How to build a smaller-but-better wardrobe: 5 French-inspired style tips

A French style capsule in navy, grey and blue.
earrings (similar) | cardigan | shirt (similar) | sweater | scarf (similar)
bag (similar) | jeans | pants | jacket
sneakers | boots (similar)| bracelet (similar)

Many of you have said that you’d like to simplify and get the most out of your wardrobe. There are many ways to achieve this, and different approaches work for different people. I’ve adopted some strategies based on what I’ve observed about French style over the years; maybe you’ll find these helpful too.

This post was previously published at an earlier date and has since been updated. I’ve left earlier comments intact.

“French” style (quotation marks included)

For as long as I can remember, there’s been a lingering fascination with French women and their style. When we think of French style, we probably imagine someone who is well-dressed, in classic styles and neutral colors. Attention has been paid to fit and details. While timeless, she also manages to look au courant without trying too hard.

First, though, a caveat about “French” style. Though I’ve certainly not been immune to the fascination, there’s a reason for the quotation marks. The reality is that style has become much more globalized. And French women are much more diverse in their style choices than what’s represented in articles or Instagram roundups. What’s often presented as “French” style, is really more “Parisian,” and a small subset of les Parisiennes at that. (And yes, any region of the globe will have its share of chic, well-dressed people, though the styles may vary.)

Sezane Colette Mariniere with shoulder buttons. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

striped tee

So I’ve come to think of French style as a general aesthetic or framework, with some commonalities across the diverse iterations. But whether or not you are inspired by that particular aesthetic, I think among those common attributes are valuable takeaways that can be applied to any wardrobe.

1 – Simplicity

When it’s done well, French/Parisian style looks well-put-together, but never fussy or overdone. There aren’t too many competing focal points. It’s modern without being trendy (though you will see a subtle incorporation of what’s current).

Sézane navy Michele jacket in recycled polyester.


2 – Cohesion

The separates in a French wardrobe can be worn in multiple combinations. And they can be dressed up or down. It’s not true that French women wear only black or neutrals, but neutrals do help create wardrobe cohesion. When they do wear color, it’s usually well-thought-out. Whether color is worn singly as an accent, or in multiples within an outfit, there’s a harmony to it, and often a pattern is used to tie together other colors in the outfit.

3 – Attention To Detail

Even wardrobe basics will have some interesting details that keep them from looking too generic. A sophisticated color or interesting texture. Contrast piping along the edge of a blazer. Multicolored buttons on a shirt. A little bit of fringe on the handbag. Patterned or textured tights.

Susan B wears Clergerie Birdie raffia oxfords. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

shoes (similar)

4 – Emphasis On Quality, Endurance

This ties back to the concepts of Simplicity and Cohesion, but the French style ideal embraces “fewer but better” pieces that can be worn season after season, and combined with newer wardrobe additions without looking dated. Close attention is paid to fabrics and construction. And to whether the piece is in sync with one’s own personal style.

And although fast fashion has made attitudinal inroads in France, there isn’t pressure to look different every day. So if a particular jacket and blouse look great worn together, who cares if family, friends, co-workers have seen you wearing that combination multiple times?

Dix Pour Cent / Call My Agent, a French Netflix series.

One of our favorite French shows is “Dix Pour Cent” (or “Call My Agent” as it’s been titled in English). The characters’ wardrobes are each very different but IMO do reflect a cross-section of what you’d see being worn in Paris. And across episodes within a season (and sometimes across seasons) you’ll see a character wear one piece or look repeatedly.

(For fans of this show, the word is: more is coming! In the works are a feature-length movie followed by a fifth season of the series!)

While it’s not true that French women pay no attention to trends (they absolutely DO), they incorporate them sparingly, in accordance with personal style and preferences. Same goes for all those “must-have” pieces that we’re always being told that “every” French woman has in her closet. There’s an enviable degree of confidence in knowing what works or doesn’t, what they like or don’t.

Is there a particular style aesthetic that inspires you and helps refine your wardrobe?

For more timeless wardrobe basics, check out my SHOP.

Stay in touch

Sign up to be notified of new posts and updates from une femme d’un certain âge.

