how to dress like a french girl

french style emmanuelle alt

Emmanuelle Alt & team, image via (for more Parisian style goodness, see my Pinterest page)

Hi, friends! I’m back, I’m caffeinated, and I’m finally ready to start telling you all about that wonderful trip I took. Before I get into the official travel reviews, tips and all of that goodness, something’s been nagging at me. Something I noticed literally nonstop on this trip, time and time again. I’d sit in a café, sometimes for hours, just people-watching. Or, more specifically, scoping out all of those gorgeous Parisian girls whose style we’re always trying (and failing) to emulate over here. And by about Day 6, something clicked. I finally realized they’re all doing the exact same thing. The clouds parted, and the secret formula for how to dress like a French girl was finally bestowed upon me by the fashion gods. Are you ready?

Day = Jeans + drapey tee or paper-thin sweater in a neutral solid + an impossibly cool jacket + ballet flats or flat ankle boots + slouchy leather tote + scarf.

Night = Swap the impossibly cool jacket for a navy or black blazer (okay, I saw pale pink a couple of times), swap the flats for a simple stiletto, and swap the scarf for a bare neck. Add a single cocktail ring and a delicate bracelet or two.

Once I saw it, I realized it was everywhere. I am not exaggerating when I tell you this is what I saw 95% of Parisian women wearing every single day. If the girls were younger, they’d jumped on the athletic shoe trend and were wearing New Balance Classics instead of ballets. If they were older (60+), they swapped the jeans for a well-cut pair of trousers. And if they were just heartbreakingly chic, they were carrying a vintage Hermes Kelly instead of the tote. What makes this formula work, time and time again, in just about any scenario?

  1. They’re classics for a reason. French girls stick with neutral hues, but in luxe fabrics and classic silhouettes. Their ballet flats are tan or black, but the best they could afford. The blazer is black or navy, and the tee is (almost always) white. Their jeans are black or a perfectly faded blue. No whiskering, no embellished pockets, ever.
  2. Fit matters most. French girls know about tailors – they’re well-versed in the power of having a waistband let out so your jeans hang on your hips just so, or having your pants hemmed to show the perfect sliver of ankle. I guarantee that effortlessly slouchy blazer didn’t come off the rack fitting so perfectly. They know better than to wear jeans that are a size off. Skintight and low-cut aren’t in the French vocabulary.
  3. Subtle is sexy. Skip the big jewels – I didn’t see a single statement necklace in Paris, no oversized earrings, and certainly no “arm parties”. Necks were mostly bare, ears were decked in simple studs, and if you wear a bracelet, it’s delicate and looks expensive (even if it’s not). A cocktail ring, however, is encouraged.

So, how do we replicate this at home? It’s simple, I swear. The tees and jeans I think we have down. And the ballet flats, for that matter. But you’ll need a scarf – something that accents your ensemble without standing out, that you can wrap a dozen ways and look bundled yet light, flawless and completely pulled together. In other words, this: Solid, neutral colors are where it’s at if you’re going for true French style – printed scarves in Paris are few, far between, and generally left to the Hermes-wearers. That might sound boring, but I’ll tell you – it is gorgeous in practice. This beauty from was waiting for me when I got home, and it is exactly, exactly what would make those Parisian girls swoon nod at you approvingly (which is, after all, the highest sartorial praise known to womankind). It would not be an overstatement to say I’ve worn it every day since it arrived. It’s ethereally light and absolutely enormous, which makes things so easy (rule of thumb: the bigger the scarf, the easier to tie). The pale pink flatters my skin like nothing else, but is subtle enough to match everything I own. And even though it’s cashmere, it’s so light, I can wear it on a 70-degree day. I am obsessed. Next variable: the jacket. On multiple occasions, I followed girls for blocks (what? It was for science.), trying to scope out their jackets because they were so fantastic. You have a few options here: french-style-jackets

Clockwise from top left: Quilted moto, Zara | Empire moto, Maje | Slouchy tweed Ovoid, ASOS | Black trench, Burberry
  • A black leather perfecto is the surefire pick, and French girls have it down to a science. Slim sleeves, cropped cut, maybe a bit of quilting detail, and broken in just so. It absolutely cannot look like you pulled it off the rack at Zara that morning (even if it’s true). A cropped, beaten denim jacket is an excellent alternative.
  • If leather’s not your style, go for a slouchy tweed menswear-inspired style with bracelet sleeves rolled up just so (think Isabel Marant), or perhaps a vintage Chanel jacket (I think this thoroughly modern update would also pass muster).
  • Emmanuelle Alt might kick it up a notch with something more statement-making (but still always in navy or black). A mod moto jacket in a nubby tweed perhaps, or something military-inspired (by which I mean officer, not infantry…gold buttons, impeccably cut).
  • A black Burberry trench. It might be a Brit classic, but I tell you: every Parisian woman has one.

