32: The Francophile’s Style Guide: The 14 Essentials
Monday April 6, 2015

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“French women don’t have too many clothes – a few good pieces that last for a while and are classic and timeless.” –Mireille Guiliano

The Simple Sophisticate, episode #32

Spring time is beginning to burst, and nowhere is my attention dreaming of being more than in Paris. Ah, to be anywhere in France during the spring time months would be sweet dream come true. Why? Well, not only does one have the luxury of wandering through streets in which the spring blossoms are evanescently decorating their temporary homes, but the styles are free from the winter bulk, yet available for touches of layering.

With the guides of How to Be a Parisian Wherever You Are and Ines de la Fressange’s Parisian Chic, along with my own personal observation, I’ve cultivated a style guide of 14 essentials for curating a French-inspired capsule wardrobe. What you will notice, if you are familiar with TSLL capsule wardrobe guide is that most of the essentials are similar. Why? French style has been my muse and continues to be my muse as I pull together my own wardrobe. I may not carry it off as effortlessly as Caroline De Maigret or Ines de la Fressange, but I will forever be trying to hone my inner French girl.

In today’s blog post, each essential is accompanied by a couple, and in some cases, a handful of style inspiration images, all capturing chic French women of today demonstrating how to epitomize the style women from around the world are curious to emulate. From the two style icons, models and writers I mentioned previously, Caroline and Ines, to Cecile Cassel, Lou Dillion, Julia Restoin Roitfeld, Marion Cottilard, Vanessa Paradis, Garance Dore, Audrey Tautou, Carla Bruni, Emmanuelle Alt, and Anne Berest, each woman exemplifies their own take on French style. However, in choosing these modern chic women, in the back of our minds will be the founding stylistas such as Coco Chanel, Jane Birkin, Bridgette Bardot, and Catherine Deneuve, just to name a few. Everywhere you look, in each one of these images or in our mind’s eye, these women incorporate one if not more than one of these essentials into their style.

1. A quality day handbag

While closets are small for the average Parisian, the need for a capsule wardrobe is a necessity, but so too is only owning a few handbags – day and evening and perhaps one for travel. This fact alone teaches one quickly the lesson of investing in a versatile, quality handbag. Now we don’t need to splurge exorbitantly on a Birkin which was inspired by Jane Birkin’s frustration when she couldn’t find a preferred weekend bag (in fact, according to style trend critics, this bag is no longer the “it” bag, if you care to know). But to invest in something, as I spoke about in this post, that is in your budget, fits your lifestyle and will last, are the three factors to consider when making your decision.

2. Ankle skimming jeans & pants (cigarette, skinny or straight-leg)

Why ankle skimming? Why taped or straight? A woman’s figure is something to revel in, to own and not shy from. Also, since we are investing, we want to purchase pants or jeans that will be in style from year to year, thus the refusal to purchase trends is always a good idea (flares may be fun, but if they are the only pair you are able to purchase, you may want to reconsider). Depending upon your body type, choose a pant that has a leg opening that flatters your proportions. Narrower is usually better, as wide leg openings on shorter or pear-shaped women distract from the beautiful silhouette. Either way, make sure the hem goes all the way to the top of your ankle – no capris or culottes as they cut our bodies in the wrong place and disrupt a slimming line. These (here and here) are my favorite denim options, and be sure to shop below as well for other options:

3. Flats 

High heels may look marvelous, but they are generally not worn very often if one has to be walking to and fro throughout their everyday. If heels are worn, they are at events or kitten heels are chosen, or if one has minimal walking to do. Either way, French women are a daily reminder of how chic a flat shoe can be. Whether you prefer the ballet flat, the smoking slipper or the loafer, invest in a couple that can work with a multitude of your outfits and you will be set.


4. Versatile black dress

For day and evening, have a black dress that can be appropriate for work with a simple blazer layered upon it or be a show-stopper without the fuss in the evening.


5. Tailored black blazer

Black is always a safe option as you will see in #14 of this list, but while I state it, I also find it depends on your climate, skin type and preference as well. The key is to have a tailored blazer in your closet. Navy, taupe, white, black, it doesn’t matter, as long as it works with your capsule wardrobe. What you will notice with each of these images is that the tailoring is exquisite, and that makes a tremendous difference for establishing a feminine aesthetic, if that is part of your style.Wear with jeans, where over a dress, it’s up to you, but the power of the blazer is its versatility.


6. Scarves (one lightweight, one heavy & warm)

A no brainer, and perhaps the easier one to shop for, and the most enjoyable, no?  When you’re not sure which accessory to grab, grab a scarf. When the weather is transitioning, and you’re not sure if you need a jacket, select a scarf to bridge the gap. Select a warm, cozy cashmere for cooler months, and a beautiful light-weight signature prints for spring and summer. You can never have too many, and you don’t have to spend a fortune.

