In Discussions, Minimalism, Style, Style, Wardrobe Help, Women

How to get a Parisian Fashion Wardrobe: Bon chic, bon genre! – Part One

All of my Parisian Style & Wardrobe Posts can be found here.

I am not French, but I do visit France often and enjoy fashion and style. With those two meager credentials, I pay a lot of attention to French girls on the streets whom I find stylish and I’ve made mental notes of what they wear so I can basically replicate it in my own life.

They seem to follow major rules in styling themselves, and it’s summed up in4 little words:

Bon chic, bon genre.

Rough Translation = Good style, good attitude.

It probably means nothing to you on the surface, but if you dig deeper it says that if you dress well, you will project a good attitude by doing so.

(Fun fact: It is also often shortened as ‘BCBG’, and that’s how that fashion company BCBG Max Azria was named.)

Naturally, not all French women dress this way (there’s also the bobo style), but the ones I have found stylish, tend to be of the BCBG nature, that is to say: stylish, simple, conservative and rabid about not showing it.

Totally up my alley for the most part.

SO HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE A PARISIAN BCBG STYLE?

Here are the few ground rules:

NO MAJOR LOGOS OR BRAND FLASHING ALLOWED

Oddly enough, even though Louis Vuitton is a French brand, I did not notice many… actually, any Parisian women carrying LV bags covered in their ubiquitous logos such as these bags below:

LV-Louis-Vuitton-Bags-Purses

This led me to speculate that perhaps it is because LV bags tend to be covered in logos that French women tend to avoid such ostentatious shows of so-called “wealth”, and carry bags with small logos (or none at all) instead.

It’s a very different mindset from what we are used to, wouldn’t you say?

I know in Japan for instance, they love the LV logo’d bag, but when you are in Paris, the only ones shopping at LV are tourists.

Not the French.

Photograph-Paris-France-Louis-Vuitton-Shopping-Tourists-People

I always chuckle a little when I see bloggers (fashion ones mostly), freak out about going to Paris and buying a LV bag there, because it makes me think it’s quite ironic that the brand is so associated with being chic and being in Paris, when it is truly not the same brand image or experience with French women who were born and bred there.

Of course, I pick on Louis Vuitton, but this goes for Gucci or any other brand. The only exception seems to be Chanel and Burberry.

I have seen very understated, classic Chanel flap bags (discreetly held of course), and Burberry trench coats (no logo-waving chav-like behaviour here), where just looking at the coat I can tell it’s a Burberry trench (yeah I’m that girl), but more importantly, the Burberry plaid is hidden INSIDE the coat (no popped collars either).

NEUTRAL COLOURS ARE THE KEY PALETTE

Parisian women tend to not wear a lot of colours. That is, barely any. If they do wear it, it’s in accessories like their scarves, jewellery, shoes, bags.. you know stuff like that.

The brightest they get is when they put on some ivory or white, with maybe a pop of burgundy.

Otherwise, their colour palette is pretty depressing to most people:

  • Black
  • Grey
  • Navy
  • Brown
  • White
  • Burgundy

Black is the MAJOR COLOUR in Parisian wardrobes (a lot like New York ones, which is probably why they are so often compared to one another).

Grey is the runner up, and then they use dark blue as a colour or brown in leather. Fun fun fun, right?

THEY FOLLOW A UNIFORM OF SORTS

The capsule uniforms will be shown in my Part Two capsule wardrobe, but needless to say they kind of just take a basic uniform like a t-shirt, blazer, skinny jeans, and ballet flats or heels, and then riff on it by changing up the t-shirt to something graphic with a pattern, or instead of a blazer, they wear a black leather jacket.

THEY DON’T OVER-ACCESSORIZE

As the great fashion icon Coco Chanel once said:

coco-chanel-quote-remove-one-accessory

THEY DO NOT WEAR SKY HIGH HEELS

The best thing about French chic?

They don’t wear towering, sky-high platform heels in an attempt to look or be sexy like these heels pictured below.

