How to dress like the French {day three}

{day three} how to dress like the French
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! 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!

 

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England Saved Me From a Life of Crime

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That’s right. Moving to England literally saved me from a life of crime(s)… against fashion.

A persistent stereotype about French women is that we are all born with an innate sense of style and that, with the gift of glamour at our fingertips, we just effortlessly tumble into our clothes and make them look, and here’s a cliché if I ever heard one, timeless. What. A. Lot. Of. Crap.

For the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, here’s the reality of growing up an average teenage girl in France in the 90s (I specify the 90s because I have no idea what it’s like right now, having left France over 15 years ago – maybe things have changed, in which case, tell me about it in the comments!):

  • Hardly anyone has a sense of style: the most important thing about growing up in France is to conform, conform, conform. You do this by subscribing to the traditional school uniform. But France doesn’t have uniforms! Oh yes they do, it’s called the ‘jeans and t-shirt’ combo. Most kids don’t veer very far from this template; or they do so at their own peril.
  • Girls don’t wear pretty things: again, jeans and t-shirt. Grey, black and white. With sneakers and probably a scarf. Special occasions, like going out to a club or a party, involves putting a different top to your normal ones but that’s it. I’ve not seen any girl or women in ‘pretty dresses’ unless there was a wedding. So imagine my surprise when I moved to England and went out. Girls in dresses, girls in heels, girls wearing pretty things, shiny things, glittery things, and colours; it was a revelation. I had never thought of it as an option but I certainly liked having the choice.

This said, I have always been particularly challenged and I have committed so many fashion faux-pas that it took emulating a good friend and a few good years on British soil for me to learn what suits me and what doesn’t and mostly, to recognize when something is just hideous. I’m still not particularly stylish because that takes money and it’s never been a priority.

If you don’t believe that I could be so utterly clueless, here’s the proof: when I moved to England, I wore dungarees that my mum had made me. Not even denim dungarees, we’re talking soft cotton and bright colours. I have nothing against homemade clothes because they can certainly be stylish, but then there’s me and my choices. I was 18, and truthfully, it was quite frightful just how uncool I was. Thankfully, there aren’t any pictures. Well, not many anyway. And definitely none of the dungarees.

Also, when I was 15 I liked to wear a suit because it made me look more mature or something. It was a thick peach-coloured double-breasted suit. I swear I do have a picture of it somewhere but I can’t find it right now, otherwise I would share it, because it has to be seen to be believed. I was so confident I looked good in it that I sent a copy in the post to a boy I fancied; I seem to recall he wrote back to ask why I was wearing old people clothes. I’m getting tears in my eyes just thinking about it, the SHAME.

Age 18 in my homemade trousers and shapeless t-shirt

Age 18 in my homemade trousers and shapeless t-shirt

I’m not quite sure what the point of this post is, apart from maybe to serve as a warning that if you are looking for ideas on how to look stylish like French women, this is not the blog for you. Apart from, less is more. Always.