French women style secrets (Or what to pack for Paris so you don't look like a tourist)

French fashion dressAhhh, the elusive style of la femme française…Subtle, sexy, with a mix of nonchalance, confidence, mystery and effortlessness, her look is never too simple or too sharp.

When I think of an image of her quintessential style, I see a trench, well-worn heels, long hair, red lips, soft fabrics like cashmere, gorgeous shoes and a scarf trailing in the wind, emanating her perfume long after she has passed you in the street.

Her clothes look spontaneous, effortless as if she’s thrown them on without thinking. You see her style is not about perfection as such. There’s something a little neglected about her look, something offbeat, never over-studied.

Her ‘imperfections’ in terms of beauty are thought of as charming. She doesn’t care about her small breasts, she thinks them sexy anyway and shows them off with low décollétes (necklines). No need for a bra.

“Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.” Coco Chanel

Evidently, when I first arrived in France I instantly felt as though I should make more of an effort in terms of personal appearance, grooming, style – you name it I felt it. All one needs to do is look around to confirm that this place is major insecurity territory. Needless to say, whilst people watching at a café one morning I scribbled the following in my notebook: Help! Personal appearance and style makeover needed a.s.a.p.

Buying BaguetteEven when popping out to grab a baguette or some other menial chore, French women make an effort.  In Australia, one is used to slipping on the first thing one finds in the morning and accessorizing the look with a pair of well-worn flip-flops when heading anywhere - be it the supermarket, the city or the beach. I've even gone to the corner store with my pajamas on.  Granted they weren’t exactly flannelette PJ's, but they were undoubtedly of the comfort-clothes variety (also know as ‘passion killers’ where I come from).

“It is always better to be slightly underdressed.” Coco Chanel

Thanks Coco. The reason as to why I look like yesterday’s breakfast stems from my rebellious nature of not wanting to fit in, preferring to dress for comfort in boyish-type clothing. Obviously, and much to my distress, this is the exact opposite of what happens in the land of the femme fatale. Here, not only do they know how to embrace their feminine powers; I’m pretty sure they invented the term.

Back to my insecurities. Clearly I didn't want to necessarily look like a French woman (a ridiculous prospect).  I still wanted to be me but not look like I've come in with yesterdays' rainy weather. Know what I mean?

Needless to say, in an effort to try and blend in a little, I bought a ton of crap I didn’t need.  This is what’s known as a personal fashion/identity crisis. Of course, none of the stuff I bought felt right. When I looked in the mirror I saw a cartoon character wearing these clichéd constructions looking back at me - my normal head photoshopped and superimposed on someone else’s body.

Bad short haircutA couple of years ago in Paris on my birthday, I decided to treat myself to a mid-life crisis hair cut and color. To this day, I have no idea what happened, but somehow I ended up looking like somebody's conservative aunt. Bad French or English (Franglish) aside, I can't for the life of me remember mumbling, “Please give me a color that suits nobody, then cut and blow-dry my hair into an 80’s nightmare”. The whole thing was a catastrophe.

Cool French HatsIt is no surprise, then, that I developed a newfound passion for hats during the rest of my time in Paris. Just as soon as we got home, I grabbed a pair of blunt scissors and started hacking into my hair. Surely it can’t look any worse, I thought, as I continued chopping away desperately in an attempt to uncover a person that would look like an improved version of me.

Anne Parillaud in La Femme NikitaBy the time I finished my sub-conscious self-mutilation frenzy, I resembled none other than Anne Parillaud from La Femme Nikita (during the psycho straight-jacket scene in the film). Throughout this little chapter, my husband quietly surveyed the situation, one eye on the bathroom door and another on the TV - probably hoping that my hormones would soon settle. “It’s only hair”, he said, “It will grow back”.

None of this reads like a successful physical transformation, I know, but don’t fret. Even though there's probably no hope for me, it’s not too late for you - providing you need help, that is.

Here’s How…
As far as their diet is concerned, French women don't let themselves gain weight, preferring to stay en forme by whatever means possible. They don't snack between meals and the meals themselves are nothing to get excited about in terms of portion size.

French Food Portion ControlPortion control does however mean they don’t have to diet and/or spend half the day at the gym. They still get to eat croissants, cheese, dessert and chocolate (one square of dark chocolate instead of a block, ok?).Generally speaking, they don’t do takeaways, preferring to eat at home. No TV dinners in front of the television screen, instead, they eat at the table, slowly savoring home cooked, unprocessed food. Unthinkable, I know, but it’s true.
Alcohol or wine
Even though a lot of French women still smoke, they drink less alcohol (meaning 1-2 glasses of wine with lunch or dinner tops!). Why? Because alcohol is nothing but a bunch of empty calories and because they don't have the kind of get-drunk mentality some other nations have. No fizzy drinks either, preferring to drink water with their meals. Coffee is a tiny espresso, not a big calorie-heavy cappuccino with all the bells and whistles.

