21 October 2008, 12:42
Much is made of the allegedly superior style of French women — Parisians especially. There was a point a couple of years ago where books on how to live, dress, eat & act like a French woman were being churned out at an alarming rate. That’s slightly de mode now, but when I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago, I made a point of observing the style of the women around me. (I always do, I can’t help it, but this time I made a concerted effort because I was interested in what might have sparked all those previous authors.) Obviously it’s impossible to typify an entire city full of women & the way they dress, but I noticed that French women — or at least Parisian women — do have a very definite aesthetic, despite their individual stylistic differences.
I started making some notes, & they have evolved into the piece below. I hope you enjoy it & of course if you are a French woman, or have lots of experience with them, please feel free to say your bit & share your thoughts!
Parisian women know the importance of good basics (& don’t scrimp on them)
One of the first things I noticed was that even though the temperature had only just started to drop, all the women I saw (honestly, pretty much without exception) were totally kitted out. By this I mean that I didn’t see any of them huddling & looking cold in the Métro. They all had great coats, scarves & good winter boots.
I don’t know how often French women shop, so whether the coats were brand new or not is a mystery to me. The point is that everyone had them. They were good quality coats, clean & smart-looking. This is not to say that they were expensive necessarily, but they were definitely well-made & stylish.
Parisian women seem to grasp the concept that a coat, scarf & boots are going to be their major sartorial staples for at least a few months, & so they buy with this in mind. If you think about it, during winter, all anyone really sees are your coat & shoes, so it makes total sense to get the best you can.
For more tips, see How To Buy A Winter Coat!
Parisian women work from a consistent colour palate
There was not a lot of colour to be seen in Paris, at least when it came to clothing — not on the people or in the shops — but one thing I learned from a few women I spoke to is that they tend to shop with a limited colour palate in mind. This means that they have probably determined ahead of time what works for them & their skin-tone, & they stick to it.
One problem a lot of women have is that they get carried away with excitement & end up buying a raspberry beret (!), a lime green waistcoat or a pair of pink cowboy boots… & then don’t know how to work them into their wardrobe. Obviously if your closet is extensive & well-stocked, this might not be so much of a problem, but most women don’t have that luxury. & so that colourful poncho languishes at the back of the cupboard, because you just cannot work out what to put it with.
If you make a decision to work from a few colours — maybe black, beige, white, royal blue & red, for example — it makes your entire sartorial experience about a billion times more simple & cohesive. While this might sound boring (& it’s certainly not a rule I adhere to — I am totally prone to flights of fancy where I buy turquoise cardigans), if you feel like your style’s a bit of a mess & you don’t know where to begin fixing it, paring the colours down is a great place to start.
Parisian women don’t want to look “perfect”
The major difference between the look of Parisian women & American women that I can see is that Americans want to look absolutely perfect, with not a hair out of place. It’s very pageant style, very shiny teeth. Parisian women don’t want to look that way, & while they may spend just as much time getting ready in the morning, it’s not so that you could blast their head with a leaf-blower & have no effect. Parisian women often wear their hair loose & down, tucked into their scarf or coat if the weather is horrible, or pulled back in a messy chignon. This is one of those things that helps add to that tousled, sex kitten look that so many women are crazy about trying to achieve. You won’t look like that if your hair is pulled back so severely it doubles as an amateur face-lift!
Okay, so let me make a disclaimer & say that this is not to say that you can leave the house with soup stains on your skirt & safety-pins holding your sleeve together. It’s about looking effortless, not being effortless!
Allow yourself to get a little dishevelled. If you don’t know how to make that happen, get dressed, then have sex, then leave the house. Simple, non?!
Parisian women don’t wear a lot of make-up
One thing I heard years ago was that French women aren’t wild about make-up, but they are crazy for treatments, potions & powders. Apparently the average French woman’s medicine cabinet is a veritable apothecary, the likes of which would make a mad scientist beam with pride.
Regardless of their penchant for slathering strange creams on themselves, Parisian women really don’t wear a lot of make-up. I barely saw a lipsticked mouth the whole time I was there. Most of them seemed pretty content with a bit of foundation, rouge, eye-liner & mascara. I always thought of stereotypical sexy French rock & roll style as being a girl with long messy hair & slightly unkempt eye make-up, but I didn’t see any of those girls. Maybe they only exist in my imagination…
Parisian women take their time
This is not to say that they dawdle or plod around, because they certainly don’t. But the French, generally, understand that time is precious, & they make the most of it. Yes, they work hard, but they also make time to relax & look after themselves — unlike most Americans or English, who seem intent on working themselves into an early grave!
They make time to have a bath, go for walks & spend time with their friends. They’re not constantly running around with dangerously high blood pressure. They understand that life is about balance. Life doesn’t have to be perfectly structured & pulled tight in order to be satisfying. They’re okay with letting go of the reins.
Parisian women keep it simple
Parisian women seem to manage to avoid the temptation to load on accessories & gee-gaws. Maybe they all subscribe to Coco Chanel’s old adage of “take one thing off before you leave the house”, or maybe the overdone look just doesn’t appeal as much. Regardless of the reason, it’s much easier to look chic & polished if you have fewer elements fighting for attention.
Parisian women wear heels — a lot
Before you rush out & rack up a hideous credit card bill at ChristianLouboutin.fr (I know you & your quick-draw Visa!), stop! Yes, very high heels are sexy. But only some of them are comfortable, & spending a lot of money on a pair of kicks unfortunately doesn’t make them cozy. (You would think they would pass some kind of law stipulating that if a pair of shoes retails for over $500, you should be able to stand up in them without feelings of intense agony, but hey!)
So the most important thing to realise is that yes, a lot of Parisian women wear heels a lot of the time, but they wear heels they can walk in! & stand in! & actually feel alright in! Sometimes this means a little kitten heel, & sometimes it means something higher, but you really won’t know until you try something on. My point is, Parisian women make the effort with their footwear but they don’t murder themselves in the process.
Be good to your tootsies, they’re the only ones you’ve got! (Unless you have some kind of strange affliction… In which case, sorry. But go nuts on the shoes!)
Extra For Experts:
JAK & JIL BLOG has lots of French model style for your perusal. (It happens to be one of my new favourite blogs, too.)
The Sartorialist shoots in Paris regularly, though unfortunately his “Women in Paris” tag doesn’t seem to be working. Just scroll!