Affiliate links in posts may generate commissions for See my complete disclosure policy here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Bravo, c’est très vrai. Votre article reflète exactement la façon de s’habiller à la française. Moderne sans en faire trop. Basique mais avec un brin de fantaisie. L’art de mélanger le classique avec une pièce moderne.
    Intemporel mais pas passe partout car il y a toujours un détail qui rehausse le style et qui en fait un look personnel.
    Susan, vous avez tout compris de la mode “à la française”. Simple et efficace.
    Je suis française. Je vis en province.

  2. Excellent ideas! I have a suggestion for pants that I wear frequently. Sanctuary leggings from Nordstrom. Last year I bought a black/blue/cranberry subtle plaid in XL. That’s a size or two larger than my normal legging size. In the larger size, the leggings fit more like slim trousers. The pants are slim enough to look sharp with a boxy jacket like the one you show, but also have enough ease to wear with shorter sweaters, t-shirts and tucked in blouses. My plaid is no longer available, but Nordstrom has several other patterns on sale now. Macy’s too.

    1. I also love the Sanctuary pants and bought XL although I am generally a medium or large, Happy to see I’m not the only one!

  3. Well said Susan,
    visiting Paris over a number of years, I’ve seen less and less of the chic Parisian style., especially on the younger set. But there is still a flair to their dressing that sets them apart from other Europeans. Most often it is the easy way they wear their scarves! And, they always have wonderful looking shoes. Anyway, your ideas here are good for all of us. I’m working on slowly making my clothes closet reflect those ideas

    1. I love the article, your explanation is spot on. I spend a lot of time in the countryside in the centre of France and most of the women there look just like the women in a country town in Most western countries, even more frumpiest in a lot of cases. As you say…there are chic women everywhere. Thank you for all your articles. Dee

  4. I’ve watching a couple of French TV shows on Acorn and Prime and it’s been interesting. “Origins” is about an anthropologist, and she’s kind of arty looking. “Balathzar” on Acorn has male lead with a female boss, she. The shows aren’t set in Paris, they’re in the countryside and the characters look pretty ordinary -skinny jeans, rain jackets, scarves.

  5. So enjoyed your scarf-tying video!! I have been reading your blog for years and it was so nice to see you live, talking!! Merry Christmas!!

  6. Excellent piece — thanks for pointing out these keys to good fashion that seem innate with the French. Especially the idea of attention to detail, as I have always noted their emphasis on the combining of textures and profiles even more than color. The other thing I always marvel at is that you seldom see French women, or men for that matter, wear things that are too big for them. They wear clothes that fit. In Paris you can no longer spot Americans because they are the only ones in “baskets,” but you can spot them for their baggy clothes.
    LOVE Dix pour Cent! And it has great fashion examples for men as well as women — as you said, a true-to-Paris cross-section. And how about that ultimate fashion accessory, Jean Gabin?

  7. Thank you Susan for your blog and ladies that leave the comments!
    There is that special look about French women and not just the clothes. I have always admired their haircuts and hair color. Very classy!
    Love the idea about the Sanctuary leggings!

  8. Susan, I just watched your scarf video and it is such a help. Please consider doing more DIY videos on various subjects.
    Really enjoyed today’s blog. I have extended family in Paris and their clothing emphasis seems to revolve around simplicity. The women wear their hair short and cut perfectly. Little make-up, well fitting clothes and a smart non bulky handbag or knapsack adds to this simplicity.
    Would you also consider listing the best books on dressing/styling? Bookstores have so many to choose from. Many thanks from a faithful reader of your blog!

    1. Exactly the same with my extended family in Paris and in Vienna. Women of all ages look streamlined, not fussy. Maybe it has something to do with living in a European city-usually in an apartment that is over 100 years old that has limited storage space.

    2. Not all Parisiennes have short hair, though. Look at the variety on Dix-pour-cent. I’ve long worked in communications and culture, and that mix looks normal for me here in Montréal. Perhaps practical short hair a bit under-represented.

  9. I thank you and Nordstrom thanks you! I have lots of books on French style and am way behind on applying the principles! You are always an inspiration for me. Joyeux Noel!

    1. Bit early for that, non? Halloween/All Saints’ Day marks halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the December Solstice.

