French women style secrets (Or what to pack for Paris so you don't look like a tourist)
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.
Even 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.
A 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.
It 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.
By 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.
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.
Portion 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.
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.
Physically, 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
For 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.
• 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…
Dress 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
A 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 FrenchFriends.info exclusif by Tanja Bulatovic