A few of my favorite online destinations for scarves:

~Heidi Wynne

~Eric Bompard

7. Oversized sunglasses

Whether you didn’t do your make-up, or the sun is blazing, having a pair of oversized sunglasses not necessarily a fashion essential staked claim by the French, but it is one they adhere to without apology. Keeping in mind your face structure, select a style that works for you (click here to determine each). One style that seems to work on nearly everyone’s face is the aviator: black or metal, always a safe decision.


8. Simple, yet quality T-shirt

In my current favorite Parisian style guide, How to Be Parisian Wherever You Live, the authors are adamant that a chic wardrobe must contain an expensive t-shirt. While typically, I am all about purchasing bargain t-shirts for working and leisuring about the home, they make a sound point. Layered with a blazer, the t-shirt creates a carefree balance between high and low. And even though you may have paid a pretty penny, it doesn’t appear that way. Select a fabric that contains jersey and a bit of stretch, and care for it dearly, not wearing for just any occasion, but noting, its primary purpose is to provide comfort in a variety of settings without looking frumpy. Below are a few to take a look at.

9. Oversized sweater

French women of style present an attitude of blasé aloofness that is unparalleled anywhere else it seems to me. The oversized blouse, sweater or coat drives this point home. With anything that is oversized, it must be balanced, and for a classic look, make sure to pair this staple with tailored pants, shorts or a skirt. The idea is to not reveal all, yet know exactly how to balance the two opposites.


10. Mid-length trench coat

Ideal for work, and versatile year-round, the classic trench, whether you choose khaki, black or any other print or color in between, offers a timeless silhouette. Pair with jeans or over a dress, it doesn’t matter, it will always look effortlessly chic.


11. White button-up shirt

Whether cotton or silk, or a mixture of both, having a white button-shirt is a must. One of my favorite go-to outfits when I don’t know what to wear, is jeans, ballet flats, a fitted white shirt untucked and a pair of earrings or a simple necklace. Simple, appropriate for a variety of settings, and very comfortable. This one from Equipment in particular is my favorite and this one from Theory is a steal of a deal right now. And if you’re looking for an over-sized version, here’s a great option from Madewell.


~Shirtini (boyfriend style button-ups as well)

12. Signature day dress

Wearing a dress is one of the simplest decisions we can make before we take on the day ahead of us. In one motion, we are clothed and simply need to accessorize. How simple is that? With that said, knowing we have a dress that flatters our physique and is appropriate for wherever our day may take us, is a priceless comfort. Whether you prefer A-lines, shirt dresses, wrap, or sheaths, always keep an eye out for dresses that are timeless, flattering and will last from year to year. Oh, and always make sure they adhere to your signature style.

13. Nautical stripes

Brought into vogue by the queen of style and comfort, Chanel’s epic decision would not have been considered to be left off of this list. Need I say more? Okay, I will, really quickly. Don’t forget about sweaters that contain stripes or tops that are unique in style as to how they use the stripe, but always choose horizontal for your top, never for your bottom half. Have fun shopping!

~La Ligne NYC (for quality investment stripe tops, dresses and more)

14. Black

As a fail-safe, black will always and forever be an option. Wear it, layer it, add a pop of personality to accessorize it as you will see in the images below, but exude confidence most definitely when you select it.


~The 8 Gifts of Mastering the French Mystique

~Why Not . . . Indulge Your Inner Francophile?

~See all of TSLL Francophile posts here

~Francophile episodes on The Simple Sophisticate: #4 – 10 Ways to Unearth Your Inner Francophile; #23 – The French Way: How to Create a Luxurious Everyday Life

Petit Plaisir:

Dark Chocolate Mousse (click for the recipe)


Thesimplyluxuriouslife.com | The Simply Luxurious Life

40 thoughts on “32: The Francophile’s Style Guide: The 14 Essentials

  1. I love how the French dress…their minimalist style resonates with me and just makes sense. A handful of quality, simple items that you can play around with, layer, and re-wear makes much more sense than buying a ton of cheap clothing that’s trendy and can only be worn a couple of times. Love this post, Shannon! 🙂

  2. I love the ‘French style’ -but you have to be tall, skinny, H shaped, dark haired with big cheekbones. Lets see what short blonde pear shaped French women wear- I know they exist.

    1. Thank you. While I’m of average height, I’m not skinny (stout, maybe…? *sigh*) and not H-shaped but 8-shaped. 😉 Blonde, yes. 😉
      Hmmm… “French Women Don’t Get Fat?” Not even sturdy…?

    2. Agree, I love that style but I think it only looks good on tall and skinny women with with bony faces. I am a bit curvier, with big butt and cheeks and I don’t think I would look good in this.

      1. I’m blonde 5.5, slim French Canadian and this has been my forever style. Women fall into the trap of buying too many “of the moment trends” and are left with no quality core pieced to build a sustainable wardrobe. Sad; waste of $$$

  3. The first picture of Marion Cottilard – Wow. Love the coat, love the skirt, love the shoes and the handbag. It made me think of Doris Day and the way she dressed in the movie “Pillow Talk.” Elegantly dressed for the day. Thanks, Shannon!

