No More Yoga Pants: How to Dress Like a Frenchwoman

Real Style on 04.25.11
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Photo: Vogue

I was at a conference recently and saw my friend Gabrielle, who is living in Normandy for the year. She looked lovely, as always, and was wearing the best outfit: a fitted navy blazer over a simple tee and pleated skirt. She had paired this clean, minimal look with a pair of Bass saddle oxfords with satin laces. “You look so French!” I told her.

This, of course, led to a discussion of how French women dress. The rules in France are different from the rules here -- no yoga pants or workout gear for running errands, for example. In fact, Gabby told me, on the days when she stays in her pajamas to work, she won’t answer the door, even if it’s only the UPS man. French women don’t do that.

After talking to Gabby, I think I need to move to France. Or at least start dressing more like I live there.

American women -- particularly those of us with children -- are all about being comfortable. We see getting dressed in anything beyond yoga pants and a t-shirt as being “dressed up,” and we object to this. It’s too much work and too expensive and too pretentious. But we’re missing the point.

French women have mastered everyday dress up. They’re able to pull together outfits that are stylish and flattering and yet still functional (something most Americans don’t believe is possible). But really, it’s such a simple thing to do. Here’s how.

Keep it simple. French women like clean, minimal lines; think sheath dresses and slim jeans and sleek sweaters. These are pieces that are easy to wear -- a great pair of jeans and a sweater is just as comfortable and practical as yoga pants and a tee, and doesn’t require any more effort to put on. Keep hair and makeup simple, too; bare skin and a slick of lip gloss is fine for everyday. Exhausted from a night of kids who won’t sleep? That’s what sunglasses are for.

Attend to the details. The right accessories can make even the most basic outfit look elegant. French women have great shoes and bags; this is what elevates their look from basic to beautiful. Leave the worn out running shoes at home -- instead, wear ballet flats with your jeans, or strappy sandals with a dress. Treat yourself to a really fabulous bag and carry it everywhere. Throw on a big scarf or a cool necklace or a dramatic watch. So easy.

Invest in key pieces. Let’s talk about that fabulous bag some more. Instead of buying a new bag at Target every season (and then tossing it three months later), save up and buy one really fantastic bag -- leather, in a classic shape and size and a neutral color. Your investment bag doesn’t need to cost a fortune -- you can find beautiful leather bags for under $200 -- but it should be well-made and versatile, and should go with absolutely everything. What else is worth spending more on? Shoes and coats are good investments because they will last and last; again, stick with classic styles and colors, and always opt for good craftsmanship. You can pair a beautiful bag and shoes with a dress from H&M and look like you’ve just stepped out of a fashion magazine. I promise.

Edit and repeat. American women always like to point out that getting dressed is hard work, but really, we make it hard because we give ourselves too many options. French women have very small wardrobes, and they wear the same pieces -- the same outfits, even -- over and over. When Gabby and I talked about this, she pointed out that the American impulse is to look in the closet and say, “I can’t wear that, I just wore it on Tuesday!” French women, on the other hand, say, “That looked great on Tuesday -- I think I’ll wear it again.” Find what works for you and repeat, repeat, repeat. There’s no reason to keep reinventing the wheel.

Could you ditch the yoga pants and get dressed every day? What’s stopping you? Try dressing like a Frenchwoman for one week, and see how it feels. I dare you.


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