How to Dress Like a French Woman on a Budget
“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.” ⸺ Coco Chanel
Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of self-confidence?
I’m talking about the kind of confidence where you don’t just feel it but others see it in you too.
As a matter of fact, there are about 37 million women who exhibit this kind of confidence on a daily basis.
They are not only confident, they are sophisticated. They are well-dressed. They are French.
Confidence, style, sophistication - sounds a little pricey though, doesn’t it?
After all, according to Numbeo the cost of clothing is almost 23% higher on average in France than the United States.
Good news is that you don’t live in France, do you? Which means you can learn how to dress like a French woman on a budget.
You’re Making a Mistake
When you think about how to dress like a French woman, your mind probably conjures up images of the likes of Jeanne Damas. And all the subtle details of her outfit.
Everything’s so perfectly placed. So effortless. It’s simultaneously classy but casual. If only you could unlock the secrets of what makes the French and their style so uniquely revered.
Well, stop it.
You’re focussing on all the wrong things.
Instead of fixating on what they are doing, you need to shift your focus to what they’re not doing.
The confidence French women gain from their style isn’t just about the clothes they’re wearing, it’s also about being self-aware and self-assured.
They know exactly what they want from an outfit. And sometimes more importantly, what they don’t want.
Sure, you could just copy every Parisian Instagrammer whose style catches your eye. But if you really want to know how to dress like a French woman on a budget, you need to adopt their attitude too.
When you can confidently choose an outfit without directly copying someone else, that’s when you really know how to dress like a French girl.
How Not to Dress Like a French Woman
As many fashion bloggers like Who What Wear have detailed before, there are a number of things that French women will simply never do when it comes to fashion.
They are uncompromising in their approach to style but not in the way that you might think. For example, American women might covet designer items and flaunt their purchases.
On the other hand, as Tokyobanhbao of The World of Tokyobanhbao puts it, French women will “avoid wearing clothes or accessories with the name of the brand shown very distinctly. I think luxury is the way you wear your clothes, not by showing the name of the brand.”
Some of the other unwritten rules of French style include:
Never Wear Really High Heels
This is as much of a practical thing as it is philosophical. There are a lot of cobbled-stone roads in France. Wearing too high heels can be a little dicey on that kind of terrain. But it also forms part of their mentality of dressing chic and sexy without trying too hard.
Never Wear a Push-Up Bra
So you have small breasts. So what? Everyone knows fat bottomed girls make the rockin' world go 'round anyway.
Remember what I said earlier about taking notice of the things French women don’t do? This is one of them. As Lou Doillon told Vogue, “It’s about knowing when to stop.”
Never Look Like You’re Trying Too Hard
Camille Seydoux revealed to Instyle that French women put in just as much effort into their look as their American counterparts. Just don’t expect them to admit to it. The key is to look done up without looking like you put in the effort.
Never Wear Gym Clothes Outside the Gym
We’re all guilty of this one. As French personal stylist AloÏs Guinut puts it, "We do not wear yoga pants as real pants!"
Aside from a few unwritten rules, the real difference between American and French style is attitude.
As detailed by the Insider, the culture of dressing in France can sometimes be in complete contrast to America. French women do not always try to look perfect. Sometimes they don’t even dress up for dinners.
Where American women try to appear perfect, French women prefer to appear effortless.
If you want to know how to dress like a French woman, you’re going to have to do more than change your appearance. You have to change your attitude as well.
It’s a lot easier said than done because so many things are ingrained in us, culturally.
Things like dressing to make an impression, following trends or trying to fit into societal standards.
These are the habits you must break if you want to know how to dress like a French girl.
What is French Style?
It’s not hard to see why French style is so revered when you look at the fashion icons the country has produced. Legends like Brigitte Bardot, Betty Catroux and the Godmother herself, Coco Chanel come to mind.
Let me say that again, freakin’ Coco Chanel! She basically invented the little black dress.
They and countless others helped to create the mystique of French fashion. But what is it exactly?
There are a few words that come to mind - simplicity, elegance, effortless, chic, natural.
Here’s another one. Arrogant.
It’s how fashion model and singer-songwriter Lou Doillon described French style to Vogue, saying “French girls have a tremendous respect for themselves in a way, and so they have what they want to wear, and what they won’t wear—even if every magazine cover is saying, “This is what you should be wearing.”
That statement is backed up by French designer Ines de la Fressange who told the Telegraph “Women should dress up for themselves, not for showing off but to feel better – and if you feel better, you look better.”
Now that’s confidence!
Having said that, don’t overdo it. As I said before about not over-accessorizing, French style is simple, understated and elegant.
As elitist as the idea of French style may sound, it’s actually anything but. If you’ve ever wondered to yourself, How do I dress like a Parisian? Look no further than the avenues of Champs-Elysées.
I’m not talking about the designer storefronts that line the boulevard, however. I’m talking about the locals roaming about them.
So how do you dress like a Parisian woman? Keep it street. The beating heart of Parisian style. How could it not be? As Rhys Griff Jones detailed in the ITV series Greatest Cities of the World⸺strolling about the city’s boulevards is literally a local tradition.
Streetwear doesn’t mean an all-casual look though. French streetwear is low-maintenance but chic. A mix of casual and dressy. Like French model Julia Roitfeld told Vogue, "If a French woman wears jeans, it’s never with flats, always heels."
Not only do French women love to mix casual with classy, they love to mix masculine and feminine pieces too. Jeanne Damas told Harpers Bazaar “I love an oversized manly jacket, but I'll team it with some girly heels.”
You won’t find Parisians adorned in designer labels either. They value quality over brand names. Nor would you expect any one person to stand out from the crowd. Ostentatious colors, trendy items and overtly sexual pieces are a no-no.
