How to dress like a French woman

how to dress like a french woman
How to dress like a French woman, by French womenChristian Vierig - Getty Images

For time immemorial, French style has been the Holy Grail for fashion lovers everywhere. The epitome of chic, French women do not slavishly follow trends, instead possessing an enviable sense of style that transcends them.

'I believe the French "je ne sais quoi" is inexplicable; it's cultural!' says Chrysoline de Gastines, co-founder of one of our favourite French brands, Balzac Paris. 'It's a certain attitude towards time, fashion and the world that is unique to us. The art of our "je ne sais quoi" lies in its innate quality.'

Unfortunately, we can't all be French. Even more unfortunately, for those of us lacking the 'innate quality' that Chrysoline refers to, looking effortlessly good does actually require some effort. But just because you aren't French, it doesn't mean you can't at least try to dress like you are.

So, we asked Chrysoline and Talia Collins – she's half French, used to work at Vogue France and now runs her eponymous luxury swimwear label – for their advice on how to dress like a French woman.

Less is more

Looking too 'done' is the antithesis to French chic. The 'less is more' philosophy has more impact, so to quote the inimitable Coco Chanel, 'before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.'

Talia agrees. 'My number one rule is to keep my look as minimal as possible – nothing too flashy or over the top. I've always focused on block colours in my swimwear designs.'

One way to approach this is to buy fewer, better pieces that you feel great and yourself in, are timeless, and will last forever with care. Chrysoline loves thrifted or vintage-inspired clothing and accessories that have been passed down the generations, giving them character. 'Your great-grandmother's necklace, your mom's bag, your father's Ralph Lauren shirt...,' she says.

Neutrals are king

If you already lean towards neutrals, you're shopping the French way. Keeping the bulk of your wardrobe neutral means everything goes together easily, making for quick, 'effortless' styling. Bonus points for mastering full tonal dressing – the art of wearing different tones of the same colour for instant polish (the trick lies in the mix of textures, according to our Fashion Editor).

Talia favours a neutral palette, peppered with a few red pieces. 'My wardrobe is full of everyday basics in mostly black, navy and white, but I love a red jumper or red striped T-shirt,' she says.

Don't forget that leopard print is also a neutral! Chrysoline loves it 'in all its forms, mixed with stripes or worn all over for the boldest look', which is why it's a Balzac Paris signature.

Nail the 'basics'

Be it a crisp white shirt, a loose-fitting Breton top or a great pair of jeans, build your French girl wardrobe around the key staples, in as high a quality as you can afford. So what do you really need? Over to Talia and Chrysoline to tell us where to begin:

The borrowed-from-the-boys shirt

'White or striped, with a masculine-feminine look that we enjoy making sexy and feminine,' says Chrysoline.

Talia is drawn to oversized styles, with Charvet and With Nothing Underneath among her favourite brands.

The blazer and white T-shirt combo

'I rely on statement blazers to elevate my outfits,' says Talia. 'I love my one with shoulder pads.'

Chrysoline prefers to layer her blazers over a simple white T-shirt for the ultimate French girl formula. 'It's unbeatable,' she tells us.

The hero jeans

'Look for a well-cut raw pair in a thick fabric to wear over time and enhance your silhouette,' says Chrysoline.

Levi's 501s with no stretch are a real French girl favourite, says Talia, who has owned most of her jeans for over a decade. 'Frame and Agolde are my go-to denim brands for straight-leg styles, and for flares I like Nili Lotan and Isabel Marant.'

The transeasonal trench coat

'Preferably long, beige and roomy enough to slip a blazer or a vintage denim jacket underneath,' says Chrysoline.

The Chanel bag

'I usually put my essentials in my pockets to avoid having a handbag,' says Talia, 'but if I do take one, it's usually a black Chanel flap bag or a Chanel clutch for the evenings.'

The chic flat shoes

Talia is hardly ever in heels. 'It's black or red trainers or ballet flats for me most days, unless it's for a special event,' she says, 'Even then, I'll never go higher than 8cm stilettos – and this is rare. Comfort first always!'

The silk scarf

'The best ally to spice up a round-neck sweater, jeans and loafers or Converse sneakers,' says Chrysoline. 'Wear it cowboy style, on the hair or tied onto a handbag...let creativity reign!'

Consider your clothes and makeup together

In a recent piece about French beauty secrets, Guerlain's Creative Director of Makeup, Violette Serrat, told us to think of red lipstick as an accessory and keep the rest of our look simple – no big jewellery or huge bag.

'It’s important to consider clothes and make-up together,' she said, 'not to match them, but just to make sure the look is balanced overall.'

Style-wise, she's all about jeans teamed with 'a big sweater stolen from my husband' by day, and leather trousers, a 'grown-up top' and heels at night. *Chef's kiss*

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