French Style: Myth, Mystery or Simple Basics?

French Style: Myth, Mystery or Simple Basics?

French style
French style from left to right: © Jeanne Damas, Caroline de Maigret and Glam Radar. Graphic by Shriya Sacheti

With her extravagant attire, Marie Antoinette singlehandedly revolutionized French style in the 18th century while social unrest gripped the country outside her Royal Court. Then Coco Chanel liberated women in the 20s with her influential fashion designs and, by the swinging 60s, French actresses Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot became fashion icons for wearing raincoats or nothing at all.

Why do we associate great style with French women?

We have all read or been told that French women sport trench coats, have a flair for scarves and rock a pair of heels on Paris cobblestones, but what can we learn from their style or the way they wear their clothes to help us create our own distinct French look?

Personal stylist Anelle Coetzee in Paris. Photo courtesy of author.


As a personal stylist in Paris, I have met many women of French and other nationalities. Through these experiences, I have come to some of my own conclusions about why French women stand out wearing a little black dress or sporting jeans with des baskets. Some of these observations I garnered from French style books but other answers came first hand from a selection of French ladies who make style feel and look effortless. Combine that with what international women seek to emulate in a French look, and you understand that it’s not the clothing but the way you wear it that defines sublime French style.

© Celine Dallerey

The 4 Ps to be more Parisian:

1. Proper fit

This is key. Do not try and hide your body under baggy clothing. If you have not found a store with clothing that fits you perfectly, find a local tailor and have those pants altered, shortened or reshaped. Make sure tops and jackets fit you properly at the shoulders and are not too long in the arms. It is all about proportion to create the perfect look.

2. Purse and purge

Be aware of what and why you spend. French women know what they are looking for. They tend to spend their money wisely on items that will add to their overall look rather than add to their wardrobe overload. Always choose quality over quantity. When an item no longer flatters a French woman, she will remove it from her wardrobe.

French First Lady Brigitte Macron. © Alexis Duclos for INSPIRELLE

3. Poise

French ladies carry themselves with impeccable posture. This not only affects the way their clothing fits them but also shows inner pride and total body awareness. Stand in front of a mirror and really look at yourself; pull yourself up straight and see the effect it has on how you look. By carrying yourself with poise, you immediately appear more confident, more attractive.

4. Put-together look

To create that perfect style make sure you add an item of interest, an item that has meaning to you and makes you feel special. Or a trending pièce to make your outfit en vogue. It can be a conversation-starting statement piece or it can be as simple as adding a pair of interesting stockings. Stick to the simple rule of no more than three colors at a time plus one statement piece and you can hardly go wrong.

Paris fashion © Alexis Duclos for INSPIRELLE

Now follow these 4 Ps:

  • Dress for pleasure.
  • Do not be afraid to show your personality.
  • In every situation, be perfectly prepared. If you dress in basic, well-fitted clothing you can go anywhere. You can feel stylish whether it’s a pair of dark jeans with a touch of something unusual or a simple black dress toned down with a pair of ballerinas.
  • Take a moment to re-evaluate yourself and find your own personal “Ps” that makes you feel special as a woman.
Anelle Coetzee is a personal stylist based in Paris helping women develop their own unique look. As a child growing up in South Africa, she loved fashion and created her own clothes and designs. Today, her style sensibilities thrive in the French fashion capital where she has lived for the past 6 years with her husband and two children. Anelle believes in slow-living, savoring each moment in life and teaches her clients that style and fashion should adapt to the woman and not the other way around. To contact Anelle: [email protected]


  1. Yes, French women have a special style. But in your introduction about famous French women, Marie Antoinette was not French but a German, who later married into the French royal family.


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