them. Experiment with folding your sleeves, cuffing your pants, tucking your shirt in partially versus all the way, and the like. Changing up these small details will show you how surprisingly versatile your clothes are and give you all sorts of fresh ideas for new looks.
Go Minimalist with Accessories
When it comes to jewellery and accessories, stick to smaller, more delicate pieces, or choose just one larger statement item. Besides jewellery, adding dainty touches like lace, ribbons, or thin silk scarves can make a relatively subdued outfit look très chic. Don’t pile on too many accessories, though, as an excess of layers can make you look unnecessarily busy and bulky.
Embrace Natural Makeup
When it comes to French-inspired makeup, you can forget having to cake on a full face. On the contrary, you’ll want to go au naturel, which means looking like you have barely any makeup on if at all. Switch out your heavier foundations for a tinted moisturizer or a BB cream, and apply concealer only to problem areas like the under-eyes or over blemish spots.
Beyond that, you really don’t need much more than mascara, a touch of blush or bronzer, and some lip balm. At the very most, you could swipe on a classic red lip, as many Parisiennes are known to do—just treat it like the makeup equivalent of a statement accessory. Wearing such a bold lip means also going the extra mile to keep the rest of your look understated.
French fashion doesn’t depend on extravagance, novelty, or spectacle. That’s one of the reasons it’s so widely admired, and why it’s stood the test of time. When you emulate this style, it’s your imagination and your attention to detail that will really help you make that fashion statement. So have a care for what you wear, keep it simple, and carry yourself with confidence—soon you too will look right at home walking the streets of the City of Lights.