PARISIAN FASHION DON’TS

French-Parisian-Style-Fashion-DO-NOT-DONTS-NOS

It’s pretty easy to remember: NOTHING, I repeat, NOTHING as gauche as super high, platform heels à la famille Kardashians.

Unlike what we think of as “sexy”, no Frenchwoman would be caught dead in items she didn’t feel comfortable in.

This is why you see them about in ballet flats, short boots, tall boots, heels of a manageable height (3″ or lower) such as what’s pictured below.

PARISIAN FASHION DO’S

French-Parisian-Style-Fashion-DOS-YES-Shoes-Boots-Heels

Nothing is also unsexier than a pair of shoes that make your feet look potted, which I think most platform wedges do.

THEY NEVER LOOK OR FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE BECAUSE THEY AREN’T

Too tight dresses? Too short, cleavage-baring numbers with the girls pushed up to here? Yeah. No.

French women don’t wear such clothing. If they wear sexy clothing it is a well-fitted dress that shows off a great asset (legs, bum, cleavage), but never all three at once.

They also never feel uncomfortable in what they wear because…. they don’t wear uncomfortable things (see the shoes chosen above).

Nothing is unsexier than a woman trying too hard to be sexy, and looking uncomfortable to boot (no pun intended).

If they feel comfortable in ballet flats with a white t-shirt and jeans, that’s what they’ll wear.

THEY UNDERSTAND THAT GOING OUT MEANS HAVING TO DRESS UP A LITTLE

They may not rock heels and a black dress every day, but they also don’t saunter out of the house in a velour sweatsuit and UGG boots and call it a day, no matter how expensive that sweat suit was, or how many diamonds they’re wearing on their fingers.

You have to leave the house and look presentable. As if you are going to meet a co-worker outside of work whom you want to impress somewhat but not look like you’re trying too hard.

(Actually you just never know who you’ll meet at the grocery store.)

Travel-Photograph-Paris-France-Cup-of-Hot-Chocolate-Cocoa-Drink-Relax

They know there are such things as clothes for wearing in the home, and clothes for wearing outside the home, and never the twain shall meet.

You will generally not catch a French woman on an “off” day where she decides to go to the store in her pajamas rather than put on real pants and shoes, because she makes an effort no matter how she feels.

NOTE ABOUT MAKEUP:

This idea of dressing up a little does not extend to makeup, because many French women do not wear a lot of slap, if any at all. I find that extremely refreshing.

As a side note, after spending some time in Europe, I started to notice just how heavily made up some women are here in comparison.

They have a smoky eye in the middle of the day, with a bright red lip, false eyelashes and foundation so caked on, it looks like they speckled it on their faces in an attempt to cover up any sort of discolouration or to camouflage their acne.

This is not what French women do. You will see them wear a bit of makeup (usually lipstick and mascara), but they do not try and cover up their skin to make it look like airbrushed perfection.

If they have pimples, they have pimples. They aren’t going to try and cover up everything to the point where it looks unnatural.


I hate to bring up Kim Kardashian (I really do like her and she does work REALLY hard), but she basically embodies everything an average, chic Frenchwoman is not.

In contrast, the Olsen twins, no matter how baggy and rundown they may look at times, are more French in contrast.

Ahem!

All of my Parisian Style & Wardrobe Posts can be found here.

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Am my own Sugar Daddy. Am a millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I have 11 side incomes that are on track in 2020 to make me $50K - $75K. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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46 Comments

  1. Kimberly

    I love this series of posts. Would you happen to have an updated post? A lot of the pieces are timeless. I just didn’t know if you had anything to add or any other suggestions going into the new year of 2018? Thanks and love all the work you do!

    Reply
  2. eurogirl

    Love your blog
    But I don’t completely agree about colors. Are you talking about all French women or just Parisian?
    The French Riviera does have some color not way too bright ,but pastel dresses,printed with red dresses,brenton stripes blue,black but also red. Nothing too flashy,but there is some color. I do love the basic colors and my favorite,absolutely favorite designer brand is Chanel. And they do some color. Tastefully but there is some color.
    I have dark red knee length dress with jeweled buttons.No need any accessories,maybe black stockings and belt with black ballerina flats. Even vintage Chanel had some color. And I love pastel or colorful lessage jackets. You can keep your outfit plane and just add as one accessory
    After all you want to look 60-70%elegant with the rest sexiness and your own signature. And you will not feel unstylish anywhere even in Paris 😉

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Thank you.

