In the recent Fall 2023 runway collections in Paris, Nicolas Ghesquière, the head creative designer of Louis Vuitton wrote in his show notes, “What is French style?” And answered the question skillfully by revealing through clothes that it is more than just the vestments we adorn ourselves with.
No, it is not endless Breton stripes or the black blazer and forget the beret, as is often shared on the many style blogs, this one included; however, these items CAN be part of French style because what we seek in trying to identify what effortless French style looks like actually goes beyond the surface. Why? Because effortless is a concept, a feeling, a mood, and just because I wear a black blazer doesn’t make me effortless in my appearance if I don’t feel at ease in my being.
On Louis Vuitton’s website in putting to words what the collection revealed as the answer to the question aforementioned was shown an “introduction to full movement and suppleness . . . a new formal, emblematic of a reimagined French signature”. This reimagining gave me pause and prompted me to explore the question more fully (view the entire Fall 2023 LV collection here): What conceptually is Effortless French Style and how does that appear sartorially in our wardrobes?
1.Dress/Style memorably without drawing attention
It may sound counterintuitive and even impossible to successfully embody both – be memorable, but don’t draw attention; after all, we want to dress to look our best, and who determines if we look well-dressed? Other people, right? Well, no. Actually, you dress for how you feel your most confident, and disregard what others deem acceptable. That, THAT, is where effortlessness takes root.
When you no longer dress to gain approval or to shock or any other opinion derived from others, your mind and self are set free to relax and be fully present. To engage and not demand, to partake and not be passive.
British stylist columnist for The Financial Times Anna Berkeley writes that to be memorable we each need a signature. From a ‘punchy lip colour’ to a great face framer (aka as ‘the humble pair of glasses’), or perhaps it is your hair style or color, but again, to create a memorable look, not to draw attention. Which is to say, yes, people will notice, but you won’t care that they notice (or if they don’t notice) because this is your signature. This is you projected physically to the world.
Garance Doré comes to mind when it comes to a signature as it isn’t her clothes, but her hair style, or should I say what she doesn’t style – she simply always has her hair pulled tightly back to allow her natural beauty, her visage, her facial bone structure and radiant smile (often with a signature bright red lip) shine. And she does, but it’s memorable, not drawing attention. It’s not about her ‘look’; it’s Garance.
2. Stop chasing trends
I may have begun today’s post mentioning the latest collection of Louis Vuitton, but to live by the ever-changing trends is to broadcast that you don’t have a signature style. That may be a tad hyperbolic, but trends each season, each year, offer the temperature on the culture, the economic climate, the political and social points of interests of the zeitgeist; they need not upend your budget and your closet every six months. A topic I addressed in detail last year, letting go of worrying or abiding by seasonal trends will liberate your mind and your budget in many ways and ultimately bring you closer to dressing your absolute effortlessly best.
Last December style contributing columnists to The Wall Street Journal Base Mpinja and Dana Wood wrote that “we shouldn’t be chasing trends—but no one wants to look like they’ve thrown in the towel, either.” So instead of chasing trends “strategically deploy a foundation of elevated basics”. And I will do exactly that after sharing the last important concept defining effortless French style. 😌
3. Don’t be restricted by a number (aka your age)
Recently, I was reading in a book, written by a well-intentioned male author about dressing and adorning oneself timelessly who shared that the older a woman gets, the shorter her hair should be. Well, I’ll just say, he should stick to what he knows, and it isn’t women’s style or more specifically, women’s hair styles. Perhaps that was the tendency in generations past, but no more. While an expert in the field of lifestyle and specifically decorum, and what he has personally experienced, I will explore his thoughts on those topics, but this one, I had to politely read past and dismiss.
My point in sharing this example is that to let your age dictate what you should and should not wear or how you should (or should not) do your hair is to assume that we all shine in the same way at the exact same time of our lives according to our chronological age. This is nonsense. SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) still looks fabulous with her long naturally wavy hair with touches of gray streaming throughout, and she’s in her 50s. Gloria Steinem wouldn’t be recognizable with short hair. That, along with her center part, is her signature, and she is memorable for it. See how this all ties together? When we follow the rules of age, we lose ourselves, and if we lose ourselves, we lose a powerful part of feeling confident in our own skin.
Beyond hair length or style, most clothing choices should be available for your selecting as well. As the stylists in the above WSJ article shared, while they may not be wearing miniskirts and spaghetti straps anymore as they don’t feel their best or confident in either, it isn’t age that dictates this decision but awareness about how they feel and know they look and feel their best. To wear the two previously shared youthful trends would appear to seek attention, and again, what we wear is not about gaining anything from the outside world – let our actions and our words do that – it is about feeling confident so that we can fully be present wherever our lives take us.
Now, let’s do some shopping.
Items to Include & Concepts to Abide By
*Outerwear: The khaki trench
The trench, the classic khaki trench, hitting around the knees – often below – will forever be an effortless piece to have on hand, and you will seen it worn by women everywhere in Paris and beyond. Worn over a variety of different types of styles in wardrobe, the trench is chosen because it doesn’t speak too loudly (doesn’t draw attention), but is indeed memorable and thus, timeless.
What is important to note before buying/investing in your dream trench is the undertone of the khaki hue. I learned about this when I purchased my first and only Burberry trench in London and had a stylist patiently work with me as I selected the proper hue for my skin tone. Yep, there isn’t just one khaki, which is why it is best to buy this item in person if you can. If you want a trench for a lifetime, and it is possible, you will want to invest. I wrote a detailed post about my trench buying experience here.