French Woman with man seductivePhysically, they walk, cycle and have plenty of sex. In France, women are comfortable and open about their sexuality.  I once watched a documentary about this on TV. Elderly women in their 60’s and 70’s speaking freely about their dating preferences, their libido and how to achieve an orgasm. For them, talking about this stuff is as natural and matter of fact as brushing their teeth.  Good for them, I thought.  In Australia nobody talks about stuff like that. I guess nobody wants to know or imagine that older people are still sexual beings with needs.

Ok, enough with the suspense. Here’s the lowdown based on three years of people watching and tireless research on contemporary French Fashion blogs.

French Style Philosophy
French Fashion Accessory bangleFor starters, I firmly believe their style-DNA is passed down from their uber-chic mothers and grandmothers alike. That’s why French women (Parisian women more likely) instinctively know what looks great on them and how to show off their best feature (usually an impossibly slim silhouette). They shop at chain stores as much as anybody else but they buy less, preferring quality, investment pieces to the latest fad quantity. In other words, things that will last the time as opposed to high fashion pieces made in Chinese sweatshops, guaranteed to disintegrate before they outlive their ‘cool’ status. Instead, they go for key items and accessorize to give them their personal stamp.

If you think this sounds a tad boring - as in who wants to wear the same things year in, year out, think again. How much stuff do you have crammed into your wardrobe and how much of it do you actually wear?  If you’re anything like me, I always go back to my few trusted (baggy) favorites, some of which I’ve had for years.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same” Coco Channel

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have in your purse (or on your credit card). It's about gaining the right knowledge to purchase the right pieces at a bargain price.

Start With Basics
• A crisp white shirt – always looks smart
• A black skirt – preferably knee length and A-line is the most flattering.
French Fashion Casual Style• A man-style jacket (think Coco Channel)
• A well cut leather jacket
• Quality t-shirts (include some with stripes)
• Tank tops
• Lightweight cashmere cardigans - they don’t itch and are highly versatile (experiment with different colors)
• A good, well fitting pair of dark denim (or stretch) jeans - dress them up or down
• A pair of well fitting black pants - instantly creates a polished and confident look.
• A simple well-cut, black dress – suitable for most occasions
• Stylish comfortable shoes in different colors (heels, flats and boots)
• A light trench coat in a neutral color
• A good quality bag
• Scarves in all colors, shapes and sizes (learn how to tie them)
• Quality black tights (not leggings)
• The right underwear (comfortable and preferably sexy if that’s possible)

It’s not what you wear but how you wear it…
French Casual Elegant AttireDress casual, yet simple and elegant, no baggy sweats or oversized items of clothing. Same goes for anything that’s too tight. Fitted does not mean tight.

Don’t wear anything tacky or over-the top. Moderation applies to clothes and accessories too. A tailored cut = a slimmer silhouette.

With makeup, less is more. I honestly don't know anyone here who actually wears foundation or base. Generally they do a touch of blush, lipstick and mascara…if that. Plus they don't carry it around with them, except maybe a little lipstick.

“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.” Coco Channel

French Modern Look Loose Pony TailA good haircut every few weeks is a must. And go for a natural hair color (note to self taken). Hairstyles are kept simple and low maintenance, not overly coiffed, blow-dried, frizzed and gunked-up with hair spray and gel. The French twist is a good example of an old classic look, but you'll need to learn how to use pins! A new modern version would be a soft ponytail or tousled, loose hair, air-dried, framing a fresh, minimally made up face. If all this is too scary to contemplate, do yourself a massive favor and at least try it because it all spells Freedom with a capital F.

Don’t use too much soap – only in necessary areas. Soap is drying for the skin, hence, ageing. It’s a mystery then why French women are so obsessed with skin care creams and products as most of them are toxic, chemical disasters…but that’s just how it is. (Needless to say, when I tell them I use olive oil on my face/body the conversation stops. I know I smell like a salad, but I don't care).

Bottom line? Get to know what looks good on you, Study the basics, and then break the rules from time to time. Don’t take it all too seriously. Have fun. And if you still want to wear your ‘passion killer’ sweat pants, wear them with confidence and/or a sensational pair of heels. Voila! C’est très simple. Non?

