Sunday, July 28, 2013

How to Dress Like A French Woman: R-E-S-P-E-C-T
A list of proven fashion lessons from our French sisters...updated January 2014. 

A lot has been written about how to dress like a French woman. In July 2013 I spent four days in Paris and made my own list of ideas. Since my original post, I've gotten feedback and comments from several French women approving of the list...and that makes me happy!

Here's the original post:   
Even my husband, not usually tuned in to fashion, noticed “a lack of colorful clothes” on our trip.  He didn’t know it, but he was honing in on the classic strategy of dressing in neutrals.  
And that’s the whole point, really. French women have mastered some classic rules, and they follow them. I think they also show more confidence than a lot of us Americans. One French woman I read said they'd rather look clever than beautiful. 

Most of us want to look like ourselves in ways that make us happy and at ease in our surroundings.  
The French seem able to do this. Day after day, they appear looking effortlessly appropriate and stylishly ready for anything.  That’s why we copy how they dress.

And so my Dos and Don’t’s are really ideas for dressing well, inspired by the French. 

The Do’s are what I saw.  

The Don’t’s are what I did not see in Paris—these are clothes I see a lot in the U.S. (including my own closet), and on travels to the UK.
Did I miss anything?  

DO :
  • Try this uniform: skinny jeans + boots + a great jacket – seen on women from 16 to 60
  • Anchor your outfit with a neutral color
  • Go for excellent fabrics
  • Go for the best quality construction possible
  • Wear clothes that fit – that suggest the shape underneath
  • Aim for grown-up femininity
  • Have well-made shoes (ballet flats, boots, and pumps)
  • Make friends with scarves
  • Favor solid colors
  • Keep your hair natural
  • When in doubt, go for the understated look
  • Wear pastels
  • Buy cheap, “fast fashion” a la Target, Walmart, and Old Navy
  • Choose fabrics that wear out, pill, fade, or fall apart in one season
  • Dress in an overtly sexy way
  • Wear capri pants and a tee shirt as a summer uniform
  • Wear sneakers or workout clothes except for working out
  • Hide your shape under shapeless, baggy clothes
  • Wear head-to-toe colors
  • Wear head-to-toe prints
  • Overdo your hair or makeup
  • Give up on fashion after a certain age
For me, the really compelling idea is that French women give off an air of “I’m happy with myself.” I think it shows self-respect to buy a few clothes that are well-made, expensive, and beautiful – to take clothes seriously, but with restraint. 

The French seem to value food the same way – quality over quantity. And this, too, shows in what we think of as the French fashion “look.” 
Let’s face it—clothes look different on thin people than not-so-thin. And even though obesity is on the rise in France, French women as a whole are still thinner than Americans and British.
As an American woman with a few extra pounds, I know first-hand the complex and usually painful issues most of us have with body image and weight.  They’re closely tied in with how we dress.    
But I take encouragement from what I saw in France. Can we American women use the French example to treat ourselves with as much respect as possible concerning clothing, food, and body-image?
That seems like a great basic rule for dressing well.
Cheers, Sally 
photos used with permission, from


Kat Mortensen said...

Very interesting and well-written article. I try to keep a few neutral pieces in my wardrobe. As a young adult I wouldn't wear anything other than black or purple, so I still like black and it is so stylish, isn't it?

I wish I could give up my work-out style clothes, but I'm all about comfort and coziness!

I'll try to keep it indoors only!

Oh, and I'll never give up on fashion!

sallymandy said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Kat! Seems like black will always be appropriate. Charcoal is actually better with my coloring, but it does the same thing. I do think another interesting article would be "How to Adapt French Women's Style Rules for Wherever You Live." What do you think?

Kat Mortensen said...

I agree. I think adapting elements of French dressing would work.

As an adult, I learned to love colour, and wouldn't want to give that up.

Aloïs dress like a parisian said...

As a parisian I must say this is very accurate.
Although french women can go for pastels (very fashionable right now) but will wear it in a rock way like skinny pastel jean with a white manly jacket.
If you are interested into getting fashion tricks from a french woman, have a look at my last blog post about how to wear heels:

Lizette said...

Very helpful fashion guide for everyone looking to visit France, and I think Europe, as well. Now I get it why any European brands come in neutral shades.

Unknown said...

All design of dresses is trendy and fashionable and pretty. I like the all pattern of dresses that you show. Thanks for sharing for this great post.


Sami Pat said...

I just cancelled my search for pink trousers to wear to a Christmas party. I didn't know the black, white and four shades of gray in my closet is already tres chic. I will continue, though, to look for my cardinal sweater.

sallymandy said...

Thank you for visiting, everyone. I appreciate your feedback on my blog post. I thoroughly loved visiting Paris and observing the fashion there, and can't wait to return. Love, Sally.....

Unknown said...

I look forward to giving this to my daughter's. I can never seem to explain modestly in a way that they don't think I'm a prude or a mom who is just a mom who doesn't get it. Thanks!
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sallymandy said...

Rex: Good, let me know what your daughters think! I was with my teenager daughter and one of her friends when we visited, and it was fun talking with the girls about how French women and teens dress. We all learned a lot. --Sally

J. said...

Great post, I really enjoyed reading it, as a huge fan of Parisian style in particular. I read anything about it I can find! :)

linda said...

Dear Sally, if you want one more comment on this topic, then also correct body posture and good manners are essential for this style. As you said, spirit, rather than looks, is the base. It has to come from within, from the happiness and acceptance of yourself (even your week features, of course :)
Great post, thank you! :) linda