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How to dress with French style: 8 easy steps!

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No matter where we come from, if we love France we also love how French women dress.

I see them in Paris, I see them in other parts of France and I also see them when they visit my home town of Sydney. I’ve studied them a lot, and I’ve also read some of the many books on dressing à la française.

And finally, I think I’ve cracked the code.

1. A classic colour palette

Wandering the streets of France you don’t see much lime green and fuschia pink on the françaises. What you do see though is black (in fact lots of black) and other classic colours such as navy, camel and white. Think combinations of these and you will be off to a great start.

2. Simple moccasins/ballet flats

While Louboutins may be French it is the classic moccasin or ballet flat that rules in France. Never joggers – unless you are jogging!

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3. Trench coat or down jacket

A classic coat is necessary and always stylish. A chic, classic trench in a chic, classic colour is always a winner. Add in your classic colour palette and flats, and ‘ooh, la, la!’ If a trench coat just isn’t going to do the job (les françaises are chic but also practical) swap the trench for a short, belted down coat.

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4. A good handbag

The classic, of course, is the Hermès Birkin or Kelly, but realistically most of us just aren’t in a position to even think about that. So instead, carry the absolute best quality you can afford.

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The latest, trendy ‘it’ bag is definitely not necessary, just a classic style in a classic colour. Even old is OK. Tie a scarf on the handle for added French chic.

5. Simple statement jewelery – less is more

While Coco Chanel piled on the jewelery, then took one piece off for good measure, when I wander round Paris, what I notice is the distinct lack of jewelery. What I do notice is a single piece of statement jewelery (more often than not costume) on either the neck or at the wrist.

6. Scarves

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Again Hermès rules here, but again, not everyone can think about owning one, so buy the best quality you can afford. Or, go the complete opposite with witty cheap ethnic ones from your other journeys or from ethnic clothing shops.

My personal favourite scarves in France are the inhouse labels at Galeries Lafayettes or Au Printemps – affordable and undeniably, genuinely French.

7. Trousers

Look carefully – French women don’t wear skirts that much. Well-cut trousers in a classic cut and classic colour rule.

8. Matching underwear

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While we don’t get to see it very often, I have it on good authority that French women tend to wear matching bras and undies. I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of a chicness that only I know about!

Fill your French wardrobe without spending a fortune

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Monoprix: for jewellery, and basics such as tights and scarves.

Galeries Lafayettes & Printemps: do a big shop on one day, spend your 180 euros and claim back the VAT in store. You’ll be incredibly chic and get a 12% cash refund. What’s not to love?

APC: younger and a bit trendier, but no less French.

Petit Bateau: for children who are just crying out for a French makeover. Gorgeous T-shirts.

Dressing à la française is something any of us can do. If only their eternal slimness came so easily!

Image credits:
1. Jane Winkworth
2. The Trench, via Pinterest
3. Repetto, via Behind Ballet
4. Hermès Birkin, via Pinterest
5. Hermès scarf detail, via Pinterest
6. Matching underwear, via Pinterest
7. Galeries Lafayette, by BigPilou on Flickr


Join the conversation

5 Comments




  1. Elisabeth Donato
    6 years ago

    Excellent piece, Jo. Fashion to live by, really. I find American clothing so outrageously awful. I am not exactly a paragon of fashion, but I like wearing black and navy. A lot.


  2. Jo Karnaghan
    6 years ago

    Thanks so much Elisabeth. I agree with you – it’s being classic rather than slavishly following trends, really, isn’t it?


  3. Rosemary Kneipp
    6 years ago

    Hi, the French only wear navy in summer, of course. It is definitely not a winter colour. I’ve only scored 3 1/2 out of 8, I’m afraid, though I think you’ve described what most well-dressed French women wear in Paris. I do find their eternal black rather depressing, especially in winter, I have to confess. And I know that young people often wear it because they are afraid of showing bad taste. As you can see, I’m not a fashionista!


  4. Jo Karnaghan
    6 years ago

    That’s the great thing about fashion isn’t it, it’s always highly subjective. Whether you’re a fashionista or not doesn’t matter – your taste is your taste and its right for you! Personally I don’t dress like this either – I like to express myself through my clothes a bit more, but when I’m in France, I long for their classic, well cut chicness.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  5. alyslinn
    6 years ago

    Love the article, and it’ll help me pack for my trip in a few months. I wear a lot of black and classic pieces already, but where I fail is in the handbags. I’ll need to sort that out. 🙂