      Not all French women! There are plenty who wear tons of colour as you have mentioned. It depends on the weather, the culture, the sensibilities of those around you. In the French Riviera, perhaps the weather makes them feel more festive.

      Parisiennes I find, err on the side of neutral, neutral NEUTRAL.

      I love the description of your outfit, that red dress sounds divine, I’d probably wear it in a deep blood red or a burgundy.

      Reply
  3. Alice

    I am Parisian and this is mostly Correct about the LV bag but I find that in Paris heels are very high and as Caroline De Maigret said you will never find a heel in a Paris wardrobe that is 3 inch as why not go all the way but it is right that we prefer flat shoes like brogues and boots of leather

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      But you would never find a heel that is 6″ high with a large platform 🙂 3″ heels, yes, with a single flat sole, but not 6″.

      Reply
  4. Polly

    Thank God there are other people out there who dislike LV bags! I just find the logo-printed ones so ugly, massively overpriced – and here in London, every lift or train carriage or cafe you walk in to, there’s a woman carrying one – so they’re not exactly exclusive either. Longchamp for the win! They may be everywhere in Europe, but at least they’re reasonably priced and understated. Fascinating article, btw. And quite right: there’s just no reason to be uncomfortable in your clothes. We rebelled against corsets over a century ago 🙂

    Reply
    1. sherry@savespendsplurge.com

      I really loathe that pattern. I really do. I find it so ubiquitous and everywhere that I roll my eyes when I see it.

      That is not to say I don’t love cinching a good obi belt around my outfit, but I hate fidgeting and feeling my shirt ride up or pants go the other way…

      Reply
  5. Erinn

    I know this is an older post, but I really enjoyed reading this! It’s interesting to see an article detailing these things, and I think as I browse French fashion and just in passing see glimpses of it online, I noticed a lot of what you stated above. Funnily enough, I think I was mostly Parisian before I even knew what the term was! Even the color palette 🙂

    Reply
    1. sherry@savespendsplurge.com

      Haha 🙂 You’re Parisienne in your heart.

      I’ve updated this post in various ways if you click on the tags in this.

      Reply
  6. Lauren

    Love this article!!!!

    Reply
  7. Anastasia

    Awesome post! I will be sharing this blog with many of my girlfriends!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Thank you so much, I appreciate it 😀

      Reply
  8. GirlinaTrenchcoat

    I slouched lower and lower in my chair as I read the bit about the LV bag, hehe. When I was younger and living in Paris that was exactly the bag I coveted, and I realized only after I left that most Parisiennes would rather carry a non-logo bag after all! Nowadays my Longchamp* gets far more use and my LV is brought out sparingly, usually just when I travel because its design is very travel-friendly.

    *It seems Longchamp is kind of everywhere now though and I’m getting tired of seeing everyone and their mother with one. :/

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Oh dear! I did not mean to embarrass anyone or make anyone feel bad, but it was from my observations in France that no one buys Louis Vuitton.

      It’s almost a joke as a brand to them because Hermes is a true French luxury brand, LV is for foreigners with *blush* no taste or style especially with a logo plastered all over the bags.

      Reply
    2. save. spend. splurge.

      If it makes you feel better, I think they consider Coach to be worse.

      Reply
  9. Michelle

    I did not know that about BCBG. I love how simple French women are in the way they dress. Polished and simple. I’m the same way when I leave the house, always look polished as you never know who you’ll meet. The comfy track pants stay at home! Give me flats/low heels, skinny jeans, tshirt and nice jacket with simple pearls and I’m golden.
    Coach has gotten better about some of their purses not showing the branding, it’s why I bought the one I did. My boss loved it and had to hold it two inches from her face to read the name.
    Can’t wait for part two!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I could never understand either (even in college) going to class in sweatpants. I always wore at a minimum, JEANS.

