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.
The Perfect Trench is Personal
~buy this trench: The Long Kensington Heritage, in Honey~
*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.
~Totême’s original straight leg jeans~
*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.
~I talk about all of these in detail in this post – Effortless Style.
*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.
~Everlane’s Tercel Oversized blazer~
~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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~Love a classic French approach to style, appreciate the concept of quality over quantity and strengthening your seasonal capsule wardrobe? Don’t miss a post, and sign up for TSLL’s free Signature Style Newsletter. Receive an email notification each time a Style Inspiration, Signature Style or the Annual Spring and Fall Shopping Guides are released. At least once a month, a new detailed and stoppable post is shared. Sign up here (originally, this newsletter was sent out for the Fall and Spring Shopping Guide only, and now has been updated to include all Style posts of which there are at least one, sometimes two a month). If you already receive the Shopping Guide newsletter, you do not need to resubscribe. Sign up here.
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34 thoughts on “Mastering Quintessential French Effortless Style”
Well done Shannon! I sincerely mean that about today’s post! I enjoyed every word, and all of it resonates with me ! I also am familiar with every person you mentioned. I too love neutrals and have yet to find a color to wear if even as just an accessory. I bookmarked this today so I can read it again because it just really feels right for me! So thank you and happy spring to you and the furry ones!!
Thank you Tamra. 😌 And happy spring to you as well. The pups say thank you too! ☺️
These are some of my favorite posts, Shannon. If there is a life lesson that I really wished I learned earlier it is this: when it comes to clothes choose quality over quantity. What I’m shopping for right now is a silk scarf. Happy Spring to you and the pups!
Another great styling post. The Parisians definitely have that styling ‘je ne sais quoi’ Having a signature style reduces the indecisions on what to invest in and wear. Investing in quality will last a long time if not a lifetime. My Mulberry bags ( great British label) and Cartier Tank with a burgundy coloured leather strap look as new 30 years on. I love neutral basics but also love colour especially in winter when everything looks drab. My red ‘HarrisWharf’winter coat (Italian designers based in London – they make great felted wool coats) and red lipstick are de rigeur. I pondered the title today as I sat with my French colleagues at a meeting and observed not much quintessential effortless styling. Maybe because we live in the countryside and practicality is a priority. Kameela😊
Kameela, I also love color and like to match it to my mood. I’ve found color is “me”. I’m fairly demure in the shapes and styles, though. I look/feel very drained and lifeless in neutrals. I admire those that can pull off neutral outfits and they always do look lovely and classy.
Perhaps your colleagues need to subscribe to TSLL… 😉
Love the image of your red coat and lip!
Melissa thank you. Red is my favourite colour along with burgundy. I agree some people look amazing in neutrals but I’m like you eith the drained look. If we can colour the world’s little why not? 😀
Oh indeed I’m tempted to refer them to TSLL but I might have a job on my hands. Thee French in my circle at least are very set in.their ways!
I too have a beautiful red winter wool coat I picked up at a second-hand shop right after college, Viennese label that I think is no longer. I always look forward to the temperatures falling enough so that I can wear it.
Just checked out Mulberry bags. GORgeous! Love the jewel tone ones. Thanks for mentioning!
Aren’t they? I browse now and then as I couldn’t afford a new one now. Mine were investment buys some years ago.
I so would like to find a red lipstick that would work for me… hmm… :-/
And yes, you absolutely must bring your colleagues to subscribe to TSLL… 😉
😂maybe I should but they don’t like change too much. I sometimes mix two to get the right shade. I used to.buy from Clarins and Chanel but found this lovely French bio , vegan ecocert company that does some great reds. All the packaging is recyclable .
My current ones are le rouge français handle rouge alizarine.
Good luck with your hunt😊
Kameela, I will be ordering the Le Rouge Maunaloa and must poke around more, LOVE this site, merci pour tes conseils!xox
Hmmm, the shipping charges…perhaps I can find it stateside. Ah well, the colors of the lipsticks are quite lovely in any event 🙂
Thanks, my dear. The colours are gorgeous! I have to give it a try, oh yes. 🙂
What a fun post! Shannon, loved the link to Ines de la Fressange’s outfit. It looks so comfortable and chic. My eye was drawn to her necklace layering. Stunning and, yes, looks totally effortless. Is that a jade bead?
I followed the French Tuck link since I do this, unknowingly, as well, but didn’t see the pics that post mentions. I’d like to check them out to make sure I’m doing it quite right and to the optimal benefit of the outfit. Always looking for suggestions! Do you know why I can’t see them?
Thank you for stopping by! The images are linked in the post, but not on the post as they are not mine. You can also type “french tuck & Tan France” and oodles of images with appear.
I so agree with you about hair on older women. I am now 69 and have very long, surprisingly full, wavy hair, which is various shades of gray, white and a little of my original medium-dark brown hair. I love my hair, and receive frequent compliments on it from young and old, male and female. I just decided that at this age, I can be and wear whatever I like and if others don’t like it, it’s just not my problem. It’s just who I am.
I sooooo appreciate your comment! Thank you very much for sharing what you know to be true. You have no doubt inspired and eased the minds of many. 🙂 Let your beautiful mane of hair shine! It sounds gorgeous! 🙂
Agree and agree! 🙂
All my hair is now grey (I am 56, started to have grey hair at 28), with a few remnants of the original dark brown. I also sport a long, wavy and full mane. Indeed, I am very proud of my hair and take care of it diligently.
