La Mode Francaise: How to Dress Like a French Woman

Can you say je ne sais quoi? Honestly, we can't either. But we can all look as chic and glamorous as French women with these simple styling tips.

Of all of the women in the world, the French naturally possess that certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to sartorial choices. They seem to impart an effortless vibe to everything they put together. It’s never overdone, and it always seems to look expensive.

What is it, exactly, that makes French women so uniquely stylish?

As it turns out, there are a few notable things that French women do (and don’t do) that contribute to their reputations as style stars. Here are some of our favorite tips for achieving la mode Francaise.

Buy Fewer Clothes of Higher Quality

Shoes, bags and scarves can make a single little black dress do double and triple duty in your wardrobe.

The message here is to buy less and wear more.

In a typical French wardrobe, a few well-appointed staples may get purchased every year, but generally closets are not overflowing with trendy, fast-fashion items.

How things are constructed is very important to French fashion customers, as is the quality of the fabric. You are more likely to see a French woman wearing the same tailored blazer again and again in different permutations than a different blazer every time she goes out.

Although a French woman is likely to spend more for each item in her wardrobe, she may ultimately spend less on clothing.

Did you ever open your closet, find it full of clothes, and bewail the fact that you had nothing to wear? That is so un-French. French women won’t tolerate unworn flotsam and jetsam in their wardrobes. They stick to a few carefully considered, flexible pieces that they can accessorize day in and day out.

Fit Is Essential

Another reason French women always look so put-together is that they pay attention to the way their clothes fit. Droopy trousers, skin-tight dresses and clothes that gap, pull or bunch are sent to la guillotine.

French women say one should buy clothes for the size you are, not the size you want to be or the size you used to be. What a refreshing idea, right?

Clothes that fit look make you look polished, lean and effortlessly stylish. By focusing on fit, the French are able to achieve all three of these things in garments that flatter a woman’s curves.

One secret to achieving this goal? A good tailor or seamstress.

Treat Trends With Caution

A classic French look will have you, too, channeling Audrey Hepburn.

You will rarely see a French woman decked out head-to-toe in a new season’s trendy clothes.

I’m not saying the French avoid fashion trends. The French invented fashion trends. I’m saying that the secret to keeping your style fresh is to mix and match.

Mix high-end with mainstream retail, new with vintage and casual with dressy.

The essential ingredient for making this kind of mix-and-match dressing successful is a strong sense of personal style, something that French women seem to have in abundance.

Don’t Overdo It

The French understand that sometimes less is more.

“A French woman would never, ever go out with a blowout plus makeup plus bleached teeth plus cocktail dress plus high heels plus statement jewelry plus perfume,” says Carole Sabas, author of The Fashion Insider’s Guide to Paris.

Instead, Sabas says, a style-conscious French woman would opt for just two or three of those items. The goal is to avoid appearing overdone.

Keeping it simple has been part of French style for decades. Coco Chanel, the patron saint of women’s sportswear, once declared that before leaving the house, a woman should look in the mirror and take off whatever piece of jewelry catches her eye first so she can avoid looking over-embellished.

Cover Your Bases

With so much emphasis on choosing quality staples that will stand the test of time, the French have very specific thoughts about just what constitutes a “staple” in a modern woman’s wardrobe. A good-quality jacket in navy or black, ballet flats, a little black dress and denim all make the list, as do silk blouses, cashmere sweaters and a good pair of stilettos.

While it’s true that not all French women dress with a perfect balance of ease and polish, it is certainly true that simple elegance is recognized worldwide as a French trait.

These tips are a great way to add a dose of French know-how to your sartorial game. Before you know it, your own inherent sense of style will kick in and your innate sense of what works for you will take over.

That’s how to dress like a French woman.

About the author

Kristin Buchholz-MacKillop

Kristin is an American writer based in the Scottish Highlands. She is a saxophonist, an obsessive tennis player, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, and holds a Master's degree as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. She is the author of the online style blog

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