Explore your world
Two women in front of a brick wall │© Unsplash / Pexels
Two women in front of a brick wall │© Unsplash / Pexels

10 Style Lessons You Only Learn When Living in Paris

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 20 April 2017
Almost 53% of Paris’s 2.2 million inhabitants are women. Women who, rightly or wrongly, are universally revered as style goddesses. While attempting to reduce their diverse fashion senses to an irrefutable checklist of dos and don’ts would be futile, there are 10 broad lessons you can’t help but learn when living among them, namely the importance of simplicity, comfort, and elegance.

Stick to a neutral palette

Simplicity begins with the range of colors worn: black, grey, beige, navy, and, occasionally, white. That’s not to say that brighter hues can’t be worked sensibly into an outfit but simply donning something garish for the sake of it will get you noticed for all the wrong reasons. Why? Well, because it seems rather childish to Parisians, who place more emphasis on shape, texture, detailing, and coordination, which, let’s be clear, is not the same as matching. Florals and prints, unless on a shirt and in subtle tones, are also more likely to receive a pursed lip than a smile.

Keep your feet on the ground

In Paris, flat shoes are your friends. Depending on the outfit, women wear everything from stylish boots and hip sneakers to classic ballet flats and kooky brogues but what they don’t do is cripple themselves on a daily basis with six-inch stilettos. There are some occasions when heels might be required like while out clubbing, attending fashion week shows, or in certain (backward) workplaces. Especially in the case of the latter, the lower the heel, the better. If you’re visiting Paris, there’s no way you’ll survive walking around its cobblestone streets all day in heels and there’s no reason to try.

Less is more, especially where skin is concerned

Explaining just what “sexy” means to Parisians would require many times more words than this listicle affords but what can be stated succinctly and unequivocally is that it does not mean being scantily clad in all weathers. Avoid low-cut tops, short skirts, clingy dresses, and anything else that can be perceived as tacky. Basically, if what you’re thinking of wearing wouldn’t look out of place at the MTV Movie Awards then leave it at home. Parisian style is about projecting self-confidence and sensuality through your attitude and intellect, not getting your legs out and wearing something that screams “SEX!”

Smart-casual is as fancy as it gets

There are really very few occasions for which getting dressed up is necessary, and this definitely doesn’t include going around to a friend’s house for dinner. New Year’s Eve is the only night in the calendar when a sparkly dress and high heels might be called for but, even then, you could well find that you feel overdressed. The concept of a day-to-night transformation is also foreign to Parisians: one outfit should work no matter where your day takes you, whether that’s the office, the market, dinner with friends, or a late-night rendezvous with a love interest.

Embrace androgyny

For many Parisian women, menswear-inspired items make up a substantial part of a healthy wardrobe. Blazers, trousers, shirts, and suits are all essential elements and the aim is to achieve a classic, tailored look, neither too structured or form-fitting nor untidy or baggy. If you’re feeling adventurous and have a glamorous event on the horizon, consider ditching your gown for a tuxedo, something French women have been rocking with verve since Yves Saint Laurent created his Le Smoking in 1966. A simpler, less expensive way to incorporate a bit of androgyny into your personal style is with a quality white shirt.

Invest in a quality coat

This principle holds wherever you live but in Paris the choice is very much informed by the tenets of simplicity, versatility, and practicality. You can never go wrong with a classic trench and a nicely tailored camel coat but even a well-made leather or denim jacket wouldn’t look out of place, depending on the tone of the places to which you wear it. If you’re shopping for any other breed of coat, remember the preference for neutral colors and aversion to patterns. Other wardrobe essentials, if you’re visiting in the winter (or spring or autumn), are scarfs and umbrellas.

Sunglasses aren’t just for sunny days

You might have thought, quite understandably, that sunglasses were a summertime addition to a chic look but not so in Paris. Whether it’s an overcast November day in Buttes-Chaumont or dusk by the Seine in June, you’ll see women in every neighborhood of Paris killing it in a pair of designer shades. As far as other accessories are concerned, it’s best to wear them sparingly and thoughtfully. The current trend is for dainty chains, bracelets, and necklaces but that’s not to say that chunky or statement jewelry can’t be worn so long as it doesn’t overwhelm your outfit.

Hold back on the makeup

When it comes to makeup, a natural look is always best. Indeed, taking care of their skin with quality beauty products is a far higher priority for Parisian women than buying and wearing a plethora of cosmetics. That being said, there are two signature looks favored by Parisian women: a smoky eye and a red lip. However, these are never combined as this would be considered overkill. So, pick one or the other, do it well and keep the rest of your face clean and fresh. You’ll also find you see no false eyelashes, acrylic nails, or anything glittery.

Aim for 24/7 bed head

The final lesson for women on our list sums up the Parisian attitude to style: even if the look has taken you considerable time and effort to achieve, it should appear as if you spent no more than five minutes on it. The I-just-woke-up-looking-like-this hairstyle will most probably have been augmented with subtle highlights, what the French call ‘balayage’, but the point is to keep it relaxed and natural and not to overload it with products. Peroxide blonde or bubblegum pink are not hair colors you’re likely to see with any regularity.

For gents, grooming is key

Many of the style lessons above, particularly those relating to color palette, cut, and dress code, can also be applied to men but where things differ slightly is with grooming. While women might prefer to look like they’ve just rolled out of bed, men tend to sport a more polished look, as if they’ve come to work or the bar directly from the barber. No matter how you wear your facial hair, for example, keep it looking tidy. Also, ensure that you take good care of your skin and that your nails are squeaky clean.