*An oversized button-up
Wear with something slim, such as straight leg or skinny jeans to provide balance, but having an oversized shirt, button-up most of the time, but it can be a sweater or pullover as well, worn with a bit of nonchalance, epitomizes effortlessness. Wrap a simple belt through the belt loops, add a French tuck to create a leaner silhouette, slip on a pair of flats or sneakers, and that’s it. Or, take French style icon Ines de la Fressange’s approach and go a little less snug with both top and bottom, and cinch your waist (have a look here at an outfit she wore last summer).
~Cos makes affordable and timeless oversized shirts in a handful of colors. And they now have oversized linen shirts. I am loving this beige one (see below), and they have other colors as well (all for fewer than $100). Below is a cotton option as well.
My oversized shirt worn as we made our way to Heathrow last spring, but worn constantly and with a scarf, a pair of boyfriend jeans and pointed toe flats. Learn more about my spring wardrobe for travel to Paris and England here.
~You can buy this shirt at Cos for $99, more colors~
*For layers, yep, under a blazer: the slub tee
Just as I will still make sure my capsule wardrobe has a few striped shirts and sweaters, I will always have a blazer or two or three in my closet as well (I’ll talk about that below), and under that blazer, a slub tee for spring and fall. Lightweight, moveable, and perfect for layering, a slub tee is comfortable, and while a bit more than a classic cotton tee, the look it creates is one of ease and everyday comfort, yet someone who knows what they are doing.
*Stick to neutrals
Colors scream, “I need attention”, and that is not always bad. Highly respected news journalist Andrea Mitchell notably became easy to recognize in a sea of journalists at press conferences and thereby was called on to ask questions more often because she wore bright colors – usually red. It worked and was necessary (and she looked great), enabling her to press the politicians for the information she needed for her reporting.
But if you’re not a news journalist or someone taking the stage, again, your role in the moment is not to gain attention but to go about your day, why are you wearing color? Unless it is your go-to color and complements your skin-tone, find the neutrals that work for you, and stick with them loyally. I am not opposed to a pop of pink in my wardrobe from time to time as it does complement my wardrobe, but over the past thirty years of buying clothes, I have not had one piece of ‘color’ clothing that I wear often or for long periods of time. What does get worn and what I feel great in are the neutrals. So I invest and wear them each with multiple pairings to create different looks. À la française approach to effortless dressing.
I am continually in awe of Jennifer Aniston who for decades has worn primarily all neutrals, even for the biggest nights of her career (only a few instances has she worn red – her sole color of choice, and while she looks fabulous, it is white or cream that she now tends to select – did you see her last weekend in Paris for the premiere of Murder Mystery 2?).
Don’t forget that neutrals includes denim, so find the style of jean that works on your leg with your silhouette and invest.
*Keep it simple, Simplicity Works
Simplify your wardrobe, your life, your budget, and bring calm and thus effortlessness to your approach to dressing by sticking to the basics.
- Find two pairs of flats – a pointed toe or ballet and a nice leather or canvas sneaker
- Have your outerwear for cold and warmer weather ready to go and in colors that work with your wardrobe – most likely black, navy, beige, maybe ivory or cream or an army green
- Have pants as well as jeans in your closet to dress up or down
- Shirts and sweaters that pair well with your coats/blazers and pants/jeans and/or skirts
- Boots either or both ankle and knee hight – block or stiletto heels depending upon your lifestyle
- and We must not forget scarves for warmth but also for finishing an outfit, so silk and wool/cashmere, linen in summer.
*Yes, welcome the oversized or slightly oversized blazer; it is timeless for a reason
Worn as outerwear in the spring or fall, wrapped with a belt or worn loosely over a light layer or either a camisole or slub tee, an oversized looks relaxed, yet pulled together. Wear with flats or heels, add a scarf or simple jewelry and you are set.
~I have shopped more oversized blazers in this year’s TSLL’s Annual Spring Shopping Guide.
*Accessorize with restraint
One simple, delicate gold necklace that lays against your suprasternal notch/jugular notch. A non-exterior label high quality handbag, petite gold hoop earrings, a classic tank watch with a slim black leather strap (the dream of a Cartier watch – vintage or new – that will be with you forever), a belt with a simple buckle such as the ‘A’ belts from Altuzarra (see below, larger size belts available – see here).
~Bleu de Chaffe’s Clutch Bag (more colors, sizes)~
I have one of their crossbody bags, this same style, but a bit smaller, and in navy. Love it. I use it everyday for errands and shopping, and it is perfect for travel. Well made, no fuss and no snaps, just the zipper inside for special items you don’t want falling loose or that are small, and the strap over the front. And made in France.
*Buy well, shop less often
When you have the key items in your wardrobe and you know they work and that they are made well, you can relax. This again creates the overall feeling of effortlessness which you then project without seeking the opinion of others because when you are wearing your clothes, you are calm and just go about whatever it is you are there to do – work, enjoy, laugh, dine, wander, shop, etc.
It’s not that we are taking our clothes less seriously, but we are putting our thoughts about clothes in their place. It’s not a priority or good practice for a life of contentment to be absorbed with what we look like, but we know it plays a role in feeling confident and at ease. Find the balance of shopping well and then letting go, and you will find that calm you seek.
And, as someone who finds comfort in the classic and yes, perhaps clichéd look of a Breton 3/4 or long-sleeve cotton/jersey top paired with jeans, a belt and flats, I recommend checking out Saint-James for finding exactly the stripe (many colors they have) and the style you prefer and use promo code SPRING to save 15% off when you spend $200 or more through April 15th. It’s clichéd for a reason – it looks fabulous and the French have wisely embraced it for years – in layering or on its own. It just works. Again, effortless.
~Shop below one of French company Saint-James’ bestsellers, their drop shoulder Breton long-sleeve top.
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