French Friday – Fashion

French FridayIn honor of this past Wednesday being Coco Chanel’s birthday, I thought I would talk a little bit about French fashion. Not my normal type of topic, but it is certainly one I have read about, observed first hand and discussed with my husband at nausea. My husband always says that there are two things that the French are undefeated champions at luxury goods (clothing, handbags, and perfume to name a few) and food. And while I agree (except that I think that Japan and China can compete on the food), you do not have to be in the highest income bracket to dress like the French.

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You can pick up almost any book on French culture, and I have read plenty (plus Jamie Cat Callan and Mireille Guiliano both have new books coming out soon, yoo-hoo, need someone to read an advanced copy and review it for you..I’m just saying…), plus I discovered a new blog yesterday with books on French culture I have apparently missed(!)…now, what was I saying? Oh yes right, you can pick up almost any book on French culture and it will describe the key principles or secret to French fashion as refined simplicity.

That means buying basic pieces like black slacks, black skirt, and white shirt in the best fabric and as expensive you can afford. A good pair of black heels and black boots also as expensive as you can manage. And no French woman’s closet is complete without a simple black dress as well. If you don’t like black, deep brown or grey works as well. After you have a good foundation of the basics you can add pieces to bring some color, or add scarves for the same reason. But don’t go too far over the edge with a bunch of trendy pieces, you will not get the usage in terms of longevity and they probably will not hold up as long when it comes to endurance.

French women do mix expensive and inexpensive pieces. They like to keep people guessing and to be original, but the bottom line is that quality over quantity is another key principle of the French woman’s fashion criteria.

Women make such a big deal about their clothes, and unless you work in the fashion industry, no one really cares. Seriously. If you work in an office, do you remember what your boss wore on Wednesday?

I remember when I first started working in Switzerland I was shocked to observe what people wore to work. There was a woman there in management, she was only in the office two to three days a week, she would wear a suit, usually pink or orange or yellow (she was Italian and Spanish so she gravitated towards brighter colors) the two or three days she was in the office. The same suit. I am not sure if she changed out her shirt, I don’t remember, but I do remember after a while I did not even notice. And a lot of people did this, not in orange or pink suits, but in blacks, greys, and whites.

The culture around clothing care is to take extremely good care of their clothes. They buy the best they can afford and take very good care of. After returning home from work, the clothing is immediately hung up (to air) and more casual clothing is put on. The clothes are meticulously washed and pressed and folded or hung. They last a long time and I am telling you, no one really remembers what you wore yesterday!

The last thing regarding French fashion. French women would not be caught dead wearing sweats or yoga pants outside the home (if they even own them in the first place!). Even if it is to walk half a block to purchase bread, they will put on slacks (or dark jeans) and shirt with coiffed hair and buy their baguette.

While living in France, our baker was literally 1/2 block away. On Saturday or Sunday mornings my husband and I would want fresh croissants or pastries with our coffee, so I would pull on my jeans and sweatshirt, slap a baseball cap over my bed-head and run out to collect it. People stared at me like I was an alien, and to them I was! The baker’s wife certainly did not appreciate it and in three years’ time, she was never nice to me. Personally, I think she thought I did not respect her enough to come into her store properly dressed, and she was probably right, but I never adapted that cultural norm.

French women take care of whether it is with their beauty routine or the clothes in their closet. Simplicity, quality, and care.

Hmmm…those are kind of characteristics that should be emulated through all aspects of our lives, don’t you think?

A bientôt !


  1. Lydie
    August 21, 2009

    You are so right about the sweat pants! That was a cultural shock for me when I arrived in the US (that and the WInnie the Pooh sweaters for adults). I still have not got used to seeing women outside in the sweat pants and I still do not own a pair!


  2. Kara
    August 21, 2009

    I'm feeling really guilty because right now I'm sitting in yoga pants, working in a coffee shop. In penance I'm going to go home this afternoon and learn how to chignon.

    Excellent article. I've always admired French women's ease with fashion…

  3. Frances V
    August 21, 2009

    That is right about sweatpants! I could never leave my flat looking decent in Aix..and now I'm back home, I can't just go out in sweat pants anymore!

  4. Ava Pierce
    August 21, 2009

    Amen, sister! Having spent a significant amount of time in the south of France over the past 3 years, I am always inspired by French women's sense of fashion. Even though I'm American, I'm often shocked at the get-ups that Americans wear outside of their homes. Sweats, pajamas, exposed underwear,…ew! Whenever I get dressed, I channel my inner French woman! Great article, Andi!!

  5. Andi
    August 21, 2009

    Looove this post! I really admire the fashion of the French. They put very little thought into it, yet it's tres chic. I have always, no matter where I was going or what I was doing, tried to look my best. Not only does it make me feel better, but you just never know who you will run into.

  6. cathi
    August 21, 2009

    Simplicity, Quality, Care – I like that!

  7. Melissa
    August 21, 2009

    THANK YOU! I just finished a book and decided that my next should be about French women. I was going to ask you for a suggestion, but you are psychic enough to link to that list for me here. Merci! 🙂

  8. Sassy Chica
    August 22, 2009

    What a fabulous post! I adore French Fashion, even though I am guilty of throwing on trendy yoga pants to run errands.

    One of my favorite quotes is:" A girl should be two things, Classy and Fabulous". ~Coco Chanel

    Sassy Chica

  9. jenX
    August 22, 2009

    i so wish i could this advice about clothes through my head. when i worked fulltime, i felt like i needed 10 suits.

  10. La Grenadine
    August 24, 2009

    haha, you're so right on some points. xD
    I've only got two sport pants in my wardrobe. I hate wearing them outside, but I have to when I go for a bicycle ride with my boyfriend… but in summer, I can wear a nice and comfortable skirt of short. And I do prefer that. =p

  11. Michelle
    November 26, 2012

    Another thing that I have noticed (and have seen mentioned elsewhere) is that the french spend a lot of effort looking like they speak none. The artfully arranged topknot, or the perfectly trim brown hair (which is just as dyed as the all-american highlights, but just looks more natural).

    1. Andi
      November 29, 2012

      @Michelle, so true! I really wonder how long it takes them to look like that!

  12. jen
    April 8, 2018

    I wish I had style. It’s all Old Navy for me. But, I loved this post, and I love the idea of a few quality pieces I can build around. It’s been awhile, Andi. I hope you’re doing alright. The blog looks and reads great!!


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