      Reply
  10. Cassie

    I love that you commented about the women not spackling on makeup the way women do here. I did notice the women there had lovely skin, but they never seemed “made up”. Showing a pimple isn’t going to kill you, and if anything I’d say the makeup that gets caked on over here prevents them from healing properly (I know that’s the case on me anyway).

    I’m looking forward to the capsule wardrobe post 🙂

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      That, and it looks much worse when you spackle on makeup — I notice the bumps more. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence

    You summed it up quite well! For me Longchamp is the typical French girl bag, and if means allow, Hermes. I like that Parisians are classy without showing off brands and weird accessories, but a more colorful wardrobe would sure make for a brighter underground.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      All black IS depressing. I’d agree with Longchamp being a typical French girl bag — simple, light and easy. Hermes would have been my choice too.

      Reply
  12. Anonymous

    I honestly don’t care for LV very much. I think the brown color is ugly. I think the branding of the LV logo all over the bag is kind of tacky. If I were a rich person I wouldn’t buy LV at all. I like Chanel but I don’t like the big bags with the “CC” logo all over the bag. On the smaller Chanel bags you can see the “CC” next to the opening flap, that’s okay.

    In the end I don’t think that anyone cares if you have a generic or brand bag and if they do, then they’re very shallow people. I don’t care for Kim Kardashian very much. I think if anything her mom is to be respected because she worked hard to market Kim and the entire family, but I only respect the mom for her business sense.

    She seems to emasculate her ex-husband Bruce and raised very vapid and shallow children. She also cheated on her first husband. If all the girls looks went away, what would they have left? Also Kim has had so many plastic surgeries, that my bf remarked she looks like a alien lately.

    Out of the Kardashian family, I think Khloe is okay, she can be honest and Kourtney at least went to college. As for Kim meh, she uses people like her first husband for fame because she has no talent other than her beauty which will fade away. If she had true talent then why do I hear stories of her on Yahoo.com’s front page saying she put another photo of herself on instagram or whatever.

    I like Jennifer Lawrence much better. At least she has some talent and is a bit more humble. Although I suppose that could be a facade. I like people who bring something else to the table other than beauty.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I think you’re selling Kim a bit short. She may come off as shallow and flighty but she really does work hard, show up on time and act like a professional the best that she can. It’s not all that it seems on TV, she isn’t Amy Winehouse for instance who blew off gigs regularly because she was a hot mess.

      I like Khloe too 🙂 She’s my favourite of all the girls, Kourtney saddled with that husband is tragic and Kim has no real discernible talent except for being famous for being famous.

      Yes, Jennifer Lawrence is my favourite actress at the moment. I doubt she’s faking any of it, it’s too genuine to be faked.

      Reply
  13. Janine

    Great post! I love the french fashion!

    Reply
  14. Tania

    Hey mama! (I’ve been dying to say that, congratulations to you, your man and of course, the newly minted baby bun).

    I’ve been definitely moving to a more Parisian style of dressing. I’m all about black, charcoal, white and army green. My shoes are simple ballet flats, loafers, booties and boots. Good denim, Ts, jackets (kimono/leather and cropped blazers), scarves and black dresses. Out at night I’m a little more hippie/boho because this is Maui and I feel ridiculous if I’m too conservative or dressed up. So I still stick with neutrals but a more hippie vibe (like a little crochet piece). Neutrals can be oh so interesting if you mix up the textures (leather with a silk/linen scarf, lace, crochet, silky T with drape, boucle jacket etc). Great post, looking forward to more.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Thanks Tania 🙂

      The environment you are in also makes a big difference. It can be hard to dress up when everyone is in sweatpants.. or vice versa.

      Reply
  15. Alicia @ Financial Diffraction

    Intriguing. Definitely didn’t know the BCBG origin either. I wish I was so chic. 🙂 I”m working on it, but I’m trying to go for naturally put-together without being over the top. Can’t wait for the next part 🙂

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Just buy neutral / casual pieces of good quality and you can’t go wrong.

