When it comes to timeless fashion and beauty, we look to the French. Women like Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve catapulted French hairstyles into the mainstream in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, and their iconic looks remain common sources of beauty inspiration today. Of course, they weren’t the first French women to set the bar. Back in the ’20s, French flappers came onto the scene, debuting haircuts we know and love to this day: the French pixie and bob. All this to say, if you’re ever in need of a new hair goal, the French have plenty of inspo to offer
But what makes a French hairstyle different than any other? “The most popular characteristic of all French hairstyles is the profound desire that French women have to express their nonchalance about their look,” says French hairstylist David Mallett. “They study very deeply how they wish to look, but they don’t want to look as if they’ve spent a lot of time doing so. Everything has to look effortless, a little bit like they don’t care. So the French look has something very lived-in about it; it’s very personal and never fake or artificial.”
Meet Our Expert
David Mallett is a French hairstylist who works out of Paris and New York City.
Émilie Riant Passelande is the head colorist at the Christophe Robin Salon in Paris.
If that’s a vibe you can get behind, keep reading to uncover over a dozen French hairstyles that Parisian stylists recommend for leaning into the look.
Let’s start with an example of Catherine Deneuve’s iconic brushed-back blowout (in this case, it’s pulled up into a bouncy ponytail, one that people worldwide went on to try to copy). “Possibly one of my all-time favorite looks on beautifully blown out hair is a Belle de Jour scrape-back center parting, as we saw on Catherine Deneuve,” Mallett says. “For me, this is one of the most exquisite hairstyles of all time. Just scrape back the hair on top in a little bun and attach it with an elastic or a little clip, leaving it loose and tumbling around the front at the sides.”
The French Pixie
The French pixie — seen above on the recently crowned Miss France, Ève Gilles—is characterized by a short, androgynous silhouette cut above the ears. In Gillies’s case, feathery side-swept fringe completes the look. “With this haircut, we always try to keep the edges softer than on a more geometric cut, where you would clean it up,” Mallett says. “The edges are a little soft, a little shattered, and they tend to look slightly more grown out.”
According to Émilie Riant Passelande, head colorist at the Christophe Robin Salon in Paris, a quintessential French hairstyle is one that is effortlessly chic. “The key to a true French hairstyle is it is a great cut that requires very little maintenance whether it is a blunt cut or super sexy tousled look,” she explains. French designer Jeanne Damas perfects that very je ne sais quoi, above.
The Escargot Bun
The French have a name for everything—including low buns like the one Camille Charrière is seen wearing above. “Here we call it an escargot or a croissant,” Mallett says, referring to the traditional twisted bun many Americans know and love. “Like a snail, you turn the hair around itself. (We've been doing a lot of updos with our new accessory with Suzanne Syz, The Safety Pin Clip. Twist the hair round on itself, pop that through the hair, and it's absolutely gorgeous).”
French Finger Waves
French hairdresser Francois Marcel created the Marcel Curling Iron in the late 1800s and it was used to create finger wave-like styles in a flash. Here—on French model Flora Coquerel—you can see how a subtle nod to the classic French characteristic can instantly upgrade a side-parted bun.
Mallett is a big fan of French bangs—like the ones you see on French model Leia Sfez, above. “French bangs date back to the era of Brigitte Bardot,” he says. “They are slightly short and feathery in the middle but get longer towards the sides, so that when you attach your hair, you don't have the gap between the fringe and the side of your hair like you would with a more Cleopatra-esque style.” Thinking about adopting the style? “The French fringe works on all hair lengths, so it’s very versatile—but it doesn’t work very well on very curly hair,” Mallett reveals.
The French Bob
Mallet’s all-time favorite French hairstyle is the French bob. (You can see it in action above, on Musier Paris founder Anne Laure Mais.) “It is characterized by the way we texturize very lightly the points on the edge to give it a slightly weathered look—a feeling like the haircut was done before,” he explains. “The French woman often wants a more lived-in look, so the very precise, freshly cut, square bob is not a suitable alternative.”
All in all, Mallet says that French hairstyles center on softness—“A more grown out kind of style that doesn't look freshly cut—it's extremely feminine and always a little more poetic than the hair we see in other countries,” he explains. “A French, fresh haircut has to look lived-in when it's done and not six weeks later.” French journalist and model Sabina Socol’s wavy cut, above, is a great example.
The High Pony
Any hairstyle can have a hint of French flair so long as you embrace soft, parted bangs—a characteristic that Passelande says is quintessential Parisian chic. Above, you can see how a parted fringe looks with curls on French model Mélodie Vaxelaire.
The Bardot Flip
Brigitte Bardot’s iconic center-part bangs and flipped-up ends became a beauty (and sex) symbol of the ‘60s. Here, French model Lena Simonne nails the look.
Long and Lived-In
Remember: The goal is for your hair to look relaxed, if not even a little disheveled. Here, French model Chloe Lecareux shows us how it's done on long hair.
The Low Pony
Lecareux has so many good hair days, we couldn't help but showcase her twice. Here, she demonstrates how to make a low pony look both formal and nonchalant. Please note the black bow peeking out from the back.
The Coily French Bob
While Mallett admits that the traditional shape of the French bob can be harder to execute on tighter curly and coily textures due to its spiraled and springy characteristics, here you can see how the length works on French influencer Ellie Delphine. Undeniably chic, no?
Feathered French Bangs
Mallett says that feathery bangs are peak Parisian in the hair world—and they can be worn in various ways. Parisian model Mara Lafontan shows us how fresh a voluminous, round brush approach can look.
Flipped French Bob
While many French bobs have side or center parts, a much more casual flip works too. As you can tell on Florence Pugh, above, the popular style looks both chic and carefree.
The French Twist
Passelande turns our attention to Margot Robbie, revealing just how easy it is to adopt a French hairstyle. In this case, the classic French twist. Notice the undone yet red carpet-ready allure of the updo.
The Layered Lob
Alexa Chung is British but she's often referenced as a source of French beauty inspo thanks to her statement-making lived-in lob. "To achieve that kind of lived-in texture that we adore in French looks, I tip my clients' hair upside down and lightly sprinkle it with our volume powder to give the hair a less limp and less freshly washed look,” Mallett shares. “It's how to achieve the French look in five minutes instead of waiting three days.”
Alternatively, Mallett says you can use hairspray to encourage the look. “I love using Elnett [Satin Strong Hold Hairspray] for all of my hairstyles, particularly for events at Cannes, weddings, all that types of thing,” he reveals. “We do the hair in the morning or night before, so it has time to live and not look so freshly done.”
Elle Fanning looks like a Parisian dream with her long tousled waves, which Passelande points to as a worthy source of French hair inspo. If your hair naturally has waves, you can create a similar look by simply allowing your strands to air dry with the R+Co Cool Wind PH Perfect Air Dry Creme ($34).
The Bardot Headband
Brigitte Bardot popularized elastic headbands back in her day and now the hair accessory has come back in fashion. Here, it can be seen on influencer Alexandra Pereira.
Caro Daur shows us another way Catherine Deneuve-esque brushed-back hair can look. One word: stunning.
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