I receive many compliments on it – the first one coming from my new hairdresser, whom, I must say, was not to keen on the situation because well, yes, grey hair = short hair…, etc. etc. Just nonsense. I am very glad to have contributed to the education of the young lady, as she changed her mind, which is to say broaden her horizons…
(Shannon, how about a post on hair care?… Not just for grey hair, of course.)
Love your attitude Oremosd.Be true to yourself. I a couple of years older then you have curly and a little wild shoulder length greying hair in the pepper salt stage. I wear it proudly because it’s me no one else.
This is such a great article, Shannon! I read it before but had not yet commented, which I certainly wanted to. Bookmarked it too, to read in more detail. I find so very interesting to discuss the concept of a sartorial style. 🙂
The idea that true French style is Breton shirts and beret, is the same to expect that all Portuguese dress in black, and that all Spanish women dress in red, like a flamenco dancer… 😉
I think the operative words for an effortless French style are: simplicity, restraint, elegance (aka, proportions…). That alone, will make an outfit stand out no matter what, considering the way most people dress nowadays: too much “effort-less”, and not enough chic…
Colours or neutrals, I think, are a personal choice: whatever enhances one’s natural colouring and personality. In any case, classic and discreet is always better. I look better is warm and deep colours. Neutrals only, wash me totally out. I need some contrast (not Emily in Paris, mind…), and this too can be done in a very simple, classic and elegant manner.
Wishing all the elegant ladies, a good weekend! 🙂
“Too much ‘effort-less’, and not enough chic…”. You made me giggle. I hope you have a sartorially satisfying weekend, Isabel.😁
Excellent style post, Shannon, I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the post and everyone’s comments.
As you have pointed out, that ‘effortless’ style begins with being ‘bien dans sa peau’–being comfortable with yourself, knowing what you like and, most importantly, what makes you look and feel good. As with others here, some neutrals not only make me look drab, but feel drab as well, but again, it comes back to knowing yourself and what makes you feel and look *chef’s kiss*. I am definitely a fan of color, especially next to my face. I love wearing my khaki trenches with bright beautiful scarves,(BIG fan of scarves!). I too have a thick mop of shoulder length wavy silver, white, mixed with medium brown hair, and I have to say, I love it. It’s also in much better health since I stopped coloring it three years ago. As with Melissa, I’ve never been a fan of too many flounces and ruffles and poufs etc. What’s important to me is the fabric itself–the weight, the drape, the texture, the feel, and how well the clothing item is made–seams, buttons and other fastenings, tailoring, fit. Gosh I love clothes and fabric and design. And the new Style Inspiration Post, looking forward to many more, thanks, Shannon!
Enjoy your weekend, everyone! xox 🌞🌼🐝
Rona let’s hear it for the wavy grey/greying haired ladies. I too love scarves. I have far too many.! I ned to do a cull.I agree the fabric, design and the finishing touches truly make the garment. I used to.have my dresses made to measure by our wonderful seamstress when I was growing up. Alas no more. The experience has taught me to appreciate good workmanship. Kameela😊
Absolument, Kameela, I can relate. My mother was my tailor in my younger years. She was an excellent seamstress and it was such a much-anticipated event to shop every season for the fabric and patterns of this season’s wardrobe.. (I was always a tall, thin, yet athletic thing for a girl of my age, and nothing from the shops at the time fit.) At age twelve, we began moving overseas and my mother mostly relied on buying pret-a-porter and then having a tailor fit our clothing, or, later, having tailor-made pieces for my thobes and suits, with my mother lovingly creating and sewing special-occasion dresses. Knowing what is good fabric, good workmanship, and good care of the garment contributes incredibly to la bonne vie, I think. 😊
… I am “guilty” of too many scarves, too… 😉
Love this post Shannon thank you for sharing.x
Thank you for stopping by and sharing that you enjoyed the post. I appreciate your comment. 😌💛
This this this! Oh how this post just epitomises my approach to style. I could have been reading about my own wardrobe.
And it made me chuckle that included in the shoppable links were the Toteme jeans and Stone and Strand necklace that have been sitting in my Net a Porter wish list recently.
I whole heartedly agree. I want people to think of classic, chic memorable style when they think of me but be able to put my outfit for the day on and then get on with my day without worrying as to whether I look good.
Perfect style post Shannon, thank you
So glad you enjoyed this post Sarah! And you shopping cart items made me smile. Such great items! ☺️
Oh, gosh, I would be literally depressed if I had to only wear neutrals. Perhaps it’s regional – women in the south gravitate toward bright, happy colors. My trench coat is baby blue.
My coloring and color palette is “light summer” – pretty pinks, all shades of blue, sea glass greens, butter yellow – my spirits lift when I wear colors that make me look pretty – and I’m in my mid-50s. The other day in the grocery store a woman came up to me and said, “I love your style!”
Just saw the drop shoulder Saint James top. Great pictures. Wouldn’t you love to be in Brittany sometime soon? I would. Which reminds me of a book I loved – I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do) – Living in a Small Village in Brittany by Mark Greenside. Maybe I got this recommendation from you? Hard to keep it all straight. So much fun sharing all these wonderful items.
Ah yes, to be in Brittany. That would be lovely. 🙂 I am currently reading Jean-Luc Bannalec’s series that is set in Brittany and I am falling more and more in love with that region of France. Such unique beauty.
Thank you for sharing the title. I haven’t thought of it in a long time and it would be fun to revisit it. Thank you for visiting this post. Wishing you a wonderful spring weekend.