French Fashion: Essentials Every Woman Needs

By Alex Cooper

The French woman has remained a mystery for many years past. Simple, seductive, and sophisticated are simply a few words to describe the je ne sais quoi that the French woman oozes with pursed-lip pronunciation.

As if last week’s haute couture shows weren’t enough too nudge us into French inspiration, this past Monday signified Bastille Day, otherwise known as the French’s Fourth of July, or “le quatorze juillet”.

So, with all of the French influences storming our way, it leaves us wondering why there lies a great gap between the American trend-savvy woman and the French style-refined lady, and exactly where this wedge of differences originated (not to mention, how it can be bridged).

Taryn Davidson by Txema Yeste for Marie Claire Italia October 2010
Taryn Davidson by Txema Yeste for Marie Claire Italia October 2010

The lead enforcer of this gap is culture. Whether or not you follow French societal norms, the one asset that can be imitated easily and with finesse is the French woman’s style. As a connoisseur of French culture (AKA a French student whose visited the country a couple times), I’ve done my fair share of on-hands research. Visiting cities such as Paris, Nice, and Annecy has allowed me to grasp an understanding of this culture and their lifestyle. And with the fashion in Europe being unparalleled, I’d be frank in admitting I’ve copied a few of the Parisian street style looks in an attempt to embody the French finesse.

I can’t promise by the end of this post you’ll have the confidence of Coco Chanel or the talking points of Marie Curie, but with some fashion vision and an air of mystery, you might be able to pass for a new millennial Brigitte Bardot.

Un. A timeless piece. Chanel has taught us that a string of pearls is more than a necklace, it’s practically a woman’s armor. Whether you opt for those fresh-water friends or a simple gold bangle, a timeless piece that transitions easily is a must-have in any Francophile’s closet.

A timeless piece, like this Hermes bracelet, can be purchased here.
A timeless piece, like this Hermes bracelet, is perfect for any occasion.


Deux. Sensible heels. American women are all about their sky-high double platforms, yet the French prefer a much more simplistic look. Sexy doesn’t mean raunchy; remember that less is more. It’s what the French women do less of that strengthens their effortless charm. Heels that aren’t too high, but just high enough, are the gold mine (we recommend 3-4 inches, max). A sensible pair of heels makes it easier to pair with other outfits, and makes an ideal signature shoe.

These suede Alexander McQueen pumps add instant chic with the gold capped point toe.

Trois. Luxurious lipstick. Going off of the “less is more” theory, the French aim to look as natural as possible, yet still polished and elegant. One thing I notice more frequently than not with American women, especially teens and young adults, is that we cake on the makeup; eyes, bronzer, lips, you name it, it’s been overdone. Instead, opt for one area of your face to pay the most attention to; for example, if you’re dying to rock that new hot pink lipstick everyone’s trying this summer, balance it out with sheer foundation and a couple swipes of mascara. (Who wants to wear a ton of makeup in the summer anyway, right?) Let your natural beauty and confidence shine!

Mac's Russian Red Matte lipstick creates the perfect pout that is both professional and pretty.
Mac’s Russian Red Matte lipstick creates the perfect pout that is both professional and pretty.

Quatre. Breton striped shirt. While the nautical stripes may seem like they’ve become a fashion faux pas, for the French, it’s the exact opposite. Yes, we’ve seen hundreds of infamous women sporting these stripes in honor of their Gallic background, however, they were right to make stripes an essential. Nothing screams effortlessly chic quite like a Breton top. Pair it with dark wash skinnies, bright colored shorts, or even embrace your inner Carrie Bradshaw with a tutu. The options are endless.

This PLAY by Comme Des Garcons striped tee is available at J. Crew. (Alright, we admit it, it’s the heart that sold us.)

Cinq. A transitional trench. The Brits aren’t the only ones who are known for their trench coats. Famous singer Francoise Hardy was known to rock a trench coat with elegance and ease. Stick to neutral colors so it’s easier to pair.

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This Burberry trench would make Hardy herself green with envy.

Six. Tailored blazer. If there’s anything to learn from the French, it’s that their pride and joy of fashion is their tailored pieces. Tailoring anything to fit your frame is life-changing, however, if there exists one piece of clothing to adjust to one’s body, it’s the classic blazer. Whether it’s silky satin or tantalizing tweed, a blazer goes with anything and is an instant source of formality. Dress up your blue jeans, mini skirt, or LBD with a tailored blazer to highlight your toned arms, cinched waist, or bodacious bosom. Whatever it is you wish to bring attention to, just make sure it fits you like a glove.

While this Urban Outfitters blazer is inexpensive, it’s sleek yet breezy design make it priceless.

Sept. Scarves, totes, and satchels, OH MY! Last but not least on any Euro-inspired style list are the accessories. Printed scarves, oversized sunnies, and wide-brimmed hats are all perfect accessory examples that allow your outfit options to multiply.

This Prada bag can be worn on countless occasions. (Talk about bang for your buck.)


I find the key to understanding French fashion is to balance done with un-done. French women are known for their effortless style, so keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your normal makeup routine or stop buying affordable accessories. The French femme allows us to identify the basic yet essential pieces, yet it is your responsibility to supplement these timeless trends with your own influence, a surefire way to add your own spice to any style recipe.

The je ne sais quoi of the French woman’s air is about finding what works for you and your style while simplifying your routine. The less work, the better. So chill out and embrace that smug French personality you’ve always desired because the more effortless you are, the more French you’ll seem.

Now, I’m off to find a baguette and a pack of cigarettes, and hopefully that Breton top I mentioned earlier. Au revoir, mes amis! 

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