There is something to be said for the effortless flair of a French woman: The perfectly composed outfit, the correct accessories and makeup (or lack thereof) and the poise, of course. While the Internet seems to be obsessed with “French girl” trends, with 4.5 billion Google results, the true style-power lies with French women—grownups, in other words—like, for instance, actresses Isabelle Huppert and Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu.
Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, who plays Emily’s French boss in Emily in Paris, recently flaunted a jaw-droppingly tight, semi-sheer forest green knit dress styled with perfect breasts, visible nipples, an oversized blazer and heeled sandals to the Ami Paris fashion show. And yet the provocative look was executed so flawlessly that it managed to look elegant, smart, powerful and, obviously, sexy. Another good example is Isabelle Huppert wearing muted shades at Cannes Film Festival. She looks smart, accessible, clean and put together. And that’s the thing about the way that French women dress: it is never disheveled or demeaning, somehow. Even when sexy, it retains some kind of power, while also celebrating femininity.
French fashion is iconic. Often recognized for its striped shirts, oversized blazers, tights, ballerina, flats, and a foulard, a thin silk scarf. But few people realize that, despite being the home of couture fashion, French women don’t exactly shop it. Instead they prefer to invest in a few quality items that they mix and rematch and wear again and again. A good cashmere sweater, a great pair of vintage jeans, and an expensive foulard from Hermès, that’s the way to do it, they figure. A great example of this is last holidays’ series, Christmas Flow, on Netflix. In it, Shirine Boutella (who plays Lila) wears the same pair of maroon-colored jeans throughout the weekend, changing the top every so often. What resulted was a real world feel, and the notion that style isn’t so much about fancy, unrealistic outfits that we ogle in Emily in Paris, but about comfort, a few timeless and well thought-through items and a great attitude. It’s about the mix-and-match of new and vintage items as well as statement pieces and understated basics. French women prefer to focus on the overall impact of their look rather than the brands that they use and, it goes without saying, that French women will usually stay away from logomania. And their favorite color: Black, of course! It suits just about everyone of every and any size and skin color.
We’ve compiled some staples of French style and some of the famous and fabulous French women sporting them. So, what’s missing in your closet?
French women love their jeans and they sport them day and night– to work, to the market and to an evening party. A good old pair of mom jeans is a true staple, especially if they are vintage. Sophie Fontanel, French journalist and activist, is a proponent of women showing style at any age and even wears her hair fully grey. She sports her pair of relaxed jeans with a puffer coat. And voilá, you’ve got a look, cuff the jeans to make them look even more edgy.
SHOP LOOK: While French women love their American-brand Levi’s, they also frequent small French brands like Sezane. Levi’s jeans are a great investment as the heritage brand lasts well and can often be found in second-hand vintage stores. Sezane is a smaller, contemporary brand that also supports a number of NGO institutions worth investing in when you buy a pair of jeans.
Heels might be nice on Emily in Paris and so are boots a nice addition for anyone, but every respectable French person owns a pair of sustainable Veja sneakers. This comfortable athleisure brand offers an array of footwear easily wearable with both a yoga outfit or a power suit. No matter the occasion, a pair of Veja’s is an absolute closet must-have!
SHOP LOOK: Shop Veja sneakers on their website at €130 each. While they are a bit of an investment, they are long-lasting and incredibly comfortable. Veja was the first sustainable sneaker brand in the world, making way for other popular kicks to follow suit. Their sneakers are made with recycled materials, organic cotton, and sustainable-sourced leather.
Flattering Knee-Length-Or-Longer Dress
French girls might love mini skirts and mini dresses, but a French woman will always go for a gorgeous long dress and/or skirt. It might be sexy and revealing like Leroy-Beaulieu’s dress, but the length is usually below knee. In fact, there is a beauty and elegance to a well-tailored and fitting dress that ripples in her wake as a woman walks through a room. French-Rwandan actress Sonia Rolland opts for long, flowy dresses.
Beige and/or White Slacks
Whether a weekend out of town, a brunch with the girls, or for le repas dominical with the family, every French woman owns a pair of elegant slacks. These show that she is laid back and ready to have fun without her stiff workwear during the week, but that she’s also elegant. White pants in fact demonstrate leisure and are still quite traditionally worn in France almost only on weekends. Here French model and style icon Ines de la Fressange wears a lovely vacation look in Saint-Tropez.
Black Leather Jacket and/or Blazer
All-black is a sure French woman uniform, and she often wears it with a little bit of punk, like French and Russian fashion editor Carine Roitfeld, here. A leather jacket, especially when vintage, is the perfect addition to every outfit. It’s the absolute key item for both French men and women. Have fun with it and accessorize it!
Foulard or Scarf
A little carre, square, foulard tied at the neck is the epitome of French chic. It’s elegant, understated, and beautifully highlights the face and the jawline. This is where French women might consider to invest in a brand name scarf (preferably an old French brand like Hermés, Dior, or Louis Vuitton,) or perhaps inherit one from their grandmother. It’s also another chance to use a fashion piece with meaning–be it sustainable, vintage, sentimental and/or artisanal. Keep your neck warm from le rhume.
SHOP LOOK: Check out Etsy for a compilation of vintage, small-businesses, and artisan-made scarfs.
The White T-shirt
Never underestimate the importance of a white T-shirt. It fits well with both a sweater and a leather jacket, and pulls together any outfit. Singer Carla Bruni looks like a million bucks in her white T-shirt.
SHOP LOOK: Back to the basics, French brand called, American Vintage (now available in USA), delivers the softest and best quality T-shirts. Maison Kitsuné is another staple brand of classic T-shirts, sometimes with a punch.
Depending on the weather, a beige top-layer might be a proper winter coat or a lighter trench. A staple item in the closet, this can be an easy day-to-day piece, and one that can also be dressed up with a pair or tights and heels. Sometimes French women might even wear it like a dress, pushing the boundaries of fashion and sexy. Music producer and model Caroline de Maigret wears hers with a sleek black heel here.
“Pull” stems from the English word “pullover” and means sweater for the French. It’s a perfect little cashmere or quality item that can be paired with pants or skirts and/or worn over a dress. A French woman loves her sweaters as she prefers to layer and still keep warm. Add a little foulard to it and maybe a leather jacket or trench coat atop and you’ve got a look! Senegal-born French actress Aïssa Maïga pairs her pullover with a long skirt.
SHOP LOOK: French women love Sezane for its wool and cashmere knitwear.
A good suit is very much a superpower that every French-woman holds well-pressed in her closet. It’s less about showy and sparkly dresses and more about tailored style. As a typical men’s fashion item, French women have broken the rules and adapted it into their own wardrobes, doing so elegantly and even quite sexily. French-Algerian filmmaker, who made the 2008 hit movie “Paris,” Farida Khelfa, loves a strong powersuit and sports one next to her date, who’s also wearing a suit.
SHOP LOOK: Every French brand carries a suit, but BA&SH offers whimsical and fun styles that can be worn both to work and out.
Angelika Pokovba is a staff writer for Frenchly.