French women have always defined style for the rest of the world. Even the word “style” is French! France is where fashion began as both an industry and an art form, with royals like Marie Antoinette commissioning elaborate dresses, wigs, and accessories in order to stand out from the crowd.
These eight incredible women changed fashion as we know it, and stand as the pinnacles of French style. This is your guide to these lovely ladies and how to get their signature look.
1. Coco Chanel
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Coco Chanel is undoubtedly one of the most famous French fashion designers of all time. She remains famous for her eponymous tweed collarless suits, and for popularizing the Little Black Dress as a must-have item in any woman’s wardrobe. Chanel’s clothes are still considered the peak of classic design and good taste.
The look: Sleek, practical, and feminine with a mind towards appropriating traditionally male items of clothing.
You’ll need: An LBD, endless pearls, and a finger-curled bob. Pastels (always), and a matching boater hat are essential.
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2. Catherine Deneuve
This French actress (though currently a controversial figure) gained fame in the 1960s for her role in the film “Belle de Jour” as a housewife who, while her husband is away, plays a lady of the night. She is often considered the ultimate French sex symbol because her style focuses on looking sexy without revealing too much, and wearing classic looks instead of following trends.
The look: Sexy in an old-Hollywood glam kind of way.
You’ll need: Blown-back voluminous waves, wing-tip eyeliner, a hair ribbon, a camel trench coat, and chunky Roger Vivier heels with square buckles. Stick with classic pieces and with tans and blacks, and throw in a pop of red to keep it interesting.
3. Jacqueline de Ribes
This fashion iconoclast is so well-known for her fabulously inventive way of dressing that the Met recently did an entire exhibition of her personal closet. The Countess de Ribes was an aristocrat, socialite, and designer known for her casual wear of haute couture, extraordinary hats, and exotic costume jewelry.
The look: Dramatic and artistic to the extent of eccentricity, while never sacrificing elegance.
You’ll need: Feathers, veils, headscarves, enormous hats. Gold everything. Let your inner goddess with elaborate updos that show off your dangly earrings, dramatic necklines designed to accentuate shoulders, and eye makeup in every color on the planet. Shape and color are key, so pull out anything fuchsia and sparkly and unusual.
4. Brigitte Bardot
This French actress and sex symbol so inspired the French intellectual community that she was the subject of Simone de Beauvoir’s 1959 essay, “The Lolita Syndrome.” Her look revolved around a combination of girlish freshness and precocious sexuality, and she popularized the bikini, off-the-shoulder shirts, and scandalously short hemlines. Check out this tutorial on how to get the star’s signature look.
The look: Just woke up in a lover’s bed after forgetting to take your makeup off the night before.
You’ll need: A whole lot of eyeliner, a teased updo, and a rockin’ miniskirt. Pair a sweet stylings with sexy pieces like a side-braid with thigh-high boots or a polka-dotted skirt with a low cut top — anything that sends mixed messages about just how innocent you are.
5. Françoise Hardy
This French singer-songwriter inspired the likes of David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and Mick Jagger. Considered the anti-Bardot, her androgynous beatnik look made her famous in comparison to the exaggeratedly feminine style of the day. She always kept makeup limited to flirty wingtips, and was hardly photographed in anything but black-and-white.
The look: Bohemian free-spirit about to hop on a motorcycle to — well, to anywhere!
You’ll need: A leather jacket, turtleneck, large sunglasses, and baker boy hat. Flared pants, leather boots, and a smoking jacket. Anything to add to the gender-bending rocker vibe.
6. Charlotte Gainsbourg
Gainsbourg is a French actress and singer, daughter of English actress Jane Birkin and music legend Serge Gainsbourg. Her main fashion calling card is short dresses in blacks and metallics, especially anything with leather or sequins.
The look: Couture punk rock.
You’ll need: A black leather miniskirt, pointed-toe pumps with a strap, and sequins, sequins everywhere! Short, assymetrical dresses are your friends, and if you’re showing off skin you’ll want to go with lots of leg and a high neckline.
7. Caroline de Maigret
This French model and music producer takes much of her inspiration from the music scene, and a function-over-fashion approach to clothing. It is rare to see her without blue jeans, paired with either a white button-down or a graphic T.
The look: “I wore this for Bowie, I’m not changing it for you.”
You’ll need: Blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket. Take a “high-low” fashion mentality, pairing silk with denim, a simple ensemble with an expensive coat. Keep the makeup absolutely minimal.
8. Carla Bruni
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This French chanteuse is also the former first lady of France, and wife of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Her style seems to change with her position, and she goes effortlessly from barefoot, guitar-hugging songstress to French Jackie Kennedy in a demure Dior princess coat.
The look: First lady weekending as a former supermodel.
You’ll need: Velvet jacket, leather pants, stilettos. Turn to pencil skirts and bolero blazers in interesting colors or girlish patterns designed to tone down the severity of the ensemble.