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Discover the Secrets of French Cool-Girl Style

With the help of some French It Girls, you, too, can be très chic.
French style inspiration classic elegant cool chic European continental it girls Lou Doillon Audrey Tatou Coco Chanel Clemence Posey Virginie Ledoyen Emmanuelle Alt French Vogue

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Nowhere else does such a fashion enigma exist than on the streets of Paris. The French woman is often described as being stylish without even trying—fashionable by instinct. But despite the endless analysis of French style, we are usually left with vague descriptors such as “chic” and “effortless,” along with staged photos of models in striped shirts and fedoras. If you are struggling to understand exactly what makes the French woman so stylish, don’t settle for chalking it up to “je ne sais quoi.”

While the looks differ, one of the core elements of the French It Girl’s wardrobe is the interplay of masculine and feminine. It all began with Coco Chanel, who incorporated the relaxed styles of menswear into her designs for women, doing away with restricting corsets and heavy bustles (thanks for that, Coco). Once you embrace the incorporation of a little dichotomy of styles, unlocking the rest of Mademoiselle Cool Girl’s look isn’t so hard. Here are tips to help you bring a Parisian presence into your own closet.

01. Updated Classics

Lou Doillon, daughter of British icon Jane Birkin, is a quintessential modern French It Girl in her ensemble of simple basics with a rocker edge. The classic pieces she wears are menswear-inspired but not necessarily masculine. Her classic white button-up is a delicate silk, her tailored jeans are tighter to show off her feminine physique, her loafers are updated with a girlish strap, and her blazer is embroidered with an old-world charm. She has also kept her color palette the always modern, always sleek black-and-white combo, adding an edge with the gold detailing of her jacket. Indeed, the French woman always finds a way to make masculine classics her own.

An easy way to incorporate Doillon’s It Girl look into your wardrobe is to rely on basics. A pair of rock star–worthy black skinny jeans, a well-made white button-up, a black leather jacket or blazer, and black ballet flats are all staples that you can mix and match to create endless looks.

02. Comfortable and Tailored

Audrey Tautou portrayed Coco Chanel in a biopic, so it’s no wonder that she translates the classic Chanel style into her own wardrobe. The masculine tailoring of her cigarette pants is balanced by a loose fit and soft fabric, while her ruffled white blouse creates an overall feminine appeal. The masculine and feminine elements are blended together to create a structured outfit that somehow manages to look easy. It’s fashion-forward yet timeless and incredibly simple. She’s only wearing three articles of clothing! French women are known for never over-accessorizing, which is something to remember when creating your own style.

Tautou’s look is perfect for updating your normal officewear. Look for structured menswear-inspired items, such as pants or blazers, and balance them out with feminine blouses. But always keep Chanel’s words in your mind when accessorizing: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”

03. The Statement Piece

French women are all about comfort and practicality. You won’t see them in skintight dresses made out of restricting fabrics. As Chanel said, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.” In her drop-waist dress, actress Clémence Poésy evokes a look that is reminiscent of Chanel’s own 1920s era. Her slightly oversize tuxedo jacket has a masculine air that complements the femininity of her dress. French fashion icons may prefer more comfortable and simple styling, but they are certainly not afraid to make a statement. Poésy’s vibrant red dress boldly stands out against the black-on-black styling of her jacket, tights, and shoes.

What makes French women and their fashion so iconic is their uncanny ability to mix neutral basics with bold pieces, making what seems to be a simple outfit actually a fashion statement. For your own wardrobe, try experimenting with structured jackets paired with shorter flowing dresses, and incorporate unexpected elements of color or texture into your outfits.

04. Masculine Textures

Starlet Virginie Ledoyen’s look is classically ladylike. Despite often incorporating male silhouettes into their outfits, French women are all about celebrating their femininity. The sophisticated French woman will most likely have an elegant pencil skirt (or two) in her closet. Chanel made tweed the fabric of French women’s fashion by stealing it from the boys, and it’s most commonly seen in the form of a pencil skirt or a blazer. Thanks, fellas.

If you really want to commit to evoking the history of French fashion, make sure you have elements of ladylike tweed in your wardrobe. Tweed is a fabric that speaks for itself, so style around your tweed piece by pairing it with neutral-colored pumps and a blouse. Ledoyen’s unkempt ballerina bun is perfectly French—elegant yet not too polished.

05. Trademark Stripes

Now, this is how you pull off the trademark striped shirt. As the editor in chief of Vogue Paris, Emmanuelle Alt knows how to put together an outfit that represents all the basics of modern French style and achieves the balance between masculine and feminine. Her striped shirt and blazer have relaxed menswear fits while her skinny jeans emphasize the modern woman. Her feminine kitten heels make the outfit feel less casual but still cohesive.

You might already have these items in your closet. To recreate this look, a simple striped shirt, a blazer, a pair of jeans, and feminine shoes will give you that effortless French look that is both relaxed and classy.