The “mallization” and globalization of fashion mean that the distinctions between what’s available in the mid-priced store in Paris and the one in any other country may no longer exist. Zara, H&M, and the Gap are ubiquitous. French names like Sandro, agnès b, and Comptoir des Cotonniers are available outside of l’Hexagone. Yet, French women of all ages still manage to take those same pieces and add a soupçon of je ne sais quoi and create a look that’s uniquely Gallic. Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic, by Isabelle Thomas and Frédérique Veysset, published by Abrams Image, is the latest book that promises to unlock the secrets of French style. As contributor Odile Gilbert says, “The elixir of couture runs unawares through the veins of French women” or as Alexandre Vauthier says, “…French women still represent elegance, chic, and good taste in the collective mind of the world.”
Thomas, stylist, journalist and blogger of Mode personnelle, and photographer Veysset have combined forces with designers, stylists, editors, and the chic gal at the corner café to dish up plenty of strong opinions on how to put oneself together with individuality and flair. Some of the chapters cover “Making Cheap Look Classy: How to wear mass-produced clothes with style,” “Welcome to the Bourgeoisie: How to class it up,” “Secondhand Clothes: How to buy and wear them,” and “Can I Still Get Away with This?: The limitations of age.” The last section is a list of chic sources to shop by neighborhood as well as cafés for a pick-me-up along the way.
I liked the fact that the book went beyond the usual clichés (quality over quantity, invest in timeless classics) and shared uniquely French perspectives, such as, “We tend to dress up the bits of ourselves we like best, and neglect the rest. Try doing the opposite: concentrate your efforts on the parts you don’t care for and dress them prettily. Appreciate everything your body has to offer” (Patricia Delahaie, sociologist). The don’ts are emphatic: “Forget about sheer tights combined with a short skirt or a black dress, unless you seriously want to look like a provincial lawyer’s elderly assistant.” No cheap shoes, thong underwear (too vulgar), UGG boots, or wide-legged capri pants. Their recommended mix is one high-end piece, plus one inexpensive piece, plus one vintage piece in order to achieve personal style à la française.
- a trench coat – Burberry if possible
- boots – particularly camarguaise boots (the French version of cowboy boots)
- tropéziennes – strappy, flat sandals from Saint-Tropez
- white or black shirts – preferably stolen from the man in your life!
- v-neck cashmere sweaters
- a pea coat
- a short leather jacket
The word of the day is rétro (raytro), which means vintage, although the Anglicism vintage is gaining ground. I like that this book has a realistic view of how most women actually live. We aren’t all shopping at the Avenue Montaigne couture boutiques. A mix of high and low fashion, of new and vintage items is more interesting, as well as more affordable. And it’s much more French, too.
- French Class – Get the French look at home (ezibuy.co.nz)
- So Chic…So Parisian! (paris-on-demand.com)
- A Collaboration We’re Super Excited About: Comptoir des Cotonniers x Calla (fashionista.com)
- Isabel Marant: ‘I am my own muse’ (fashion.telegraph.co.uk)