C’est tout! A simple, classic uniform with a million possible variations. Now that I’m home, I’m putting myself to the test. I’m going to spend the next few weeks dressing more simply, more “French girl”, and see how it feels. On one hand, I think the simplicity could be liberating. But it could also get boring in a hurry, right? Either way, I’ll keep you posted. What do you think, friends? Do you want to try this little Parisian experiment with me? Or are you still happiest in your bold, bright J.Crew finery?

PS: If you need more inspiration, check out a few of my top French girl style picks:

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21 comments on “how to dress like a french girl

  1. DL

    Totally want to try this experiment with you! 🙂 Accessories are a huge deficit of mine, so now this has inspired me to be on the hunt for lovely luxe scarves! Otherwise, I’ve got blazers, jeans, and teas, and a trench in my closet I can rely on for this!

  2. jillian

    LOVE this post!! and i have most of the items in my closet already! i typically favor pants over skirts but i need to work on incorporating more blazers (and less statement necklaces) into my wardrobe! great tips! xo xo jillian

  3. shoppingsmycardio Post author

    DL & Jillian: Yay! You have to promise to report back.

    MH: I totally thought the same thing when I first saw that photo 😉

    Meg & Elena: I am blushing. So, so glad you like it!

  4. CW

    Welcome back and so glad you had a good trip. I love this post! I’ve been simplifying my wardrobe a lot this year and have gravitated to this type of uniform. I’m with Ellen – I’d love to see a summer version of this too. I’m always struggling to find summer clothes that suit me.

  5. Roxy from Wholesome Hedonist

    I was so waiting for this post – I *knew* you would give us a play-by-play!

    I noticed a similar uniform when I travelled across Italy a couple of years ago – everyone dressed similarly, very flattering, and body-con and low cut were not in the vocabulary. (My jeggings *screamed* ‘American tourist’. So mortifying.)

    Now that i think about it, it was from that trip that i started paring down my style because I loved how chic and pulled together those women looked (I’ve always been a ‘more is more’ girl.) I’m not sure I could do the exact same uniform every day, but I do admire the classic simplicity and sophistication of it (and wouldn’ it be great to get dressed every morning so easily and look amazingly put together?) I’m currently trying to translate that uniform for Toronto climes, where it is either freezing cold or boiling hot 90% of the time.

    I look forward to the results of your experiment!

  6. Archana

    Great post ! But can you actually go ahead and do that? Your blog thrives on making lists and showing non-neutral items to readers.

  7. shoppingsmycardio Post author

    Roxy: Seriously, did not see a single pair of leggings or “jeggings” the entire trip. And it was awesome.

    Archana: Totally fair question. I’m looking at it more as an experiment…to see how it feels to wear a variation on the same thing for an extended period. It may end up driving me nuts! But so far, I’m finding it a huge relief. I can be more creative if I want to be, but having this “uniform” as a fallback means even on the days when I’m feeling completely uninspired, I know exactly what to wear and still look pulled together. But don’t worry, I’ll report back 🙂

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  9. sara

    Hmmm, now you’ve got me checking out that awesome scarf. . . but from a company I have no experience with! Are you still pleased? Is it holding up well? 20% off thru 5/5 . . . Hmmm.

  10. shoppingsmycardio Post author

    Sara: I know, buying from a new company always makes me nervous too, but I couldn’t be happier with this scarf – honestly, I’m wearing it so much, I haven’t even broken out the ones I bought in Paris yet…which is saying something! At 20% off, it’s officially a bargain. I’d go for it 🙂

  11. Care

    I am love how you have boiled this down to a simple formula. I was wondering if you could give us some examples of flat black angle boots like you did with scarves and jackets. Thanks!

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  14. Brittany

    As a big fan of french girl style, I really enjoyed your post. Something else I have noticed is that french girls typically (sometimes) throw in a bold pop of color with their shoes when they want to mix it up… like black jacket, white tee, black pants, and red shoes, never neon though.

  15. Amy

    Thank you for introducing me to, that scarf was worth every penny!! It is soft as a cloud and the color is so chic. Best neutral accessory EVER.

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