Just over 10 days ago I took myself on a weekend trip to Paris to celebrate the fact that I have joined the exciting world of entrepreneurs. I couldn’t pick a better destination to celebrate my new lifestyle and career, get my creative juices flowing and treat myself to delicious food, gorgeous views and of course get a much needed dose of style inspiration.
This trip was everything I had imagined and so much more. Traveling solo, I was able to only do, see, experience, enjoy what I desired without having to compromise even for a minute. And what I desired was to discover the secret formula behind Parisian women’s style. I have long admired Parisian chic, that je ne sais quoi (excuse the cliche) that many Parisian women have. To say I was excited to finally dedicate an entire weekend to this subject would be an understatement.
In Paris I engaged in conversations with stylish French women, went shopping and spent hours people watching in cafés in trendy neighbourhoods, determined to learn about the art of style and allure that appears to come from within. Here is what I now know about the key elements of Parisian style.
1. Looking good starts with a mindset
At the beginning of my research I was met with some obstacles. Even French women themselves struggle to define their style, claiming they are not doing anything special to look the way they do. Yet, those women looked very elegant. It is something so instilled in their mindset, in their daily life that they struggle to define it. The majority of women I came across were well dressed, stylish in their own way, one thing they all had in common is how effortless their style looked. Looking good is not something they only do when they have a date or a meeting. Effortlessness in style begins with a mindset.
2. Style can be practical
Many women, especially on weekends, are wearing very casual clothes, yet they still look stylish. Even when I went out in the evenings I didn’t see a lot of examples of full-blown glamour. Understated is an essential element of Parisian chic. “Your outfit can be practical but there are ways to stay feminine”, explains Maryvonne, a friendly and stylish shop assistant at a shoe boutique I visited. She explained that most Parisian women choose low heels (up to 5cm) because they are always on the go. There is even a name for this type of shoe – “Parisienne” – feminine and comfortable. Style has to be practical for a busy modern woman, according to my new Parisian connection. A Parisienne adds a scarf, an elegant pair of shoes or a stylish jacket to transform her outfit from day to evening. This does not require a lot of time and effort (which, let’s be honest, is what puts many women off style).
3. Embrace who you are
One thing Parisian women appear to do very well is dress in the most flattering way for their body type. They know what suits them and what doesn’t and they stay with what works, not being lured by fashion trends every 6 months. My friend Laure, a beautiful young French woman, who always looks chic, tells me over a glass of wine: “I don’t wear short skirts because I know they don’t suit me, I always go for pencil skirts, they work well for me”. This is an amazing level of self-awareness from someone who hasn’t even turned 30 yet. Instead of feeling bad about what you don’t have, be it bigger curves (I am talking to myself here), thinner hips or longer legs, and hiding behind baggy clothes, embrace you shape and show off what you love about your body.
4. Make pleasure part of your daily life
“A perfect macaroon is ‘croquant’ on the outside and melting on the inside when you bite into it, it has to be absolutely fresh”, says Cordelia, my charming shopping guide, a true Parisienne, as we pass by a beautiful patisserie. She is petite and slender and a self-confessed dessert addict. In France they eat desserts, chocolate, drink wine and have cheese. And then there is the bread. I saw women eating bread in very trendy cafés where bread shouldn’t even be on the menu! There is no guilt involved. How do they do it? Well, firstly no guilt means having a healthy relationship with food. Secondly, accepting pleasure as part of daily life means we stop actively depriving ourselves and this alone decreases the risk of overindulgence. They simply know when to stop. The proof is everywhere: I have not seen anyone who is overweight.
5. Inner confidence is key
As I walk around the vibrant Le Marais with Cordelia discovering new boutiques, we talk about the fact that not many women wear bright colours or attention grabbing outfits. She tells me demure is essential for a typical Parisian: a top with sheer back but not sheer front, clean lines, simple t-shirt with jeans and a good quality jacket. Parisians do demure so well. They don’t look too “polished”, they wear mainly neutrals or darks, very few women wear tons of make up, not much skin is displayed. Yet they are not hiding, they are strangely visible and project so much confidence. This natural confidence comes from being comfortable with who you are.
6. Accessories are essential
During the three days that I spent in Paris I do not remember seeing a single person without a scarf! Even small children had stylish scarves on. To be stylish a woman needs to learn to accessorise – there is no way around it. Accessorising is the simplest (and it can be a very cost effective) way to update an outfit, take you from day to evening or add a personal touch and make a plain outfit your own.
7. Elegance and style does not end when you get home
There are numerous boutiques and shops selling beautiful lounge and home wear in Paris. It is elegant and feminine: silky dresses, soft trousers, cotton and wool cover ups (not old pijama bottoms). I learn that French women stay elegant in their homes too. As a newly self-employed working from home, I am determined to embrace this particular style element from now on. Believe me, it changes everything – from the way you feel and relate to yourself to the way you show up with others.