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France may only be the size of Texas, but its culture and specifically its haute couture have enamored women worldwide. We look to coveted designers from Chanel to Dior to help us achieve that je ne sais quoi. But no matter the little black dress or strand of pearls, one piece cannot embody an entire aura or group of people for that matter; French style is more than meets the eye. I sat down with a French woman to explore the foundations of their culture’s fashion and discovered several dos and don’ts in the process:
1. Do think practically.
America could use a dose of this lesson; Lady Gaga’s meat dress and Katy Perry’s peppermint “bra” don’t exactly fit the definition of practicality.
The French know their fashion isn’t just about looks. “For me, it’s clothing for everyday; it’s comfortable,” Chloé Chevenet said. “It allows you to do everything you need to do like go to work or go shopping, but it’s still distinguished and elegant.”
2. Do choose quality.
“But it was on sale!” “It was only $2!” “I’m sure I could wear it at a costume party one day!” I’ve said all of these, but at the same time, I have to clean out my closet more than I’d like to admit. For the French, not only is their clothing practical but also quality.
“For me, French fashion is something not with all the froufrou,” Chevenet said. “It’s more well-tailored and with very good, interesting materials.”
Chevenet’s favorite clothing item is a jacket she bought with her mom at Comptoir des Cotonniers: “It’s long, warm, dark, black and white,” she said. “You can wear it with all your clothes; it’s very comfortable and well-made.”
3. Don’t dress for the wrong occasion.
Chevenet’s face wrinkled as we sipped on our Fanta and Coke at a café on a rainy day in Toulouse. “I hate leggings!” she exclaimed, disgusted that Americans wear these anywhere and everywhere. “You don’t wear clothes for sport in the streets with your friends,” she said. “Nobody does that unless they’re coming from sport.”
The French know where they’re going and dress accordingly, which means yoga pants are for the gym and the gym only.
4. Don’t flash and flaunt.
Scrolling through Insta always greets me with eensy-teensy “crop tops”—or can we call them for what they really are, bras—paired with Spanx. It’s all there, baby. But across the Pond, this is not the norm. “In France, you can’t wear really short clothes,” Chevenet said. “It’s okay to show your body, just not all of it.”
Chevenet explained that if you opt for a shorter top with midriff, then you probably won’t be showing much of your legs. “You leave some mystery,” she said.
The bottom line of French fashion is simple and quality. With these dos and don’ts, you’re one step closer to achieving that je ne sais quoi.