Style Guide

Ooh La La: How to Dress Like a French Girl

8 ways to be trés chic on Bastille Day or any day

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen July 14, 2015

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Image: Shutterstock

There's a reason we lapse into French every time we're trying to define that intangible quality that makes someone stand out. That je ne sais quois, that joie de vivre—whatever you want to call it, there's some special essence that only the French seem to understand. In honor of the most French day of the year, Bastille Day, here are eight ways to bring out your inner coquette, or chanteuse, or femme fatale, et al.

1. Let Your Hair Down


A photo posted by Cara Delevingne (@caradelevingne) on

I once read that only a quarter of French women own a hair dryer, and surely fewer of them use one every day. French hair is all about the "I woke up like this" vibe—invest in regular cuts to get the shape and layers right, and then just let it be, with the help of perhaps some leave in conditioner or smoothing cream. Stick to washing it no more than twice a week and add dry shampoo as needed in between. It's basically the opposite of the Dallas-style, hyper-primped beauty pageant hair, and it's not just French women who love it—look at British it girls like Cara Delevingne or Alexa Chung. Effort is overrated. 

2. Focus On One Feature


A photo posted by Actu Mélanie Laurent (@actuml) on

No one would ever think to imply that French women don't appreciate make-up—cue Esteé Lauder rolling in her grave—but neither would anyone ever mistake a French woman for a Kardashian. Once again, it's about investing up-front in things like skincare and moisturizer to create a canvas that doesn't require foundation that's applied with a trowel. As The Cut put it, French women don't contour. Instead, leave the skin mostly bare (this is where we thank the Koreans for inventing CC Cream) and focus on adding attention to one feature, like Brigitte Bardot's cat eye liner or Vanessa Paradis's deep red pout. Don't forget a touch of perfume, of course. 

3. Get Your Sexy On

Buy the most expensive lingerie you can justify and wear it as often as possible, whether or not anyone else will see it. There's nothing sexier than someone who has a secret, and it will add an extra boost of confidence to help you pull off whatever else you have on.

4. Forget About Fast Fashion

There's no one look that can cover the gamut of French sartorial style. It can be edgy, like Emmanuelle Alt; quirky like Mélanie Laurent, gamine like Audrey Tautou or a pulled-together mix of all of the above, like Marion Cotillard. What they have in common is clothes that are tailored to fit perfectly and a predilection towards neutrals. In other words, pay less attention to trends and more attention to clothes that suit you and focus on quality over quantity. 

5. Balance Your Look

The French are certainly no strangers to being sexy (see above re: lingerie) but it's less overt than Americans are used to. The old rule still applies: if you are showing some cleavage or bare skin up top, keep the hemlines longer or pair it with loose-fitting pants. With a shorter skirt (never shorts, obviously), keep the shoulders covered. The same philosophy applies to texture and volume—skinny jeans are best mixed with slouchy or boxy shirts.

6. Add Polish

Layering is the lynchpin of French style. Trade in your cardigan for a white blazer, a classic well-fitting trench or a black moto jacket—anything that will add some sharper angles. What separates us from animals, as my mother likes to say, is silverware and the ability to accessorize. Since we're dressing in neutrals, outfits get that final oomph from a perfect scarf casually tossed over the shoulder, patterned tights, simple stacked jewelry or a to-die-for bag or shoe (no obvious labels, please).

7. Pick Shoes That Are Made For Walking

Women in Paris do their fair share of walking, so flats are never out of style. Think loafers and cool-girl sneakers rather than ballet flats, and for more polished look search out something with a pointed toe. Heels are certainly acceptable, but look for something wearable, with a modest heel, especially for daytime. Boots—short, knee-high, heeled, combat—are your friend.

8. Own It

Relax over coffee. Eat all the soft cheese you can find, paired with all the wine you can handle. Treat yourself to small luxuries, like the perfect pistachio macaron, and don't spend a single moment filled with guilt over any of it. How this will effect your image when walking down the street is unclear but hey, worth a shot.

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