French dressing is never out of style – but that doesn’t make it less annoying
Nobody agrees on what French female chic actually is, but everyone agrees that it’s a bit annoying. To some it’s all about the perfect understated navy blazer and a sexy fringe that falls over your eyes just so. To others it’s a fitted skirt suit and a chignon and a cloud of Chanel No 5. It’s a pencil skirt or worn-in white jeans, kitten heels or biker boots, depending on who you ask. Pretty much the only part that everyone can see eye-to-eye on is that the French-women-do-it-better vibe gets on one’s nerves.
This is because the elusive French style of dressing isn’t about clothes at all. It’s about confidence, and that makes the rest of us feel insecure and defensive.
“French style has got to do with a certain form of arrogance, which I love,” singer and actor Lou Doillon told Vogue. “French girls have a tremendous respect for themselves. Even if a magazine cover is saying, ‘This is what you should be wearing’, they have their own thing going.”
Lindsey Tramuta, an American writer who has lived in Paris for 15 years, once wrote: “A Parisian woman does not see fashion as the ultimate expression of herself, but as complementary to her mind, her talents, her opinions, and therefore it doesn’t need to be outlandish. What is compelling is how pieces are worn and the ways they’re lived in.”
Carine Roitfeld, former editor of French Vogue, has said style is “how you open your bag, how you cross your legs – just little things that make a difference.” How you open your bag? What does she mean? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the way I open my bag – yanking it wide and scrabbling for my keys with all the grace of a fox ripping into a leftover bucket of KFC – isn’t what she’s talking about.
Confidence is going out in shoes that you walk in comfortably and gracefully, whether they are Stan Smiths or Christian Louboutins. It is wearing blue when pink is in fashion, because you like it and it suits you. It is bringing a level of attention to detail to the business of dressing yourself for the day, just as you would if you were wrapping a birthday present or cooking a Sunday roast. Because such things are only little things, but in the end the little things in life are the big things in life.
Confidence is also the element that unifies Emily in the soon-to-return TV comedy-drama series Emily in Paris with her boss Sylvie, and her friend Camille. It is what makes the pantomime Paris of Emily – pain au chocolat in one hand, Chanel 2.55 in the other – adorable as well as exasperating. It is Camille’s woke-up-like-this perfect hair. It is the reason you know that Sylvie, with her simple black dresses, would smell amazing.
And while French style is often written off as a cliche, it is the modern way to dress – the opposite of fast fashion. It is choosing a party dress that flatters and enhances you and keeping it in your wardrobe knowing you can kick back with a drink after work because you only need 10 minutes to get ready for any party, rather than panicking about what to wear and taking refuge in something new and shiny. It is enjoying style but not being dictated to by trends. French style is remembering Carine’s wise words before I start rooting in my bag and realising that my phone is in my back pocket anyway. What’s annoying about French style is that they were right all along.