How to dress like a French woman in 5 steps

French woman - My French Life™Paris is the city of lights, the city of love… and the world’s capital of fashion. But what if you don’t live there? How will you dress to look like you belong there?

Not to worry, there is more to French style than shopping in Parisian clothing stores.

When people think of French fashion, they picture Coco Chanel’s little black dress, scarves, and women exuding elegance and chic. I hate to break it to you, but you won’t see a striped navy top at every Parisian corner.

As a French woman I will try to explain French style, what fashion means to French women, and how they express themselves through it.

1. Mastering Parisian chic

Where a French woman shops - Comptoir des Cotonniers - My French Life™

If all you want is to look Parisian, this will be your everyday look: slim jeans or pants, flats (or 2-3 inch heels), and a trench coat. In New York, you will find those items at Maje, Zadig & Voltaire, Sandro, and especially, at the slightly more affordable Comptoir des Cotonniers.

What you will not see: a French woman won’t be caught dead in sweat pants. If they wear sports clothes, it will be to actually work out. Jeans are a French woman’s idea of comfort.

2. What’s underneath is just as important

For the lingerie corner, remember first that the word lingerie is taken from French. In English the word evokes elegance, femininity and sensuality, whilst in French it just means ‘undergarments’. No wonder why French women spend about 29% more on lingerie than their American counterparts.¹

Go online and compare Etam Lingerie with Victoria’s Secret: two mainstream stores in the same price range. You will see what I’m talking about. For more upscale French lingerie, try brands like Darjeeling, Chantelle or Aubade that you can find in many French cities or online.

3. Coiffed to perfection

Lastly, hair. You have to look like you just got out of bed but somehow managed to still look amazing…

4. Less is more

French style icons - Actress Mélanie Laurent - My French Life™From a very young age, a French woman is exposed to brands with a history of elegance and simplicity. Less is more. They are used to dressing in black, brown, gray, beige, or dark blue, simply because those colors go with everything. Never wear more than three different colors in your outfit.

5. The basics are timeless

Fashion role models are mothers and grand-mothers, who know how to sew their own clothes and be feminine at all times. French women learn that the basics are timeless, know what fits them, and tend to choose well-fitted clothes over baggy ones, and keep the accessories to a minimum.

Keep this in mind when you shop, no matter which store you are in. Buying French brands isn’t the most important thing. I live in the US and have managed to keep my own French style.

I shop for jeans at American Eagle, blouses and jackets at European brands like Zara or Mango, and accessories and bags at Urban Outfitters. None of those stores are French. The key is simply to know how to recognize the clothes that will make you look like a French woman; stylish, elegant and to not ‘try too hard’.

What does ‘looking French’ mean to you? Where do you shop for fashionable and elegant outfits? Share your insights in the comments box below.

1. Percentage based on the amount of spending in lingerie in 2011 divided by the female population between 15 – 70 years old.
Photo credits:
1. Parisian Chic, via Pinterest 
2. Comptoir des Cotonniers store in South Molton Street London, courtesy of thinkretail.

3. Actress Melanie Laurent is sighted at Nice airport on May 23, 2011 in Nice, France. Photo by Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic. 

About the Contributor

Jennifer Bourne

Born and raised in France, I became a New Yorker at heart when I moved to the US. Social media and online research are my specialties. Movies and TV series are my conversation starters. While I try to make the best out of my New York life, I stay in constant research of all things French. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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  1. Frederic BIBARD Nov 7, 2013 at 8:26 PM - Reply

    Very accurate way to explain how French Parisian women dress like. 🙂

  2. Aga Jastrz?bek Nov 7, 2013 at 10:29 PM - Reply

    So now I am going to really stick to that 🙂

  3. Amandine Sevestre Nov 8, 2013 at 1:40 AM - Reply

    I completely agree. I do not even wear sweatpants to work out 😉 I tend to avoid brands like Maje and Zadig& Voltaire because I feel the clothing is overpriced compared to quality (and Zadig is bit more for the fashionista than I am not). But Comptoirs clothes are very well cut for all shapes and recent collections are more interesting (to me) colorwise. There used to be a LOT a beige. Tara Jarmon makes the most beautiful coats, but they are quite pricey.(3-400 euros for the most affordable ones).

  4. Jennifer Bourne Nov 8, 2013 at 1:44 AM - Reply

    I agree that Zadig and Maje can be pricy, whereas Comptoir combine quality and affordable clothes. I miss the lingerie stores here in NY! I feel like the American woman has nowhere to shop besides Victoria Secret! But again, it’s all about how you wear and choose your clothes, less about where you shop for them!

  5. Elise Mellor Jul 10, 2014 at 4:24 PM - Reply

    I think a fundamental step here is:
    – be thin and gorgeous with a natural sense of style… 😉

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