If you’re somewhat into fashion, you’ve probably heard tales of the French “it” girl being sung from Vogue to Fashionista. How exactly do the women of Paris stay so chic while looking so effortless? On one hand, French style is what we all aspire to achieve in our casual wardrobes. On the other, it seems like all they ever wear are jeans…what’s so difficult about that? The secret is building a wardrobe of versatile basics that can easily be used in different outfits that are chic, clean-cut and appropriate, yet remain unpredictable. Okay, that might not sound so simple, but we’ll go step by step.
The first step is to have a collection of basic, but quality pieces that can be used in multiple outfits. The most obvious is a striped shirt; oh how the French love their Breton stripes! A striped long or three-quarter sleeve shirt is essential for walking the streets of Paris. What you might not know is that navy or black and white stripes are considered neutral and can be worn with anything from solids to florals. Buy Bretons in short sleeves, long sleeves, boat neck, crew cut…whatever your heart desires! Just make sure that the shirt is clean, unwrinkled and a good fit. Clothes that fit don’t have to be tight, in fact, a slouchy shirt harkens more to that effortless Parisian flair! Besides stripes, you also want a solid tee, preferably in white or gray, but navy and black work as well.
T-shirts are easy enough, and you know what else is? Jeans! Skinny jeans are a French girl’s best friend, right after Breton stripes. You should have one perfect pair of dark wash skinny jeans with no tears or holes that fit just right. After that, you might want to expand your wardrobe with a more fun pair of jeans like a boyfriend cut, flares or wide-legs. Since you already have a basic pair, feel free to buy these in whatever color you want with tear, embroidery or fun cuffs. In addition to jeans, you might try an ankle pant in a straight or skinny fit in navy or black.
Button down shirts are also a must-have. White and light blue are the usual staple colors. You might also experiment with different cuts, a long tunic, or an oversized boxy fit. You can tuck part or all of these shirts into your jeans for ‘I-just-threw-this-on-before-running-out-the-door chic’. The last tops you will need are sweaters. Slim turtlenecks make excellent layering pieces and oversized, chunky knits add to that ‘I-don’t-care’ feel.
The last few items you need include a black skirt, a structured tan coat (either a pea coat or a trench) and a navy or black blazer. A leather jacket never hurt anyone either. At this point, your wardrobe might sound rather boring. The key to turning it into it-girl style is to accessorize the right way. You want to follow the less-is-more rule too. Basic French girl accessories usually include scarves, bags, hats and minimal jewelry. You also want to make a statement with your shoes. Have a pair of clean, well-kept sneakers for when you’re walking but still need to look put together. Flats and loafers are great alternatives that won’t kill your feet, but look dressier. A pair of ankle booties and a cute pair of sandals are also a necessity.
Now that we have all of the pieces, we want to put them together in a way that isn’t so typical. You might automatically reach for your sneakers with a t-shirt and jeans, instead, try using your sneakers to dress down a skirt and button-down or a skirt and striped tee. With your jeans, wear ankle boots or flats with a half-tucked button down and leather jacket. Did you buy a pair of ripped, slouchy jeans? Top it with a white tee, blazer, and sandals. If you want to add some small details to any of these outfits, try pearl or diamond stud earrings, a nice watch, or a pearl necklace.
While the basic wardrobe can create some of my favorite looks, the real creativity starts when you add just a few unconventional pieces. You should spend your money buying quality basics that will last and be worn over and over again, but you can save a little for a couple of trendy items that will make these looks more personal. For example, maybe you add a brightly colored floral sweater to the mix for fall. Maybe you have an extra purse in bright red or yellow to wear with neutral outfits. Those ankle booties I recommended? Leopard print. Snag an extra pair of slim-trousers in a polka-dot or plaid pattern and instead of a black leather jacket, buy one in a velvety, burgundy suede.
We all want to look like fashion it-girls, but if we all followed the same formula, it would be rather boring wouldn’t it? It’s always important to learn the rules, but you really only want to learn them so you know how to break them.