Guest Post: Deconstructing French Style

Ines de la Fressange image by

Ines de la Fressange image

Today we have another guest post (at this rate we’ll never have to write another thing, our readers are amazing), this time from Juliette, who wrote to us saying “I used to live in London and worked in the film industry for 10 years, but now live in France, just near the Swiss border and The Women’s Room is one of the ways I regularly keep in touch with London life and all that is going on there.” We also inspired her to start her own blog, so how could we resist giving her the chance to talk about deconstructing French style?

From Bardot to Binoche, Deneuve to de la Fressange – the allure of the Frenchwoman is timeless. We all want what she’s got, n’est ce pas? The fashion editors and style mavens are forever suggesting how we can achieve and re-invent this look, but is it really as simple as making a few changes to your wardrobe and your hairstyle? Having lived in France for the past 8 years I’m still not so sure….

My search for French style started young. I spent my formative years in French speaking Switzerland and as the new girl desperate to fit in, I was acutely aware that my 1970’s English wardrobe (think Crimplene and huge collars) didn’t cut it in the playground style stakes. My class photo for 1976 shows my Jane Birkin look-alike French teacher resplendent in tight t-shirt and perfect flares. Gallic chic? She had it in spades, and if I have erased the memory of my own outfit, I have never forgotten hers.

jane birkin

Jane Birkin, image

The two current Parisiennes du jour Caroline de Maigret and Inès de la Fressange have both written books to help us crack the French dress code and get to grips with their brands of chic. “How to Be Parisian: Wherever You Are” by de Maigret is the more rock and roll of the two. Her look is androgynous, undone and her message slightly subversive – it’s a menu of brogues, suits, amazing bed hair and wine with lunch, whilst the more high-brow de la Fressange champions chinos, flats and a blazer as her foolproof uniform. Adhering to the rules of her chatty, informative book: “Parisian Chic: A Style Guide”, I have the white jeans, the navy v-necked sweater and the trench and to an extent it works: I can re-create the look but am I achieving the style, and shouldn’t I be looking for my own expression through my clothes rather than wanting to copy someone else’s?

caroline magritte

Caroline de Maigret image from

The answer to that of course is yes, and one Breton top (or 10) doth not a French woman make, but nevertheless I do find it fascinating to see real-life French style in action. I accompanied my 8 year old son’s class swimming recently and whilst waiting for the coach, I watched one little girl tie her scarf (think mini-Hermès) around her neck and with no real awareness of what she was doing, she tied it perfectly. Just the right knot, slightly to the side – and I realized then and there that no amount of books could ever teach me what she already instinctively knew: French style is innate – they are born with it and therein lies the truth.

brigitte bardot

Brigitte Bardot, image from

But with understanding comes enlightenment and it turns out my ‘look so British’ has been getting the thumbs up from the French Mums at the school gates, so I think I’ll stick with Brit Chic from now on (with the odd Breton top thrown in) and say ‘vive la différence’!

Read more of Juliette’s excellent style tips and view on life in France on her lovely blog After My Own Fashion

And for some Breton top inspiration, take a look at my favourite denim-led brand of the moment MiH’s version (below) here

MiH Bretonic top £120

MiH Bretonic top £120

Or the more accessibly priced striped one from Jaeger (£40, below) here

Breton stripe top, Jaeger

Breton stripe top, Jaeger

Or the excellent value John Lewis zip back version (below £25) here

John lewis Breton top

John Lewis Breton top


  • Liz Shedden says:

    A lovely blog and I couldn’t agree more – if you see my website you will see I love a french Breton stripe ( apologies for the shameless self promo)

  • Maureen says:

    I lived in Paris as a young woman and indeed there were and are lots of very stylish french women who are a joy to watch. However and this is important for women in the UK to remember – there are also an awful lot of really badly dressed French women! There is also a distinct absence of colour in the ultra chic Parisian wardrobe and a reliance on styles which look great if you are petite and thin but which disintegrate into frumpy on larger or more curvaceous shapes.
    So it’s time to take the same attitude to French style as we should to French food – it wasn’t always the case but now you can eat good food and drink good wine in the UK too

  • Malika says:

    Hello! I agree in principle but I am half French half English, and have a French mother whose most damning criticism of someone is that someone could dress “comme une anglaise”! However, my kids are at a French school abroad and there is definitely a monotony to French women’s dressing, I’ve decided! Lots of taupe, lots more camel toe (yes!) and generally ill-fitting clothes than English women would dare to show, AND a predilection for red-framed spectacles! And their husbands wear DUFFEL COATS! Especially the posh ones. Those who aren’t as posh wear chains around their neck. So there you are – my centime’s worth. Don’t get me started on the myths of French child-rearing and child-feeding and our weird English obsession with it all being perfect!

  • Amanda says:

    Fascinating observations womenfolk! Malika and Maureen I’m relieved by hearing things aren’t always perfect and Liz we don’t mind you self promoting Ax

  • Jane says:

    Great post. I am living in Lyon, France for three months and I love the fashion here. However, just like in the USA, there is a huge mix of well dressed, eclectic, shabby, wouldn’t go out of the house in that, to ultra chic and it’s fun seeing it all. I love window shopping and today bought a spring trench, (no buttons, no collar) to give my very spare wardrobe a French twist. I love the looks you shared here. Thanks! I’m at where I write about aging healthy, but I also throw in a little style now and then.

  • Juliette says:

    Thanks for your comments ladies, and yes it really is all about the mix! I don’t live too far from Lyon and keep meaning to plan a shopping trip there – enjoy your trench Jane, the perfect way to style up your new French wardrobe.

  • Marie says:

    Thank you Maureen and Malika for your comments. Having spent time studying in France (bien sur!) decades ago, life would have been almost perfect had I been either tall or petite but most definitely thin. There are gorgeous, stylish women in every country and we need to start borrowing from all of them not just the French!
    ~ Marie

  • fsahion style says:

    I never stayed in France even I don’t know about France style. However knowing about these unique French styles are important for women. I love the looks you shared here. Definitely I will try the perfect way to style up your new French wardrobe.

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