French style

French women are so fashionable! French women look so classy! French women make it look effortless! French women make the rest of us look so frumpy! French fashion is so timeless and classic! French style! OMG Chanel!

I don’t know how many times I’ve read these or similar words in magazines and articles over the years. It’s all that people can say about French women and fashion. What it fails to tell you is that it describes one particular type of Parisian woman who loves fashion and has loads of money. This ‘French women are fashionable’ thing is another enduring stereotype that doesn’t really live up to the reality, or the reality outside of Paris at least.

My one-woman experience is that I suck at fashion; I have a long history of sucking at fashion and I don’t know any French person who either cares or knows about fashion in more than the most basic ‘let’s not go out in my PJ’s’ kind of way so I’m not going to be much help. This may be because I grew up in a provincial town (i.e. anywhere other than Paris) to parents who couldn’t afford to clothe me in labels; or that my sense of style just, well, sucks. I don’t care. I like my jeans and t-shirts and Converse, dangly earrings and all the colours.

So whatever French fashion style advice I’m going to give you now, feel free to ignore it. I won’t leave you in the lurch however, and recommend that you read and see the work of French people who are much more knowledgeable, talented, and who actually care about fashion, such as:

Le Blog de Betty

Garance Doré

The Cherry Blossom Girl

Et Pourquoi Pas Coline

Miss Pandora

Now that I’ve warned you that you should not be taking fashion advice from me (ever), I’m going to give you fashion advice. It’s a topic I thought should feature in a series on how to be more French (arf), but instead of telling you what I have learnt (nothing), I’m just going to tell you what I think other people mean when they talk about French fashion, and it is this:

If you want to look classy, keep it simple, keep it streamlined and don’t overdo it with colours.

Forget combining different patterns and colours. When people think French fashion, they think of actresses like Audrey Tautou and Marion Cotillard, and they are describing that red-carpet classic elegance they seem to exude. Most of the time, they are wearing simple black outfits, a simple hairstyle and understated jewellery. The key to classic French elegance, as far as I can see, is understatement.

See what I mean about ignoring my advice? This is Chanel Spring/Summer 2015, and ‘understated’ is the worst possible descriptor for these, ahem, things.

Classic French fashion embraces black, white, navy blue, cream and grey. You can enhance your clothes with colourful jewellery but not too much. If you are going to wear colour, keep it to one thing and coordinate it with monochrome e.g. colourful top, monochrome bottom and jewellery. Choose block colour and accessorise with monochrome bag, shoes and jewellery.

If you want to look casual French, wear a scarf. In fact, if you’re a man, wear a simple v-neck or polo-neck jumper and a scarf and there you go, instant French.

Was this advice helpful? I would love to know (for future reference), so tell me in the comments!

31 days to discover France