      1. Except that the comment you’re commenting on is from December 2019 as are most of them. Not sure what’s going on here with today’s post.

  10. Thanks for your article, Susan. I am just back from Paris (and Brittany). I have a very tasteful and lovely pink coat and gosh, did I wish for my black coat in Paris – everyone, literally everyone, was wearing black!

  11. Thank you. I noticed the same things when visiting Paris, Awareness. They are aware of fit, quality, drape, focal point, and their unique features. So I asked myself, how do I learn “ awareness “ ? This site, is extremely helpful, thanks! I am way more thoughtful about my personal style, since visiting Paris. I don’t find the need to be following trends, or wearing things that don’t suit my shape, or wearing a color that doesn’t enhance me. If I truly want to look nice, I need to be me, not anyone else. I wonder sometimes if we have nothing to wear because, our closets are full of someone else’s styles. You definitely got me thinking…..

  12. Today, I sat at a café on the square after doing the market and people-watched. Carcassonne has no university and, being less expensive than Provence but with the same climate and countryside, is popular with retirees, hence the demographic skews older.
    I saw: A woman with purple hair. A woman I see often whom I think of as Pippi Longstocking and yes, today, she was wearing pigtails in braids and her usual overalls with boots. A woman with white jeans, a tan plaid blazer and an orange sweater tied like a scarf; she is one of the reigning local fashionistas and looked amazing as always. A woman with orange-framed eyeglasses and somewhat orange hair color. A woman in a sky blue coat, under which a red tartan dress peeked out; worn with slim pants. Two women together, both with turquoise accessories; one had a hat/beret that looked like a shag rug/toilet seat cover/turquoise wig…and she looked awesome. A woman with an absolutely fabulous hat (she was exaggerating, though–it was 15 C, or 60 degrees, at 10 a.m.–no need for a winter hat). I see lots of color, but not lots of colors. They pick one and run with it, not usually as the major color (black, white, beige, etc. are still the base) but as an accent. All of the women I mention here were over age 65 and probably more toward 75. The turquoise pair might have been pushing 80.
    But if I had to boil it down, I’d say, never forget a scarf, have great shoes, a great haircut and perfect posture.

    1. I agree – the posture is key! Very few “french style” articles mention it, but no outfit looks good on a bad posture. If you’ve been brought up to keep a good posture, you should be grateful.

      1. That is true, but some people have physical problems with age that make their former impeccable poster impossible.

  13. First time to comment on your blog but this post, in my view, deserves it. French woman here, but not parisian, but living in the suburbs of Paris, the ones that your Fox News said some years ago were forbidden to white people….
    I do think you have perfectly explained what a lot of people around the world are gushing about talking about THE french style: this is in fact a parisian style from some places in Paris. Granted, you also have to know that most tourists in Paris stay and visit the same places, the so called safe called, hence the same parisian style. Paris has 20 arrondissement or burroughs and some very popular. And I am not even talking about the suburbs where there are a lot of stylish people, with less money.
    But you are right that, in the whole, we are trying to take care of our clothes, the way they fit, the colours. I am always so surprised when, in some US fashion forum I read daily, women ask if such and such clothes/shoes/boots are still trendy.
    Sure french people do stick to trends also, the ones that you can find then pretty quickly sold on second hand sites or shops…, but really, I would say that there is no need to read the many so called french style books. One has only to read your blog to better understand.
    I apologise I advance as english is not my mother tongue, please do help me improve my writing and correct my mistakes.

    1. Hello You did a great job. I wish my foreign language skills were up to yours. A couple of minor corrections:
      Normally, the idiom, on the whole, not, in the whole.
      French in English would always be capitalized.
      Apologize in US English with a z though perhaps different in the UK.
      English also always capitalized.
      Parisian would also be capitalized.
      Note that on informal blogs, these are not really corrected or noticed much.

  14. Love this article and your video! I’ve followed your blog for a long time and especially enjoy seeing how you are working your colors into your wardrobe. I am also a warm season, autumn, and would really like to see you do a post about makeup colors. I have difficulty finding lipsticks that are warm red but not too orange.
    Happy holidays!

