France, especially Paris, France, has been an epicenter of the fashion world for a long, long time. An interest in style and an interest in French style usually go hand in hand, and my hope is to nurture this curiosity. Both in you and in myself.
I could never be an expert on this subject. I am not French, and I’ve never even visited there before. So please consider this post an exploration for us all. We can learn together.
Let’s start with Coco Chanel. Her style innovations influenced women’s fashion not just in France, but around the globe, and do so to this day. Not to mention, the Chanel brand has grown into a fashion empire in and of itself, with a net worth of around $8 billion.
Here are the basic elements of Coco’s personal approach:
- Nix the corset
- This isn’t a big thing now, but it was when Coco was making her mark. Opting for belts instead of unnatural constriction, she made the bold but honest statement that women should not go about their lives in discomfort. Take a page out of her book, and dress comfortably.
- Elegance equals simplicity
- To me, this hearkens back to the saying “the classics never die.” Don’t waste time and money chasing fads. Popular fashion is fluid and ever-changing. Think in terms of what stays fashionable. Black and white. Quality shoes. A pearl necklace. Integrate the classics with your own personal tastes.
- Make one statement at a time
- Coco tended to keep her clothes simple and her accessories bold. In many photos we see of her nowadays, she is in a black dress with a mass of pearls around her neck. My biggest takeaway from this is that we shouldn’t be afraid to wear something eye-catching; we just mustn’t overdo it. One statement piece is enough to make an incredible ensemble.
Fast forward to the present day, and we have Jeanne Damas. You may recognize her from the post I did on fashion icons several weeks ago. I would describe her as France’s It-girl, more or less the embodiment of the fashion ideal in Paris at this moment.
Here are a few things she has to say about beauty:
- Keep it simple and healthy
- Avoid products that use a lot of alcohol or heavy perfumes. Moisturize and use sunscreen. Wash your face even when you don’t wear makeup.
- “Don’t look too harshly made up”
- If your outfit is neat as a pin, let your hair be messy. If you wear a bold lipstick, don’t wear any eye makeup. The idea is to seem effortless. Looking “perfect” isn’t sexy.
- Show off your flaws
- Keep your style as natural as possible. Make the best of your differences. Looking unique is charming. Looking the same as everyone else is boring.
One of Jeanne’s most well-known style elements is her red lipstick. If you’re interested in learning more about that, click here.
Now that we’ve had some advice from actual French people, let’s dive into some tips that I’ve found solely from my own research.
When we imagine the Woman of Paris, our minds tend to picture a sort of feminine ideal. Sophisticated, but not trying too hard. I believe that image is entirely on purpose, and that’s the vibe we should be shooting for. But it’s not enough to simply figure out what they wear and copy them. The Parisienne way isn’t just a fashion, it’s a lifestyle.
- Choose a signature wine that you serve at home.
The French don’t have any hangups about alcohol, and that’s because they learn about moderation early in life. Getting sloppy drunk is considered distasteful. Wine, like everything else they consume, is artfully appreciated. If you don’t like wine, consider trying out different kinds. There are so many varieties that you’re bound to enjoy at least one.
I usually have a bottle of Blue Parachute in my fridge.
- Wear a black bra under a white blouse.
I wasn’t sure I would like this one, but I do. Usually, you don’t really want your bra to show through your top, but I think it’s a pretty great look in this case, at least when the straps show, like in my photo above. It’s a little mischievous, and that can be very appealing.
- Utilize the scarf/handkerchief.
A silk scarf is an excellent way to look affluent, and it’s an accessory you can get creative with. Tying it onto your handbag, for example, is very French.
- Choose a signature scent.
Perfume is a sensual element, an accessory that literally goes with anything. A pleasant smell influences everyone we come in contact with, if only on the subconscious level. I love to wear perfume, and I have a scent for just about every occasion. But when it comes to just the average day-to-day, I use Love Spell, by Victoria Secret. It’s been my signature choice for over a decade, and I’ll probably be using it for a decade or two more.
When choosing a perfume, I strongly advise against heavy, overwhelming scents. Ideally, you should be able to spritz it on, and then forget about it.
- Learn a bit of French.
Granted, learning any new language is difficult. I wish our schools would teach languages on the elementary level, like many other countries do. Children are sponges for language, and it is much easier for a young brain to learn more than one fluently. I took French for four years, and I can competently order from a French menu, but overall I would struggle if I was alone in Paris.
Even still, the French language is a beautiful one, and I don’t regret a moment of studying it.
- Maintain happy fingers and toes.
Mani-pedis are fun, but not necessary. However, keeping your nails healthy is a must.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Do Not bite your fingernails! If you have that habit, break it.
- If a nail chips, or if you get a hangnail, fix it with clippers. Don’t pick at it.
- Toenails grow more slowly than fingernails, but don’t forget about them.
- Pushing back your cuticles is overrated.
- Nail polish is a simple way to add a bit of extra glow to a look. If you don’t have a steady hand, don’t worry. Just practice.
- Study the arts.
“The arts” is a very broad term. And when I say study, I don’t necessarily mean to go school (though that’s what I did for writing). First, simply ask yourself, what sparks my interest? Architecture? Film? Fashion perhaps? Do you want to practice an art, or just learn and absorb?
More than anything, the idea is to seek out inspiration–in whatever form it comes. Art feeds the human spirit. And we cannot help but become more well-rounded individuals when we are exposed to it. Spend an afternoon in a museum. Read books. Nurture the creative energy in your soul.
- Wear pearls.
I honestly can’t think of a more timeless or universally loved accessory.
- Try red eyeshadow.
I was highly intrigued when I found this short tutorial for red eye makeup by a French woman named Soko. It definitely inspired me to experiment.
I’m not confident that I pulled it off her way.
But I improvised.
- Convince yourself that you’re not afraid of aging.
People, especially women, are too often devalued when they grow older. And as a result, we tend to live in fear of things like wrinkles and grey hair. But that’s missing the point. The fact is, no one ever knows when their time will be up. Growing old is a privilege.
Stay as healthy as you can. Avoid plastic surgery. Be your natural self, and do what you can with the life you have. That’s good advice no matter where you’re from.
- Never lose your joie de vivre.
Joie de vivre is a French expression which basically means “the joy of living.” I could probably delete everything else on this list, and I’d still be able to make my basic point here.
Smiling, feeling confident, these are the true elements of beauty. Seeking out happiness in life will always be the most fashionable thing you can do.
The fashion of Paris is a reflection of the French lifestyle. The bottom line, I believe, is achieving balance. Trying to find that sweet spot between business and pleasure, and taking them both very seriously. (That’s why French employees get so much more paid vacation time than Americans).
I don’t think taking a course in fashion design, or even taking a trip to Paris, is in the cards for me. But this is what I’ve learned from just a preliminary look into the Parisienne way. A few Google searches and Youtube videos, some time spent on Pinterest, and I’ve at least been able to put together a cohesive blog post on the subject. I encourage you to look further still. Knowledge is so easily accessed these days. Go forth and learn.
It is by pure coincidence that I wrote this post in the same week that Notre Dame tragically burned. I share in the sorrow this has caused, and I wish the best to the people of France. Today, my heart is in Paris.
Avoir une semaine belle.