Getting Soft on French Style

Getting Soft on French Style

My views in French style* have historically been rather strong. It’s not that I don’t find the aesthetic appealing – I do, I think it looks cool and we certainly need an alternative to the super-polished NYC approach, not to mention the Kardashian take on style. What I mind is the restrictiveness and hypocrisy that tends to accompany this way of seeing clothes and beauty. FS** is a great option, but becomes annoying when presented as a set of rules superior to any other view of style.

My objections to FS are similar to my problems with a capsule wardrobe. Your colour palette, your silhouette, your choices in every respect are limited. At least with the capsule wardrobe, you have the theoretical option to wear whatever you want, even though the concept doesn’t facilitate it. FS on the other hand tells you outright that you should stick to black, white, navy, and possibly a neutral/some red – if you’re incredibly adventurous. It tells you to wear flattering (but not too sexy), tried-and-true shapes and styles. Experimentation and having fun with your clothes is not encouraged; trends are of course considered evil.

In addition to this, there is this almost pathological fear that any effort to appear stylish might be detected by observers. Hence hours are spent obsessing over details of casual wear and the least detectable make-up products, while pretending that no such thing has occurred. I often find this more objectionable – and more dangerous for sisterhood – then the overt attention that beauty queens and Instagrammers pay to their appearance. Looking at those eyebrows and breasts, you’ll immediately know that a lot of work and money has gone into achieving the result. This is not the case when we are presented with this “effortless” appearance, carefully curated to look “natural”.

As a result of the above, I’ve been lukewarm about French fashion labels, specifically the mid-range brands that epitomise this kind of style. But in recent weeks, I have purchased a pair of Isabel Marant loafers and a Marant T-shirt, a Zadig & Voltaire bag, sweater and top and was very close to buying a Sandro dress. How come? Two reasons mostly, I believe.

First, as I’ve said, I’ve always liked the French approach to casual dressing. I didn’t, however, use to dress very casually. I still dress up a lot, but I no longer feel the constant need to do that. Ironically, the cool-girl style fits my personal style much better now when I’m far from being a girl (I’ve never been particularly cool). I’m more confident and often crave comfort, two strong incentives for wearing more casual things. I wear my Marant (or Gucci) loafers every single day when I walk to work, and then I may or may not swap them for heels. I love the slightly distressed Zadig & Voltaire cashmere sweater so much that I want to wear it with everything. I’m also on the market for leather trousers.

The second reason is money. Although this genre of clothing is all about more casual, effortless clothing, it is not cheap. It cannot be very cheap, as plain styles need good cuts and materials to have an impact. 15 or 10 years ago, spending 100 euros on a T-shirt would not have been an option for me. 5 years ago, it may have been an option, but my priority was still on work clothes and statement pieces. Now I don’t necessarily have to choose, so I have also upped my game in categories that used to be underrepresented. Often, the French labels get the details right in a way others don’t. The T-shirts have a great fit, the trousers just the right amount of slouch, the sweaters are straight-cut and lightweight and can be tucked into trousers just so. I’ve reached the point in my life where I do want even my basics to work very hard and the best of French pieces do.

And now that I’m writing about it, I realise there might be a third reason. With the arrival of Gucci’s modern maximalism and the hard-bitten aloofness of Vetements and the post-soviet gang, the French cool is no longer the only game in town. This makes opting for it less like an imperative and more like a choice, something that I appreciate.

Pictured: Zadig & Voltaire fitted cashmere crew-neck sweater, Charlotte Gainsbourg for Nars lip tint (in Double Decker) and multiple stick (in Alice), Zadig & Voltaire tan tote bag, Isabel Marant logo T-shirt and loafers. Of all French brands, these two are my current favourites. Also worth checking out are Sandro, Maje, APC, Carven, The Kooples, Maison Kitsune, Isabel Marant Etoile (the slightly cheaper sister line of IM) and many others.

*By French style, I mean in this context the most promoted version, the French it-girl style that involves un-brushed hair, jeans and blazers and no colour. Obviously, not every French woman subscribes to this specific stylistic point of view, while plenty of non-French women do.
**I’m using this shorthand for the rest of the piece, partly because I’m lazy, partly because the previous footnote.


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    • 2

      I have to admit – somewhat reluctantly – that I really like the entire collection. The colours seem strong, but everything is actually very sheer, very Gainsbourg in that sense. There was a mauve-y lip tint (Ephelide, I believe) that I absolutely adored, but it was unfortunately sold out already. I would probably have bought the tinted moisturiser as well, but none of the shades suited me very well. If you have a chance to try the things, do. Although I think you prefer lipsticks to sheerer stuff? In that case it may not be for you, but worth a try.

  1. 3

    The pleasure of finding a phrase like this: …”the hard-bitten aloofness of Vetements and the post-soviet gang..” in the middle of a post of why I love reading you! Reminds me a bit of Linda Grant.

    • 4

      Thank you, Ann! Embarrassingly, had to go and google Linda Grant. I loved how she described her writing ritual: it’s the opposite of mine (which is natural, as I’m not a professional writer), I would not get anything done if I didn’t write in cafes, on planes and when staying late in the office.

  2. 5

    I adore Charlotte Gainsbourg so anything goes. And having worn very heavy lipsticks of late I’m kind of in the mood for something sheer(but nothing too glossy).

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