A exclusif by Tanja Bulatovic


Bonjour! je suis francaise

Bonjour! je suis francaise and i think that all the content is right, maybe except that no, you can't wear sweatpants with hills, seriously. French don't have sweatpants, and if you're american and you really like to wear them, at least just wear them in your house, and never when there's someone else, like a friend.
However, i still don't understand why there is so many americans who want to looks like a french or to do what we are doing!? I mean if you are born in the US, be proud of and show the best part of your (little) american culture! I'm in America right now, and i really like it!! So americans be american, and if you like french culture you are always welcome in France!!


Little American culture?

Little? Excuse me, but we are

Little? Excuse me, but we are full of culture.

"we are full of culture"

I am so sorry..I can not stop laugh
but one MUST know the broad definition of "culture" to understand that ALL the countries and comunities around the globe are FULL of just France!!!

Culture is not just wine, cheese, castles and nice language ;))


Btw, Im not from USA
(just in case)

there is culture and

there is culture and culture... I´m from Europe and I think when european says culture, he or she means something different than american. I lived some time in Americe, so I know what I´m talking about :D and in no case I´m saying the american way of culture is bad, but it is just diferent...

American Culture

The US is significantly younger than most other nations. That is why the US has "little" culture. Let's not be so easily offended. And yes, I am American.

Je suis française as well and

Je suis française as well and I will back up your comment and say that heels and your "passion killer" pants must never even meet each other. when you're on the street you're going to be meeting people you don't know and you want to have some respect and not look like complete trash.
however, america has a very different yet great and amazing culture; you can't compare the two as they are really different. it's flattering when american women want to look like french women but american women have things going for them as well!
signé une française gentille

it's flattering when american

it's flattering when american women want to look like french women but american women have things going for them as well!

So right and only one exemple, if Carry Bradshaw had not existed I would have never dared buying so many of my colorful crazy pair of shoes!!! thanks a lot!

Femme fatale

Thank you Anonymous... I was born what we call here in America a 'gurly, gurl. Feminine, Independent and plays up her best assets in dress and walk. The author of the article covers a lot..and I must say.. most of what she says is what most of us Gurly gurls do already. I have plenty of Conservative Aunts..and they dress in 'style' .... Not so Conservative ones seem to wear brogans for shoes and boy clothes. I am a Gurl...I celebrat that!!

Very nice Article.... much appreciated.!! Welcome to Femme World!

Being American in Paris

Bonjour, madame! Je vous remercie de votre gentillesse énorme. Vous m'avez donné du courage. J'ai envie de porter le camo rose à Paris. Qu'en pensez-vous?
Francophile americaine.

It's interesting that French

It's interesting that French women are comfortable with their sexuality. Maybe, that undergirds their good style, the understated sexiness, carefree but 'pulled together' styles. Not to be offensive to American women (I'm American) but the American "in-your-face" type of flaunting sexuality gets boring. Overblown sexuality gets stale and ultimately says "DESPERATE!!"

If not "In Your Face" then the overdressed look prevails

I needed to add this . . .

So, in America, if it's not the "In-Your-Face" sexy desperado style, it's the overdressed "Protect-me-From-the-World" look. Sometimes asexual woman and lesbians dress this way. You know what I'm talking about: start with a bra, a teeshirt over the bra, then a shirt (sometimes a man's plaid workshirt) or turtleneck if the weather is a tad brisk. On top of that add a hoodie or some type of sports jacket then wound a cheap scarf around the neck. Add jeans to this ensemble or sweatpants, some sports shoes a short boot/hiker or flats. Overdone layering. Women go out to the grocery store, the gas station, to the library, or to meet friends in this stuff. Most think they look pretty good. But, these women seem afraid to show any skin, afraid of being a woman, I guess.

Along with this overdressed look is the "Mission Style"--a type of severe "church look," all buttoned up--long skirt buttoned down the front, buttoned up long-sleeve blouse tucked into the long buttoned up skirt, a long-sleeve, button-down sweater over that, hosiery and flat shoes. No heels, ever.

. . . and as for makeup, in America you get that overmade up look, black rimming the eyes, sometimes black or navy all around the eye area, black mascara, black eyebrow pencil, lips lined then "filled in" with lipstick, blush smeared from nose to ear. The other end of the spectrum is the overscrubbed face, hardly any moisturizer, face peeling around the nose, cheeks and chin, smelling like deordorant soap--clean and natural but could use some face cream and at least a touch of pale lipstick.

"But, these women seem afraid

"But, these women seem afraid to show any skin, afraid of being a woman, I guess."

