There’s certainly a sense of irony in putting together a guide to French girl style.

The Parisian brand of effortless chic is intrinsic, not studied or copied. French girls form a personal relationship with their clothes, one outside of the world of trends and must-haves as dictated by fashion brands. And they live in their clothes, not simply wear them; it’s easy to do so when your wardrobe is full of timeless pieces.

Through years of thoughtfully dressing up, French girls just know what makes them look good. Their style rules (and they do have them, despite the shrug of insouciance they may offer) are deceptively simple: go for a look that’s laid-back but never lazy, clothes that are special but never showy. It’s all in the fit, fabric and fine details, after all. As a new exhibition reveals, the spirit of French couturier Coco Chanel very much lives on in the cobblestoned streets of Paris.

Except for those in Emily in Paris, the most recent Netflix show to be hate-watched and hate-discussed. Much ink has been spilled about the titular protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your tolerance for thoughtlessness) and her style choices. An anklet worn around Tabi boots? A blouse with a print of the Eiffel Tower? A plastic raincoat, indoors?

Those looks couldn’t be further from French girl style. So, in an attempt to set the record straight and show you that, au contraire, Parisian chic isn’t all berets and bucket hats, we list the essential pieces that you’ll find in wardrobes of French It-girls past (think Jane Birkin, Françoise Hardy) and present (Jeanne Damas, Caroline de Maigret). We encourage you to mix and match these staples with all the confidence of Emily. Trust us, you’ll look anything but ringarde.

Header photo credit: Getty Images

1
A stylish blazer

French girls will throw on a sharply tailored jacket over anything — a shirt, a dress, a pair of jeans. That’s because they’ve figured out that it’s the easiest way to elevate any look. Go for one that’s slightly oversized and lets you move around with ease. For colours, navy, grey and black (of course) are are generally approved. As for patterns, a good check, like the one on this Rebecca Vallance piece, never goes out of style.

(Photo credit: Net-a-Porter)

Price
S$738
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2
A silk camisole

The silk camisole is the epitome of the French girl philosophy: take something basic and put a refined spin on it. It far outshines a ribbed cotton tank or a jersey top — those are more American Apparel — while retaining the simplicity that lets you wear it with pretty much anything. Tuck one into your jeans, layer a jacket over it, and you’re good to go. This silk-satin camisole from Raey also lets you show off an asymmetric hem — a nice, unexpected detail.

(Photo credit: Matchesfashion)

Price
S$110
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3
A plain T-shirt

When it comes to choosing tees, cotton is fine, neutrals are preferred, and logos are a no go. Again, the rule is to keep it simple. Isabel Marant — a French woman herself — worked around this by giving the staple piece a knotted waist tie (that’s how cool girls would wear them, anyway) and some padded shoulders. A T-shirt doesn’t look so boring anymore, does it?

(Photo credit: Net-a-Porter)

Price
S$300
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4
A silk button-down

A sumptuous silk or satin shirt, elegant on its own, is hard to say no to. The best part is that it can be casual or formal, depending on how you style it. French fashion editor Carine Roitfeld wears hers with pencil skirts, while Instagram It-girl Jeanne Damas tucks them into her jeans. We recommend wearing this slightly looser one from Vince with a couple of buttons undone to capture that sense of Parisian breeziness.

(Photo credit: Net-a-Porter)

Price
S$467
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5
A knit cardigan

In the past year, we’ve seen Alexa Chung, Bella Hadid and Katie Holmes all wear cardigan as tops, but make no mistake: that’s a style tip they got from their Parisian peers. After all, it was Coco Chanel who transformed the piece, which otherwise screams “grandma”, into a symbol of feminine elegance. Self-Portrait plays up the prettiness of the typical cable-knit cardigan with a stylish V-neckline and crystal, flower-shaped buttons.

(Photo credit: Matchesfashion)

Price
S$490
6
A petite bag

French girls are not big fans of big bags. It goes against their idea of not trying too hard. Why would you even need to carry that much stuff around? What the mini bag lacks in space, though, it makes up for in fun. Jane Birkin, for example, was never seen without her basket bags throughout the ’60s. Film icon Anna Karina even owned a purse shaped like a dog. Luckily, you have countless of options to choose from, with fashion labels like Staud and By Far offering new designs every month. Here, the latter makes the case for a petite, powder pink tote that’s crafted out of lizard-effect leather.

(Photo credit: Net-a-Porter)

Price
S$613
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7
A leather miniskirt

If you haven’t picked up yet, French girls are very into leather. Not in the way you’re thinking — their wardrobes are filled with leather bags, leather jackets and leather miniskirts. The material is luxe, after all, and it does add a cool factor to any look. Especially the miniskirt, which is versatile enough to be worn in both cool and warm climate (like ours). The staple piece, tough but flirty, goes best with boots. Be sure to opt for a timeless shape like this Ganni skirt.

(Photo credit: Matchesfashion)

Price
S$185
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8
A perfect pair of jeans

You’ll need much trial and error to make this piece work for you, but once you do, it pays off so well. Jeans are the one style piece that we can all universally agree on. But the French are particular about the silhouette: high-rise, straight-cut jeans go a long way for them. A little flare is fine, and so is a pair that’s cropped with a fraying hem. Anything but form-fitting, skinny jeans — leave that to the Americans. If you want something that will age well, try this Rag & Bone pair. It’s actually from the brand’s archives, but it would still work just as well today. How French is that?

(Photo credit: Net-a-Porter)

Price
S$329
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9
A pair of block-heel boots

How far can a pair of leather boots take you? Very, if you ask the French. These are the modern girl’s go-to shoes: they step out in ankle boots when they’re wearing jeans, or knee-high ones if they’re dressed in a miniskirt or a dress. Black is obviously the preferred colour. Just make sure they come with block heels and aren’t too high — those are much easier to walk in. Saint Laurent knows their clients well, and that’s why the French fashion brand unveils a new pair (like this one) every season.

(Photo credit: Matchesfashion)

Price
S$1,590
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10
A pair of white sneakers

As their choice of boots tell you, French girls wouldn’t be caught dead in high heels. They find them silly, in fact. That’s why another favourite footwear of theirs is the white sneaker — clean, comfortable and classic — which they wear everywhere, even the office. A pair of low-cut trainers is the preferred silhouette, which is why it’s not surprising that the Adidas Stan Smiths is so beloved on the streets of Paris.

(Photo credit: SSENSE)

Price
S$170
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Pameyla Cambe
Senior Writer
Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.