The French Girl Style Starter Kit | How To Do Parisian Chic

Monday 24 August 2020


french style flat lay

If there’s one thing I’m always obsessed with, it's the idea of ‘French girl’ style. It’s an iconic look that seems to fascinate so many of us. A quick search reveals countless webpages and articles dedicated to trying to capture the particular mystique of La Parisienne, and it's something I can’t get enough of.

It’s the combination of effortless insouciance and perfectly chosen combinations that captivates me. On the surface, it's a contradiction - how can something be both so simple and yet so nuanced? And yet it’s precisely by putting in the planning - understanding the items and colourways, what shapes go together etc - that French women can achieve that throw-on-and-go effect.

It appeals to me for so many reasons. It’s utterly timeless and never looks ‘too much’. It’s polished but not overly groomed. And as someone with very limited time, the appeal of a small, tightly-edited selection of well-chosen basics is strong.

So recently, I’ve resolved to ‘be more French’ in my approach. 

This doesn’t come naturally to me. For a start, I’m a bit of a magpie, drawn to different styles in a way that is sometimes less than considered. I’m also a bit too try-hard by French girl standards - I love a good contour and I don’t leave the house without eyelash extensions, which is way over the top for this style. But it’s something to aspire to and aim for, and as I get older I find it easier to stick to one tried-and-tested thing.

I adore French style icons - especially Jeanne Damas, Camille Charriere, Monica de La Villardiere and Sabina Socol. Plus, my family are French on my mother’s side, so I’m going to claim that and milk it for all it's worth. 

Years of following these French style influencers has helped me understand the building blocks of ‘French style’, if such a thing can be claimed. So what are the key pieces to pulling together the look?

Tailored Blazers

Jeanne Damas blazer outfit

Mixing an element of tailoring into an otherwise casual look is a very European trick, and French girls have mastered the art of the blazer. A sharp-shouldered jacket, cut immaculately, but draped casually over the shoulders or worn with denim, is a staple piece. 

You want an almost masculine finish to it for full French girl style points -  so a slightly oversized suit jacket works, or I’ve also seen the cropped tweed jackets used to great effect. Rolling up the sleeves slightly makes it even better.

The Everyday Red Lip

The french girl red lip

French girl style revolves around a very contrasting beauty look. Great fresh skin (the rule of thumb here is to pay way more attention to your skin and less to your makeup), barely any foundation, groomed brows, not much eye makeup - perhaps just a minimal flick of pencil liner or mascara, rarely both - contrasted with the dash and glamour of a red lip. 

Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with the boldness of red lipstick, feeling somehow clownish in it. But it is an instant mood lifter and certainly gives the French vibe. The key is to find a shade of red that works and to be a little less than perfect with the application - it's a more lived-in version of red. 

Bold Sunglasses

french girl style sunglasses

There’s not much a bold pair of sunglasses can’t do for a look, and they also hide a multitude of sins. I don’t think we Brits wear sunglasses enough (possibly because of a lack of sun, but I’m not going to let that stop me…). There’s nothing like the mystique of a pair of great shades. Throw them on with an oversized white shirt and jeans and you have an instant vibe.

Compact Bags

french girl style compact cross body bag chanel wallet on chain

One thing you’ll notice about French girls is that they don’t generally ‘do’ huge bags. There’s a real movement towards travelling light and having compact, cross body styles. This feels so much less fussy than lugging around a huge tote bag groaning with stuff. 

Plus, you just feel so much less weighed down. Of course there will be times that you - and any French style icon - needs a larger bag, but most of the time, try to pare it back.

Ankle Boots and Flats

french girl ankle boots

When it comes to shoes, the French seem to have unspoken rules about what to wear when - and it's all to do with balance. In opposition to what seems natural to the British, the French seem to live by the rule - the higher the hemline, the lower the heel. 

Hence that look of an A-line mini worn with a subtle low block heel. Ankle boots, almond-toed flats and low sandals are the workhorses of Parisienne footwear - so chic and so practical for nipping around those cobbled streets.

The Breton Stripe

Brigitte Bardot breton stripe top french girl style

Name an iconic French figure that hasn’t worn ‘La Mariniere’. I’ll wait…. From Brigitte Bardot to Coco Chanel and Francoise Hardy, it may be a cliche to pop on a Breton stripe, but it's a hugely stylish and timeless one. This simple classic works so well with so many things, it's absolutely a must have.

Straight Cut Denim

french girl jeans straight cut denim

One thing that shines through on Parisenne style feeds is the denim. Jeans are a staple part of the style, but they must be worn in a certain way. Not for the French girl this stretchy, part-Lycra blend. It has to be thick, proper denim, preferably cut straight. Perhaps slim but never spray-on. The kind of denim that looks like it could be from any era from the 50s onwards. 

This has been the biggest shift in my wardrobe -  moving away from certain styles. If you want to get the French girl denim look, I recommend investing in vintage Levi’s or Topshop and Whistles have some great selections too.

Simple Accessories

Camille Charriere, necklace, midi dress

It was Chanel herself who said ‘Elegance is restraint’ which is a definitely an approach to apply to all areas of life. A few well chosen accessories are key. A couple of simple, delicate pendants, a low-key set of earrings or one statement ring are all you really need. 

The Statement Blouse

Jeanne Damas, blouse, french girl style

This is definitely a trick favoured by Jeanne and Camille - adding a twist with a blouse for evening - one with statement sleeves or a slinky satin fabric. I’ve definitely added some fancy blouses to my wardrobe recently in the hope of capturing this style. 

Paired with straight cut denim and low block sandals, that is a hugely French look right there.

Little Black Dress

french girl style little black dress

What would any list of style be without the classic LBD? Another Chanel concept, it's something that has stood the test of time and literally never goes out of style - although it does evolve. I always dream of finding that one perfect day-to-night version, but I haven’t quite found it yet.

So those seem to be the basics - worn in perfect harmony - to achieve the French girl look. I’m concentrating on stocking up on these items and trying to edit down other pieces. 

What do you think of Parisienne chic?