There’s just something about a well-dressed French woman that makes us all, women and men, go ‘ahhhh’.
How do they get that unmistakeable French chic style? And is it possible outside of France?
And, importantly for us older ladies, do we have a hope of achieving French chic style once we’re well over fifty?
Having lived in France, on and off for over twenty years, in Paris, the Riviera and the provinces, I’m going to answer these questions in this article.
What is French chic?
- Also known as Paris chic, French chic is a classic style of dressing which, unlike ‘fashion’ changes little over time.
- It is an urban style. So you’ll see it a lot in the big cities of France such as Paris and Marseilles.
- It can be casual or more dressy. It’s more than just smart. It’s classic with a twist.
- Attention to a few interesting details – ‘the twist’ – makes the difference between neat and chic.
- The color palette of a French chic outfit is restrained. Apart from that one stand-out item, the rest will tend to be in neutrals or tones on tones.
- Navy blue is always popular, though younger women often wear black
- Maritime is a popular theme
- The striped Breton top is emblematic of this style
- A trench in ivory is ‘de rigueur’.
What is the special something that makes French women look better than most of us?
Instead of popping on a simple outfit we like in toning colors, French chic demands a little bit more thought. This is what I call ‘the twist’.
That twist will be more noticeable the younger and slimmer the woman. So a woman in her twenties might wear huge balloon sleeves on a white blouse over an otherwise conservative outfit.
Her grandmother might simply add a bright scarf knotted in her own special way.
Stand-out colors like yellow, red and bright green work in tiny amounts as special highlights, for example in a bag or a shirt.
Effortless elegance is the vibe.
Does age matter to chic?
The simple answer for a French person is no. Of course, young women look sexier and often prettier than their mothers or grandmothers.
But chic doesn’t require you to look sexy or even pretty.
Good style, good grooming, good posture and confidence are what matter.
French people think it is your duty not to undervalue yourself. So you’ll notice that all chic French women treat themselves as beautiful.
It’s all about making the most of yourself. About how you present yourself to the world.
So whether you are eighteen or eighty, French chic is a style you can develop.
How do French women build their wardrobes?
They are not so interested in displaying their personality as, say, British fashionable women are. So you won’t find ‘fun’ clothes or much boho or bright colors in their outfits.
Early on, as we all do, they see what makes them look best. But unlike many of us, they stick to it! They are less interested in wearing something new or fashionable, and more interested in wearing something that they know does them justice.
Comfy clothes have their place at home, but they must still be in impeccably good taste. French chic has no time for shapeless big cardis or past-their-best jogging bottoms and sneakers.
Do French women spend a lot on clothes?
As a chic French woman will be intending to wear an outfit many, many times, she will seek out the best quality possible depending on her budget.
You can see French chic style in all price ranges.
Women will often find a designer they like and go back time and again. Better one beautiful item than ten average ones.
How do the French make clothes look good time after time?
Because how she looks is so important to the chic French woman, she will take care of her clothes. Dry cleaning bills are taken as a necessary weekly expense. They are more cautious of hand washing clothes than most British women are.
Can you do a French chic look if you’re overweight?
This is a very real question. Without doubt you will achieve a more successful French chic look if you are trim.
But I, and many of us this side of fifty, are not very trim any more. Does that mean we can give up on looking chic?
I think we may find it more difficult. But I don’t think it’s impossible. And French chic is such a beautiful style that I think it’s worth the effort.
French women work hard at staying slim. Until very recently the diet of French families was a very healthy mix of freshly cooked meat and fish with lots and lots of vegetables.
This undoubtedly has made staying slim easier. But that’s changing. I’ve noticed the rise and rise of sweetened dairy products and candies in the supermarkets in the last ten years especially.
Cakes used to be a Sunday treat chosen carefully at the local patisserie but today the supermarkets sell cakes in huge numbers every day.
And most worrying, ‘le snacking’ is now a thing. I’d never seen a French person eat between meals until recently.
What make-up works for French chic?
During the day women aim to give the impression of minimal make-up. So tinted moisturizers and a little definition added through contouring powder and mascara.
The super-grooming of Instagram is too unnatural for French chic.
In the evening, though, women will wear more dramatic make-up on their eyes, especially as black is still the favored outfit color after dark.
Classic chic lipstick is red, very red. Always at an evening event but often during the day too.
There’s no need to spend a fortune to see if French chic works for you.
I’ve searched through hundreds of items in France’s largest online fashion store, LaRedoute, to come up with a basic wardrobe that will mark you out immediately as French chic.
As there are currently massive ongoing discounts all the items I found were very inexpensive. This whole wardrobe cost me around $500 in the January sales 2023.
No doubt prices will rise and exact items will become out of stock but LaRedoute will always be a good place to start your French chic wardrobe.
Take a careful look at the models in the images in this article
- simple silhouettes
- a restricted palette
- silk scarves
- a preference for navy blue
- a maritime theme
- models who look effortlessly elegant
You won’t see:
- high street fast fashion trends
- a jumble of bright colors
- lots of looks but no theme
- models who look less than their best, bored or even severe.
I’ve given a link to products beneath each image. These are the links to the UK store and if you click and buy from the UK store I will likely get a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support. If you want to access LaRedoute in the US, Canada or anywhere else, please remember to change your country preference to get the correct prices and delivery options. These sites do not have affiliate links, by the way.
If you enjoy posts about putting together a wardrobe then take a look at The Mature Style Course. It’s a set of videos and texts that take you from clutter to control and overwhelm to organization. You’ll learn how to build a co-ordinated wardrobe of useful clothes that suit your figure, your coloring, your lifestyle and your budget.
Next read: My Winter 2022-3 Capsule Wardrobe Try-0n for more ideas that are simple to include in your own wardrobe.