      Reply
  16. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich

    Wow, great analysis. I loved ” THEY NEVER LOOK OR FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE BECAUSE THEY AREN’T.” That’s definitely my kind of style .

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      It’s my kind of style 😉

      Reply
  17. Midori

    I learned something new today… BCBG! 😀

    Can’t wait for part 2! I hope there will be more pictures!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      More polyvore pictures, yes!

      Reply
  18. Kathy

    I’m with you on the logo ban. Even though I love designer purses, I always choose the one with the smallest most unobtrusive logo. I keep looking at the LV bags and end up passing them by because of that logo splashed all over it.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      The only logo I like of LV is the damier check.. that grey and ivory square pattern. Otherwise, no way.

      Reply
  19. AdinaJ

    I like colour and prints too much to ever be close to emulating French chic. It’s funny, I was just reading another blog on French style and it said something similar – colour is kept to a minimum, and if used as an accent, then it’s used only in one accessory or part of the body. I recently wore an all black and grey outfit (def not my usual jam) and limited myself to one red accessory, a belt. Of course, at the last minute I succumbed and added a red bag. I’m hopeless!

    But to be honest, I find the fetishization of French women in fashion a bit more problematic the older I get, and the more comfortable I am with myself. Sure, many if them are stylish, but personal style should be about what feels right to YOU. I admire many women whose style wouldn’t work for me or make me feel like ME, but I think deep down it’s their confidence (being themselves) that I’m really drawn to. You can’t fake that, and to me that’s the essence of style.

    With that said, I’m really looking forward to seeing your take on a French dressing capsule! I bet it will involve some beautiful coats …

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      It’s true that style is something that isn’t specific just to French women, but for me, they are generally the most stylish because they are the most comfortable and at ease in their skin, which is something quite foreign to many women here.. although when I was in Sweden, they were pretty stylish themselves.

      I couldn’t do a French wardrobe, personally. Like you, I need some colour.. SOMETHING.

      Reply
  20. Michelle

    You are completely correct in your assessment of French fashion. I lived in Paris for 6 months while studying French (ironically blocks away from the LV Store) and everyone was so annoyingly beautiful and understated. They DO go to the esthetician for their skin-a lot because the air is so bad. Paris has a ton of pollution it actually messed up my skin. I had acne for the first time in Paris. So, Parisian women get a lot of face cleaning done. As much as I like Parisian chic I just need a lot more color in my wardrobe. It makes me happy.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I did not know that they went to spas! This makes sense.

      Reply
  21. GPS

    Thank goodness!
    I am much more interested in the French BCBG style than I am about the Kim Kardashian style. This entirely validates my internal feelings of style! Thank you for posting this.

    Congrats on the baby!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Thank you so much!

      Reply
  22. MelD

    Now that is a lot more “real” than most of what I see online!!

    I had to laugh about the LV stuff – I refuse to be an ad for a company and try to avoid any brands. The only people I know who are mad for LV are an American friend and a woman from Croatia – the eastern Europeans and Russians like flashy brands, lots of make-up, heels etc. and some do it well, most not… And Germans tend to like to show off brands/wealth, too, but less in clothing.

    Personally, I don’t even think the French are very well dressed as a rule although I’ll give you comfortable, and no PJs on the street!
    I’d far rather people-watch in a Swiss city 😉 (which is usually pretty international!)

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I too, refuse to be an ad for companies. I really detest logos, even if the bag is perfect it is ruined if logos are plastered all over it.

      You know, thinking back to my trip to Europe, only a certain cohort of French women are very well dressed. I found in Sweden, it was a higher proportion of women being chic and stylish without being drab in just wearing neutrals.

      Reply
  23. Well Heeled Blog

    Most of color palettes you mentioned are my favorites as well. My closet is 90% black, gray, plum/purple, navy, and emerald green. I also have a few coral pieces, mostly tops. Looking forward to reading your capsule wardrobe post.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Wait wait! No purple, coral or green in a Parisian wardrobe 🙂 That’s cheating 😉

      Reply

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