French Style Secrets Any Woman Can Use

French style – the epitome of beautiful dressing – is easier to master than you may think.  For while French women have easy access to Parisian fashion, the reality is that most of them can’t afford couture apparel any more than any middle class woman in any country can.

So how can they still look so darn good?

By following the simple rules handed down from generation to generation to achieve that elusive French style:

Start With Basics

A crisp, white shirt.  A perfect pair of trousers.  A well-fitting jacket.  If you stock your closet with clothing staples, you build a strong foundation for a go-anywhere wardrobe.  Classic styles in solid colors and simple silhouettes offer both economy and versatility, because when you can wear one piece many different ways, you can get a lot of “bang for your buck.”  It’s like the difference between painting a room beige and painting a room red:  to transform the beige room, you can rearrange the furniture and change the accessories; to transform a red room, you have to buy new furniture or repaint the walls.

Understand Aesthetics

When you’re surrounded by rolling countryside, centuries-old architectural marvels, world-class museums, haute cuisine and haute couture, you can’t help but develop an eye for aesthetics, for learning what’s visually appealing in terms of color, shape, and proportion.  French women aren’t taught to mold themselves to a certain look; they’re taught to assess themselves and seek what pieces work best for them aesthetically.  This independence and self awareness makes them fascinating, brainy, and sexy.  It’s part of their mystique, their je ne sais quoi.

Opt for Quality Over Quantity

“I love America, and I love American women,” French interior designer Andre Putman once said. “But there is one thing that deeply shocks me – American closets.  I cannot believe one can dress well when you have so much.”

French women edit carefully and opt for a few good-quality pieces instead of a lot of junk for two main reasons:

  1. Space
  2. Economy

France is an old country with ancient buildings and small closets.  There is simply no space for a lot of stuff.  So they opt for a handful of good-quality pieces that they can wear in a variety of ways.  Moreover, good quality lasts longer than bad quality, so while you may pay more up front, you replace it less often down the line.  A Hermes scarf may cost a fortune, but with proper care, it can be worn for decades and handed down to daughters and granddaughters.

Differentiate Through Accessories

Once you have your classic clothing foundation, you can make things interesting by getting creative with accessories.  Cool shoes, wild hair decor, funky hosiery, unusual jewelry – this is where French style shines.  You don’t need a lot of accessories to create a head-turning signature style; you just need to get creative with what you do have.  How can wear a scarf?  As a headband, around your neck, draped over your shoulders, tied as a belt, twisted around your wrist, tied on your handbag – well, you get the idea.  One great piece, TONS of possibilities.  French women excel at this.

Strive for Flawless Grooming

Beautiful skin and a great hair cut make you look chic at any age.  French women understand this, which is why they follow their beauty regimes religiously and have a talented hair stylist on speed dial.  No picking at pimples or spackling on tons of makeup.  No way!  Just a competent facialist and a standing salon appointment.

Stay Out of Debt

This is one of those “old country” things that got left in the old country, unfortunately.  While many Americans don’t think twice about using credit cards, most Europeans shy away from debt.  French women are no exception.  They plan their purchases and pay cash for everything, which means they make their choices carefully.  It’s an “old school” habit we should all adopt.

So what’s the bottom line?

Learn French Style secrets from Accessory MagicFrench style essentially means knowing what looks good on you, finding clothes that suit your lifestyle, making choices wisely, living within a budget – and making everything visually appealing while doing it.  You don’t have to be young, thin, or French to give off that French style vibe – you just need to master these basics to create your own je ne sais quoi.

Want some more tips in building a French style wardrobe?  Download a copy of Accessory Magic to see how easy creating a head-turning look can be.

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10 Comments

  • Peggy Parks

    Reply Reply August 26, 2010

    Diana,

    I am an image and etiquette consultant in Atlanta. Being originally from France, and having a grandmother who knew all about fashion (she worked in haute couture) I very much enjoyed your article on French Style Secrets. It is all so true. Do you also have a French grandmother? I have shared your article with my FB friends.
    Thank you!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 6, 2010

      Hi Peggy – Glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks!

      No, I don’t have a French grandmother – but my BFF growing up did. I got lots of great tips from her. 🙂

  • Cathie

    Reply Reply January 20, 2013

    Hi Diana, I got advice from a Frenchwoman once: Never buy anything unless it’s a “coup de Coeur”. meaning it captured your heart and you are madly in love with it. This has saved me from buying a lot of stuff that was unnecessary, things that were close to what I wanted but not really IT, and a waste of money. I wish I had known that earlier!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 25, 2013

      Hi Cathie,

      That is very typical French philosophy: buy ONLY what you love and will wear. It saves money, it saves space, and it ensures you’ll get the most from everything you have. Thanks for sharing the advice!

  • Gale

    Reply Reply January 27, 2013

    Hi Diane! Loved the article. I’m fascinated by the French culture. I was wondering…I have a very casual lifestyle. I work out of my home. How do I create French looks that are comfortable and casual? Thanks! Love your newsletters & website!

  • Isabel

    Reply Reply April 5, 2013

    Hi Diana,
    I loved the article! Thanks! I must tell you that I dress and buy very much as French ladies. My mother designed my dresses until I was 18, we’ve always had to be very budget controlled and have always been elegant, simple and head turning at the same time. We are Cuban, I live in Italy today and my style is very much “in sintonia” with the place. So not only the Old Continent school can teach us very good fashion lessons 🙂
    Thanks again,
    Isabel

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 11, 2013

      Hi Isabel,

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

      Yes, having a small budget in an image-conscious country can be challenging. Sounds like you rose to the challenge with your creativity, and it has served you well ever since. Well done!

      Diana

  • Shelly

    Reply Reply October 24, 2013

    If there are any French grandmothers reading this, I just want to let them know that I am available for adoption!

  • iamloved

    Reply Reply February 5, 2014

    Really enjoyed the article, especially as I’m in the beginning stages of building a wardrobe of clothes and accessories that I adore. Personally I find the idea of just classically cut pieces in a classic colour palette (i.e. blues, black, beige, etc.) alone and just jazzing up an outfit with unique accessories, shoes, etc. quite unappealing. Though I do understand that is – generally speaking – the style of a lot of the West’s middle classes.

    I’m English – a born and bred Londoner – with west African parentage, so styles from those cultures influence my tastes hugely. I prefer the idea of a classic piece with an unusual detail; maybe a white shirt with quirky (but lovely – at least to me!) buttons, or some west African material with a bright and colourful print tailor made in the style of a classic shirt for example.

    I guess I’d love my personal style to reflect the English eccentricity and west African boldness in my make up – with a large helping of French chic! 🙂

    • Diana

      Reply Reply February 5, 2014

      Classic clothing pieces offer good value for your money, because you can dress them up and dress them down depending on what you put with them. I absolutely encourage you to let your heritage shine through – most people are too timid to do that. If you keep it tasteful and appropriate, it will allow you to stand out from the crowd and be remembered. Go for it!

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