  15. I loved the Netflix series “Call my Agent”. So accurate as to the way Parisienne women dress. Also very little or no make-up! I have found that French style varies from region to region. In the south the way women dress is much more laid back. In some regions in France the dress code can be quite conservative. I would agree that french women seem to have smaller wardrobes and often quite classic except in St.Tropez when some of the styles are positively Bohemian.

    1. It’s probably the “no make up look”. For people who do not wear makeup, it is deceiving and they often think the woman has no make up on at all. Not true.

  16. Thank you Susan for this no non sense post about French style. Yes we can’t sum up it in wearing a beret, red lipstick, heels or a stripes tee… It’s about time that these clichés vanish in the cyberspace…. as a French native I humbly try to give some French style clues in my blog and it’s great to read you today. I agree with everything you noticed!

  17. I have begun to wonder why in the heck it has taken me so many many years to start dealing with my clothes/style. Why have a wandered away from what makes me feel like me? Why, other than trying to cover the extra weight I gained (and now have completely lost for over a year) did I buy bags for clothes? Why do I have so much still in my closet and still either struggle about what to wear or go for the same few items of clothing…the ones that make me smile and help me feel easy in my own skin? For the last year I have been having my non trendy more expensive clothes tailored (and even so, some of those may be given away) and stopped buying stuff I know I won’t wear much. I want and need simplicity. A blazer, jeans, boots, a solid color top, minimal jewelry, and a beautiful interesting scarf of fine fabric is my ideal outfit. Time to just be easy. And if I don’t like my hair as it grows out grey…I’ll dye it blue! Susan, I love your blog. And, speaking of minimal nice pieces that can be worn again and again, I just took delivery of 3 Reset satin sleeveless v-neck blouses. Perfection!

    1. I lost at least two sizes over the past couple of years and my old jeans (mostly black and in dark colours; I adore the dark green of that overcoat) were falling off me. So, what to do with them? Give them to charity shops or keep them boxed up so as not to have to buy larger ones if I should put some of the weight back on? (So far I haven’t, even from the weight loss 2 years ago). Only diet is eating smaller portions from tapas dishes or other small plates – I was brought up eating fairly healthy food – mum was an Adèle Davis enthusiast.

  18. Best synopsis I’ve seen yet about “French” style!
    -The 5 commonalities are spot on
    -Not all French women dress “French”
    -Not all les Parisiennes dress “French”
    -Not all women who dress “French” style are French

    Would love to see a similar article about French hair and makeup. And accessories!!


  19. Love all of your ideas. We go to Provence often and I always find such good ideas from you. You’ve mentioned that the French pay attention to quality and value and I think that is a wonderful idea for all of us. I did learn something recently that I did not know. The French use debit cards instead of credit cards for their purchases, which is somewhat the opposite of the US. Perhaps because they know they have to pay for what they purchase right away rather than on time, they pay more attention to the products they purchase than we in the states tend to do. Anyway, it’s an interesting thought. Again, I love reading your blog and always appreciate your attention to detail.

  20. This is consistent with my experience of over 40 years and I have a few minor observations to add about Parisiennes and other urban women
    – Their jewellery (and they wear it every day, not for “dress’!) is usually real, often fine. If it is costume, it is not trying to imitate real, but is frankly fake and often bold, even on small, fine-boned women.
    – Among adults, leggings are not worn as trousers; they are for loungewear at home, or for exercise. French women past 40 (and eternally up) will show décolletage with enthusiasm, but not their bottoms encased in cotton-lycra.
    – Logos are not sought after (but the French kids like them if they are hip, e.g. Maison Kitsune). As one former fashion writer said, “If you have to show the name of the house plastered on your bag or jacket, what does that say about you? Only that you are insecure.”
    – There is no problem, physical or psychological, that the right cream cannot fix 😉

    1. By the way, while I do have (boho, artistic) friends who wear leggings under skirts, I agree with Duchesse that they are never worn alone except at the gym or jogging in parks.

  21. I am watching Emily in Paris, for the second time around, yes, it’s a macaroon… set to the tastes of an American audience ( and stereotypes). But Sylvie , the boss, has the most amazing clothes on! Adult, sophisticated, and sexy, I can’t take my eyes of her, keep watching…..