When it comes to dressing like a French woman, less is more. To quote Coco Chanel “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
As you can see, French style is a mix of different things. But what it really comes down to is attitude. Being true to yourself and dressing for yourself, too.
How to Dress Like a French Woman on a Budget
Now that you have a better understanding of how to dress like a French girl, how do you do it at a discount?
The first piece of advice is: Buy less, dress better.
If you think this sounds a little crass, it’s not coming from me. It’s the motto Parisian stylist, AloÏs Guinut lives by.
I’d say she’s a pretty credible source too. How do I know this? She literally wrote the book on it, Dress Like a Parisian.
It makes sense. I’ve already mentioned French women’s aversion to displaying designer labels a few times throughout this post.
That’s not to say they don’t enjoy designer labels - they are human after all. But the difference is that French women are more discerning when it comes to wearing high-end items. They treat them more like an accessory than the defining part of their outfit.
It’s also in keeping with the French mindset of less is more. The less boujee you try to be, the more elegant you’ll appear.
Which, in summary, means they spend less money on designer or trendy clothing and less money in the long-term. When you’re dressing like a French woman on a budget, choose quality over brand names.
Think of your wardrobe as a long-term investment and choose something that has a timeless quality to it both in terms of style and wearability.
Now that you know what not to buy, what are some of the things you should invest in?
Well, the best way to think of it is like a capsule wardrobe. In every capsule wardrobe you have your basics that never go out of style, which last you across the seasons. So you can think of these items from Who What Wear as part of your French capsule wardrobe.
Et Voila always recommends pairing flats or low heels with mini skirts or mini dresses for a chic and sexy look.
If there’s one answer to the question how do you dress like a Parisian woman? It would be to buy a camel trench coat.
The French have a unique relationship with sex⸺which means for French women, what’s underneath is just as important as the outfit itself. As Rihanna once said, “You never know who you’re going to be disrobing in front of.”
High-waist Cropped Jeans
If you want to know how to dress like a French woman, buy yourself a pair of high-waist, cropped, straight-leg or kick-flare jeans. They are a definite staple of French style.
Fitted Long-sleeve Tee
French women love this simple layering piece.
Sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason. For the French, it’s amour.
These are the type of items that won’t cost you the earth but will instantly add some Parisian chic to your wardrobe. And because they are basics, you can mix and match them again and again to get the full value out of them.
On that note, it pays to think in neutrals. Blacks, whites, beige and browns. French women love to dress in these and accessorize with colors. A pop of red from a handbag or a patterned scarf can completely transform your look even if your outfit is basically the same from wear to wear.
It’s a small difference but then again, French style is all about subtlety.
As with designer labels, trends should be amongst the least of your priorities for achieving French perfection on a budget.
Trends can be fleeting, meaning once they’re over, your purchases basically lose all their value. Stylecaster suggests instead that Parisians prefer to develop their signature look and stick with it.
How do you do that? Buy the clothes that make you feel pretty and that flatter your body. French women love clothing that fits them perfectly. Update with trends sparingly and when you do, make sure they fit with your aesthetic. This will save you a lot of money in the long run.
Ah savings, le mot juste.
The same goes for your shoes. Choose a good pair of shoes like the ones I mentioned earlier and make them your signature.
How to Dress Like a French Woman on a Budget Through the Seasons
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to dress like a French woman on a budget, we need to talk about how to pivot your outfits from season to season.
A new season inevitably means new styles, new trends. And new purchases. But you’ve got a budget to stick to, so let’s keep everything you’ve learned so far in mind and shop the exact pieces you need for each season.
How to Dress Like a French Woman in Fall
Fall is still temperate enough that you don’t need to invest in a lot of new clothing. So, you’ll be glad to know that if you’ve invested in your ‘French capsule,’ you basically know how to dress like a French woman in fall already.
Items like your camel trench coat and ankle boots are a must have for French Fall style.
But if you’re feeling the urge to update your wardrobe a little, here are some pieces you might want to consider:
A leather skirt is a strong, sexy look that you can easily pair with everything from blazers to turtlenecks.
How to Dress Like a French Woman in Winter
As I’ve already mentioned, quality should always be critical to your wardrobe⸺that goes double for your winter clothes. You definitely want those to last you for at least a few years.
French Instagram star and founder of the label Rouje, Jeanne Damas told Harpers Bazaar about how to dress like a French woman in winter, “For me it is all about choosing great materials and getting the right cut for your body.”
The clothes she suggested you should invest in for winter include:
A Perfect Sweater
How to Dress Like a French Woman in Spring
Now that we’re back into the warmer seasons, you can start to unload those heavy coats in lieu of some lightweight jackets and open knits.
As with fall, you should already know how to dress like a French woman in spring. Who What Wear suggests combining your basics for some Parisian-inspired spring looks like the ones below:
Cardigan and Jeans
A cute cardigan and some jeans is a French favorite for spring. What could be more effortless?
Midi Skirt, Knit and Knee-High Boots
Chic and cozy French style in a flash.
Blazer, Jeans and Ankle Boots
Blazers are season-less. Feel free to wear yours any time of year with a simple black top and ankle boots.
Black Top, Straight-Leg Jeans and Mule Sandals
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said this already: keep it simple! You can’t go wrong.
Floral Maxi and Shearling Jacket
If it’s still a little chilly outside but you can’t fight your floral urges anymore, make sure to layer up as well.
Trench, Sweater, Jeans and Boots
This is why you need to invest in quality clothes because you are going to get a hell of a lot of use out of them.
How to Dress Like a French Woman in Summer
If you’ve never been to Paris in summer, make some plans now. You won’t regret it.
As far as how to dress like a French woman in summer, you guessed it⸺trés simple.
Relaxed Summer Dress For Day or Night