  4. Am I missing something with the “expensive t-shirt”? Is there an appreciable difference in quality between a reasonably priced shirt from Everlane and something costing nearly $200? Why pay that much for something that isn’t supposed to look expensive? Isn’t that money better invested in the blazer that elevates the look? French style has many charms, but this one in particular strikes me less as a style pointer than a suggestion for those just looking for an excuse to burn money.

    1. I buy a pack of Hane’s boys white t-shirts and a pack of Hane’s boy’s white tank tops at the start of the season. I pair them with more expensive pieces and I never fail to get compliments when I do so. I really don’t think that expensive ones are that necessary, especially when you consider how badly anything white holds up over time.

      1. Agreed 100% re: white, especially if you’re the least bit apt to spill coffee or anything else 🙂 I’ll get spendy on a NON white button-down or T shirt, but not with pure white. I know myself too well. I WILL spill.

        1. Check the size measurements for each brand as every brand is different. Typically I would say a Medium, but I am not sure what brand you are looking at and your personal measurements. 🙂

  5. I agree completely about pants length! I see women all the time wearing capris and — quelle horror — culottes. They are superbly unattractive, as they cut a short person (most of the women I see wearing them are short) in half. Straight legs are always in style and are always flattering.

  6. 1290 Facebook shares? Clearly you struck a chord with this podcast. I am always glad to see the quality over quantity message being broadcast instead of just the consume more advertising that we see so much of. Well done.

  7. I love this post – c’est parfait! Love all the photos, and really love that you included a broad range of ages. Simple and chic is the best. Merci!

  8. Dear Shannon,
    I’ve been an avid reader for years but it’s the first time I actually listened to your podcast. My first thought was that you have a beautiful voice! I actually imagined you teaching in a class w/ that kind of diction & intonation.
    Paired w/ a very interesting topic & this podcast was just perfect!

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge each & everyday. I admire your dedication on this blog. Keep it up!

  9. I almost scored you 100%, but then you did show one pair of ripped jeans. I am so tired of the other Blogs that feature this cliche common look as if it were fresh and new.

  10. All these key pieces I have picked up at Brooks Brothers including a light pink quilted flat for the spring. They have the skinny jean to the short trench and plenty of the striped tops.
    It’s been fun to watch the women’s selection grow and looking forward to the collaboration with Zac Posen.

  11. I noticed very few of the women in these pictures appear to be wearing earrings. Would you consider doing a post or podcast about the French take on jewelry?

  12. I have come back to this post many times as I build my French inspired capsule wardrobe! Do you hand wash your equipment silk blouse or send it to the dry cleaner?

  13. Actually, what I have taken from my French family is that they wear clothes that they love & feel great in; they do not buy a lot of random clothes. Whether, the clothes are expensive or cheap, it doesn’t matter, as long as they love the piece and feel amazing in it…at least, this is what I have noticed from the French women in my family. (Same for jewelry, accessories et make-up-it’s all simply things they love-not what is “in style” etc) They radiate beauty because they feel beautiful inside and are at ease with themselves, not because of the clothing or accessories. They are being true to their own unique nature (even if it seems “un-unique” to to others).
    May we all embrace our true beautiful selves within, no matter what the outside is like! 🙂 :):) xxx

  14. *This* is the article I so needed to guide me through one of life’s season changes on becoming a mother, but not wanting to sacrifice style. I would be so grateful if you could point me in the direction of the lovely tan bucket bag (third handbag image)? And if I may be excused for being greedy and ask also for help to find the blue top in the fifth image (travelling mum with daughter & suitcase)?
    Thank you so much,

  15. Can anyone ID that sweater/shirt on Caroline de Maigret (stripes section, second from last)? OMG so cute.

    1. Jennifer, I’m almost 100% that Caroline’s top is a Chanel piece from the 2014/15 Autumn/Winter HC collection.

  16. Wonderful post. Only thing I thought was funny is that you recommend flat but most of your photos feature heels, and fairly high at that.

  17. What a great podcast! I’ve taken notes and now realise that I have loved many of these items over the years but have always not been sure what my style is. Now I know! Thankyou Shannon!

  18. Sharon. Just found your posts and started listening/following. Love them all! The trend in the US, particularly West Coast is white sneakers with jeans, etc. I am traveling to Paris this summer and am very hesitant to bring white sneakers, even if they are trendy, to wear for sight-seeing and walking around as I am aware that white sneakers has always been a “Faux Pas” for French woman for anything other than sports. Is this still the case?

    1. Great question Marianne. Don’t hesitate to bring white sneakers. I am not sure which style you have chosen, but casual white sneakers are absolutely acceptable for traveling and walking about the city. If you want to bring a pair of comfortable sandals that I wear constantly when I am in France during the summer, especially with the hot heat they are having, I highly recommend Tropiezenne sandals. Here is a link to the ones I purchased and am loving – https://thesimplyluxuriouslife.com/summershoecapsuleprovence/ Have an amazing trip and be sure to visit La Maison d’Isabelle for the best croissant in Paris – it’s in the 5th near Shakespeare & Company.

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