French Fashion Tips


Whenever in Paris, I’ve discovered there is not a single fashion purchase in France that does not involve loads of advice. For your own shopping chic savvy, I will now generously share the French fashion wisdom recently offered to me. 

Didier Ludot boutique in the Palais Royal. Photo by Jean François Trepelon-Jarry/© Atout France.

• Your clothing colors should be nuancé. They must agree in their color but can be of different hues. In this way, for example, all greens go together, all blues match each other, etc. But wait—if you’re wearing the same colors and they look wrong, it’s because your fabrics aren’t matching. Each fabric reflects light differently and can make you look thrown together, not put together.
• Mix it up. It’s the French who got the cubist artist Braque to paint vivid royal blue puzzle shapes on the 16th-century gilt ceiling of the Louvre to dazzling effect. Pair funky with fine and you will look intriguingly bobo (bohemian and bourgeois). 

Boutique Nathalie Garçon in the Galerie Vivienne. Photo: © Atout France. 

• When you buy lingerie, it must be audace! Yes, that’s the word they use with a straight face: audacious. Audace in France is the lingerie default. In fact, a friend in Paris advises audace for everything you wear. Her motto is “If it’s not sexy, don’t buy it.” Speaking of lingerie, don’t forget that in France, your umbrella is a kind of external lingerie. Why else would the famous French lingerie designer, Chantal Thomass, also design umbrellas?
• Always engaié with some artistic element. A bit of fur, a little flower, a brooch, a necklace. Engaié means you’ve added something, a bit of fantasy, to make it merry and enhance its allure. One vendeuse explained the concept by asking rhetorically, “Haven’t peasants always done this by embroidering their rustic clothes with flowers?” 

Shop in the Musée du quai Branley. Photo by J. M. Cras/© Atout France.

• In winter, never leave home without a scarf. Buy the big fake fool-the-eye ones in the metro stations or in the souvenir shops for five euros. Wear it as a shawl, as a belt, knotted at the side hip or wrapped around your purse handle, in a bow or hanging like a horse’s tail. Sympa! Whatever you do, don’t wear a Hermès scarf around your neck. Oh so predictable. You will look what the French call mamie. Like your grandma.
• A key chain is a major fashion item in France. The large porte-clés, sometimes called a grigri, is a statement. It is a chatelaine composed of numerous trinkets, ribbons, tassels and tokens. Each season, a new designer selection from cheap to chic arrives in the Paris boutiques. Clamp a grigri on your purse, hang it from your belt, loop it from your skirt (this way it creates a coy chastity belt connotation), wear it on a chain around you neck or merely produce it in a restaurant a good while before leaving and play with it a bit as you sip those last drops of Kir. Show it off! 

Dome of the Galeries Lafayette. Photo by Franck Charel/© Atout France. 

• Sometimes jewelry just needs to move. If you walk fast and are a bit “bouncy,” then your jewelry should also have this movement. A bracelet that jangles or earrings that slightly swing will enhance your own vibrant energy. But when you’re in slow, elegant mode, wear still jewelry.
• Don’t clutch a clutch purse. It can be more graceful, more soigné, to tuck it under you arm, almost under your armpit. At chest level, the purse looks better if, rather than lending in, it contrasts with the color it is closest to. This means a clutch purse should be matched with color from the waist down. If your blouse is navy, for example, and your skirt is peach, the clutch should be peach, not navy.
• Last, don’t forget your shoes! If you’re looking down at them and thinking they need a little je ne sais quoi, the answer is that they need earrings! Grab those big clip earrings you still have from the 1980s, clip them to your flats or high heels and voilà!
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