Dressing French

I'm a passionate Francophile - I fell in love with Paris when I took my first trip in 1985. It was a whirlwind school excursion, packed with 20 teenage girls visiting 4 countries in 10 days. I know I only scratched the surface, but the memories stayed with me till I made a move 30 years later.

I studied French in high school, read every book from, How To Be Chic? to Raising Bébé, and learned about the French "regime" as to why the women don't get fat. Honestly, what's the obsession with these women, and why couldn't I get enough French tidbits to be satisfied with my own-SELF?

photo courtesy caroline de maiget & caroline roitfeld

Living in Paris, I learned a thing or two from the many French women I observed, with a certain "je ne sais quoi."

French, especially les parisiennes, have made an art form at marketing themselves as mysterious and unique. This, my dear reader, is the secret sauce.

As I see French women walking their kids to school, heading to work, and shopping at the markets every now and then, I'm stopped in my tracks by an impeccably dressed woman. This is what I call the French mystique. I'm close to breaking the code. Here are my discoveries.

Foundation: This point is beaten to death every season, but ask yourself, do you REALLY have quality basics that you love to wear? Depending on your climate and lifestyle, these pieces will elevate a wardrobe.

  • Dress or Skirt

  • Pant or jeans

  • Blazer/ Coat or Trench

  • Purse (a classic one that is moderate in size)

  • Sweater/ T-shirt (a nice quality one)

They don't have to be in black, grey or dull - just well-fitting and something that can mix with your wardrobe.

She needs no reason to look her best: One of the best habits I adopted since moving to Paris, is wearing a dress every day in spring and summer. I wear a dress to walk the dog, run errands, meet friends, and hang-out in my apartment – you get the idea. I worry less and less about being too "fancy" or overdressed. The French woman dresses with a steadiness.

photo courtesy mimi thorenson

Consistency: This is probably the hardest virtue, but like anything, in life, you have to work at being consistent until it becomes second nature. I found myself in yoga pants most days when my daughter was little and only made an effort on date night or going out with the girls. Then I started working full-time and showed up five days a week impeccably styled then on the weekends, I succumbed to leggings and a t-shirt circa the 1990s. French women have mastered the skill of being consistent. I can bump into another mom on a Sunday afternoon at the market or a Tuesday morning on her way to work – she looks the same.

Quality over quantity. Not a new concept, but women really do buy less. French women weigh their options. No one is ever in a rush to make a quick buying decision.

photo courtesy jonas bresnan

Choose one statement piece (subtle or not): I used to buy into the latest "it" handbag craze and believed it was the best way to make a statement. Not true. For French women, it can be a color or silk scarf collection, a beautiful necklace, or sunglasses, you change with the season.

Takes pleasure in clothes. You can't walk down any street in Paris without passing dozens of boutiques selling every possible fashion. These shops survive because of the millions of tourists passing through each year. French women take pleasure in clothes. When I see a French woman shopping for clothes, she approaches it as art with joy. She is not buying to buy - or because something is "cute." It has to be more than just that for her. With a more conscious buying decision, she values her clothes more.

photo marjorie preval

So, where do French women shop?

French women have been circulating their clothes for decades, even generations. The idea of the circular economy or sustainable fashion is not new - no surprise that one of the first online re-sale platforms came out of Paris in 2009. French women are accustomed to buying and selling clothes from their neighborhood consignment boutiques each season. While traditional stores selling new clothes are slowly closing, Paris's second-hand industry is thriving. There are over 100 second-hand boutique owners in Paris, carefully selecting the best fashions from the closets of other French women's so you can have them for yours.