Dinah, plenty of men dress in a way that covers them up. Are they afraid of being men?
Some people feel safer in more clothing, and some women do not wish to be oogled and catcalled. If they feel more secure this way, then it is not right to critize them.

American Women are simply not feminine

I know why you're so upset, trying to loop men into the equation. Are you all 'buttoned up, too'? Women will get catcalled (and everything else) irrespective of how they dress. American women are not very feminine, and that's not just my opinion. A European blogger who spent some time in America can verify this. There's something about American women . . . Something that they can't quite own up to, not yet. And that's why they're nuts about French fashion and styles--these things set the American free from herself.

French Women Style Secret

Wow, I am impressed. I am French, and I think you've perfectly understood what is French Women Style. However, if you look a bit closer, hopefully all French women haven't exactly the same one. The thing here (in France) is that it is important to have style; You definitively have to find yours. That's why you won't see a woman go outside to buy a croissant or a newspaper in pyjama...It's may be a question of self respect (for yourself and for the people you'll cross in the street). When we are outside, we want to offer the best image of ourself. Of course, it doesn't mean that French Women Style is better than all the other ones. What about Italian Style ? Spanish ? Indian ? Japonese ? Brasilian ? and of course American (sorry for the ones I forgot). May be, French Style is more or less a "Classic". A style that goes through fashion and years... That's possible. I personnaly try to share my French Women experience in that field in my blog.Feel free to tell me what you think about it !

The Southern Woman

I enjoyed your article. I have lived in the Deep South for 24 years and believe that these women should be included in the "most beautiful women in the world" category. Not the caricature of the Southern woman, but the real thing. Although they may be more likely to be seen in their sweats in a pinch, they are hoping that no one will recognize them! You won't hear a lot -- or any -- talk about orgasms or libido, but they are very confidant in their sexuality and expect to be noticed and appreciated. Because they talk slowly with their drawl, people often think that they are not intelligent, an unfortunate and incorrect conclusion. But added to their beauty are the inward traits of kindness and graciousness. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but I'm talking about the "real deal."

lovely! and pedicures

I love your post--I am American (coastal California) but have lived in Europe--Italy,mainly. wonderful about attention to quality not quantity, beautiful skin not masks etc. There are some really glorious "careless" styles of American women in San Francisco and also in Santa Barbara (where I have also lived). An American woman can look beautiful out in her yoga clothes, as long as each piece is carefully selected--though I do prefer the--take the time to dress care of the French--but--plenty of San Francisco women do that too! But, here is why I am writing. The one thing that astonished me in Europe is that, unlike American women, there is not a big culture of pedicures. American woman take a lot of care in beautifully cared for feet, lovely cuticles, buffed, soft etc. I wish someone would create a blog of finding some of the best of numerous different cultures of feminitity and put it together...I do feel the French style is exquisite...but the feet...pedicures please.

More French women writers please

I love to read books about France but mainly the culture and the elegance of the French ladies. How they cope with work and childcare etc. However, I am sick of books written by American and British women about the French. Are there no books written by French women about themselves and their lives. In English of course.

Hi !I'm french, and I think

Hi !

I'm french, and I think that most of the article is right. Except that french also eat caloric food, junk food. As far as i'm concern, I go to the KFC at (the very) least once a month. And I haven't practice any sport since last year. I think, this is more about the products that firms add in food, in some countries. And the quantity of course.

But you're very right about our goal : the outfit has to look effortless even if we spent two hours to choose it (I say "we", but of course, it's a generality. A lot of french women don't care about their appearance, french are not an exception you know)
Then, I'd like to add that you take us as kind of a model (in fashion). But we take you (at least what we think you are) for a lot of things. Like parties (with tv shows) etc. Plus, my idols are Blair W. in Gossip girl, and Jess in Who is Jess. Aren't they american tv shows? Yes they are! :)

So you can easily dress like us. You can look at fashion blog, or relooking tv shows. But pick only what you like, and what would make you feel pretty. And build your own style:)

Here is my link if you're interested :
I'm not "thin" or tall like a model.
And I know a quite famouse blog : Big beauty, I think that shows that you can look gorgeous no matter how is your body !

Last advice : choose quality stuff for the basics. And maybe something a little cheaper for the accessories that will not last in the fashion world.
Shops : Zara, Asos, Topshop, kissing in traffic...

Bonjour,As a parisian I

As a parisian I agree on the style advices you give and would also add that are the basics that structure the parisian style but that the art of french women comes from the outstanding special pieces that add to it.
On my blog I give advices on how to wear heels:
Bises de Paris,
PS: fun how the woman with the baguettes, the beret and the Chanel looking glasses looks completely american (too cliché too be french ^^)