French style is effortless, distinct, and has the rest of the world wondering if there’s something in the l’eau. Women around the world have tried to emulate French girl style for years, and I am no exception. In fact, I’m such a Parisian-wannabe and so into French fashion that one time I moved to Paris for six months to intern for ELLE France and take classes on the history of French fashion (shameless plug, but whatevs). The truth is that the cliché is right: it really is that special je ne sais quoi. But until we can identify the quoi in their style, here are six styling tips I picked up while in Paris that you can use, no matter where you live.
1. Stay simple
Because I idolize her (and had a lot of exams revolved around her in my fashion class), one of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel’s famous style rules was “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” In other words, it was the old school version of “do less.” French style is about simplicity, which means letting a few key pieces speak for themselves, like a few delicate pieces instead of stacks of jewelry. If you want to wear a statement piece, choose only one, whether it’s a hat, statement pair of shoes, or scarf (very French, non?), and pair it with the best Parisian accessory: simplicity.
2. Have a go-to uniform
Every Parisian celebrity and style star, whether it’s Jeanne Damas, Clémence Poésy, or Audrey Tautou, have an outfit formula that they wear over and over again. In fact, this might be the secret to their unfailing style–they know exactly what works, what they like, and what they feel comfortable in. In other words, when you got a good thing, why change it? To make your own uniform, have a go-to outfit combo like skinny jeans, a tee, and a blazer, that you know you feel great in, and buy multiple different styles and colors in those same pieces. Can’t think of a go-to outfit formula? Check out our French Capsule Wardrobe for inspo.
3. Use the element of surprise
Model and style icon Ines de la Fressange said that the key Parisian style secret is to “Always keep them surprised. If they think you’ll wear heels, wear flats. If they expect flats, wear heels.” I’ve been a personal fan and follower of this rule ever since my mom and I got in fights because I wanted to wear high heels to high school (true story). Bottom line: even if you have a uniform, don’t let it make you predictable. Add an element of surprise in every outfit you wear, whether it’s a single rip in your otherwise brand new jeans, or a fancy jacket with your casual tee.
4. Try relaxed silhouettes
That “effortlessly chic” style is hard to fake, but I learned that a big proponent of the “I woke up like this” style has to do with the silhouettes. You won’t find many tight or bodycon silhouettes in French fashion. Instead of tight skinny jeans that you can hardly move in, Parisians opt for slightly straight legs and a relaxed fit. Instead of a bodycon dress for a night out, a Parisian might opt for a pair of trousers or maxi dress. When a tight pencil skirt is worn, it is well-tailored, perfectly fitting, and paired with a loose fitted top so the silhouette is not too skin tight. Play around with whatever silhouettes you feel best in and then rock it, knowing that the “effortless” comes from what we genuinely love.
5. Mix dressy with casual
Ines de la Fressange offered ways to master the “offbeat look à la Parisienne” to the New York Times, saying, “Wearing jeans with gem-encrusted sandals, not sneakers; a pencil skirt with ballet flats, not heels; an evening dress with a straw handbag, not a gold clutch; a chiffon print dress with battered biker boots, not brand-new ballet flats; a sequined sweater with men’s trousers, not a skirt; a tuxedo jacket with sneakers, not femme fatale stilettos.” In other words, the key to Parisian style is sophistication mixed with imperfection. Always add a casual element to a dressy outfit or a dressy element to a casual outfit. Never try to make anything too perfect, whether it’s your outfit or yourself.
6. Perfect how you wear it
“[French style is] more the way you mix the clothes and how you move, how you open your bag, how you cross your legs—just little things that make a difference,” French fashion editor Carine Roitfeld, famously said. “With French women, you first see the woman and then you see the clothes.” Perhaps the most important way to achieve Parisian style is to work on the aspects that are more mental than exterior: perfect your posture, feeling confident everywhere you go, and never forgetting to smile. Clothing can only do so much–Parisian style is more than skin-deep.