When it comes to fashion and food, I consider myself a Francophile.
I am not myself French; have only visited the country once when I was eight years old; and have lost my faltering fluency over some four years away from French Immersion. Still, few things delight me more than a Breton stripe, a wheel of cheese, a crusty baguette, and a soupçon of wine.
French fashion is so alluring because it is effortless. While everything is tailored, and may indeed be structured, the clothing and attitude are relaxed. You will not see les femmes françaises sporting great piles of jewelry, gobs of makeup, or an outfit they can’t move freely in. That doesn’t mean being slovenly, but it means marrying practicality with—you knew the phrase was coming—a certain je ne sais quoi.
Hemlines have been lauded as indicating the state of the economy, in George Taylor’s Hemline Index from the 1920s; while that theory is widely contested and debated, the French fashion hemline theory is well-established. As Kat Collings writes for Who What Wear, in France the hemline determines the footwear. Collings explains, “Essentially, if you’re wearing a longer dress or skirt, opt for heels, and if you’re sporting a miniskirt or mini-dress, wear flats.”
Scrolling through some examples of this fashion in action, it’s not hard to see that the proportions work a dream.
Bonus: you’ll look très chic zipping about on a moped with your functional flats!
My addiction to stripes is somewhat under control, with only a handful of items that bear the Breton. If you want to indulge in wearing stripes Monday through Sunday though, you’d be perfectly justified given the eternal, effortless elegance of this item; it’s a French fashion classic for a reason. Dress the print up or down, for day or night—anyway you style it, you’ll have people saying “Ooh la la!”
Bonus: make a classic contemporary by mixing prints. I love pairing patterns, and while it isn’t something I whip out all the time, doing so adds so much visual interest to otherwise ordinary items. There are several rules that you can follow (or get experimental!):
- Ensure there is a base colour running through each item. So, if you’re mixing stripes and florals, make sure there are black stripes, and a black background to your flowers. Having some colour consistency will make your outfit seem more cohesive.
- Vary the size of your prints. Small polka dots pair better with larger stripes, and vice versa. If you’re wearing two prints that positively scream for attention, your outfit will seem more disjointed.
- Have fun with it! It’s a different look, so if you want to try mixing three or more prints together, experiment. If you just want subtle touches, mix prints in your accessories rather than every item in your outfit.
You’ve mastered some of the basics of French fashion—now it’s on to further embodying the style and attitude.
Flipping through Vogue’s gallery of French women’s hair over the years, you’ll see that it does evolve considerably. From Joan of Arc’s close crop, to Marie Antoinette’s bouffant, and on through many other styles. Really, hair still varies, between Audrey Tautou’s gorgeous pixie and Julie Delpy’s luscious locks. Because the styles of French hair vary so much, there is no single, definitive look. Caroline De Maigret recommends sleeping with your hair in a braid so you awaken with wonderfully wavy texture, but it’s all about what you like, and what works for your lifestyle.
French makeup is—again—as effortless as makeup generally gets without being, well, none at all. A lil’ cat eye always adds a dash of mystery, while a red lip is tremendously chic. If you go with a bright red, try to select one with blue undertones, as it will make your teeth look brighter. Alternatively, opt for a darker merlot or burgundy, for something a little sultry. I would recommend against doing both a cat eye and a red lip, only so you don’t spent the day worried about smearing eyeliner and getting lipstick on your teeth.
Bonus: take a twist on red lips with coral, orange, fuchsia, or plum. You have a rainbow of colours to choose from, so while red will always stun, mixing it up keeps your look fun.
Try all these looks to emulate Marion, Carla, and so many others—or make French fashion your own. Always remember your best accessories are stylish sunglasses, a baguette, and sentences peppered with patented French ennui.