    1. “Macaroon” is a drop type cookie with coconut while “Macaron” is the French cookie with the flavoured sweet paste between light as air biscuits….many flavours and many colours

  22. Wonderful post thank you Susan. My sister in law is a professor in Reims and when I first met her, 30++years ago now, she only wore black, white, red and grey, and she looked amazing. My mother and I would always be agog at how beautifully she dressed and the way she held herself. And how funny it was that she had chosen for her partner my long haired hippy brother, whose favorite peice of clothing was a tied dyed lime green jump suit with a crochet cap. Love!

    1. Too funny! But I think your comment points out that European women dress to enjoy themselves and having an equally elegant partner is not necessarily important. My Italian husband has no problem with my dressing up, no matter what he wears, while (American) me, finds it somewhat strange!

  23. I’m actually enjoying Emily in Paris! It’s campy and ridiculous and very millennial but the scenes of Paris make me smile and her wardrobe choices crack me up! How on Earth can she make Chanel look so awful? And where did she find all those bucket hats??

  24. I am not sure what all the fuss about Emily in Paris is either but it did get better. Or did I just get used to it? I did enjoy the Paris backdrop. This was a wonderful article Susan I am going to share it on my Sunday Five Faves this week.

  25. Most of your comments are from December 2019 (maybe no one else see’s it???). I don’t like to wear any ‘type’ of style. I just believe in good basic pieces (think cashmere sweaters, my guilty pleasure) & less expensive on the ‘fad’ styles. It’s just now cooling off in Central Mississippi & hopefully we will continue the cooling trend, I hate wearing shorts on Christmas Day! Love your blog & your style!!

  26. I loved Emily in Paris, indeed very easy to digest. Had a good laugh over your: “any nuance, jeté par la fenêtre.'” hahaha. Funny. I loved her outfits (and the ones of the other women) but indeed pretty over the top. Never mind, it is eye candy. But every time I see them walking the streets in those high stiletto heels, I grin and think: “Yeah, right. You should try that with those cobble stones”
    Thanks to you, I have started Dix Procent again.

  27. I really appreciated what you wrote about “French Style” as it is presented in social media….generally portrayed as a super skinny, dark haired white woman. That’s not the Paris I know, which is so diverse! And Emily in Paris is really stupid, but good to leave on while you do something else…glance at it once in a while to enjoy the beautiful Parisian scenery!

  28. Something strange. Sometimes I check the box asking for notices when comments are posted. I did not do that on this article today yet I am receive if an email whenever someone comments!



  29. The first time I went to Paris in my twenties I brought clothing that I imagined all of the Chic Parisian women would be wearing. I packed several frilly, floral dresses, as I figured it was Springtime. Of course it rained quite a bit and everyone wore jeans…and they looked incredibly Chic!

  30. I wish the mention of how little foundation etc most French women wear had made it to the otherwise wise advice of our going grey guru. I just cringed. Some subtle eye makeup and lippy, yes.

  31. She’s really Emily on Instagram, isn’t she? Shallow, but catchy for a couple of seconds. Lots of followers on the internet, but not so easy to like in real life. New fast fashion every day, but it wears her, not the other way around. She is brash. She is bold. There is no substance. Like her wardrobe, she is a throwaway character. What’s to like, except the street scenes in Paris during a pandemic, when no one can travel?

  32. I lovedEmily in Paris and binged over two nights ( have to admit that the male eye candy on offer was delicious) It was totally over the top, full of every cliché known re: American girl in Paris. The premise is ridiculous…why would a marketing company in a Chicago send a very young, non French speaker to Paris to assist with bringing a subsidiary company into the ‘Insta’ age?? Yet….Emily is so plucky and positive taking it all on, ya gotta love her! I find the character Sylvie, her boss, to be quite ‘true to form’ having worked for a few French women…( although the high slit skirt worn daily, non!) often what we think is provocateur in a sexual way is simply normal to a French woman. The USA was, after all, founded by Puritans so there is a cultural divide to get over…a décolletage, a bare leg flashing out of a skirt is just that.
    Some of Emily’s gaffes when speaking French made me spit out my wine..having to be corrected by a co worker that ‘. Je suis excitée de te rencontrer’ Does NOT translate into ‘I am excited to meet you’….in the American sense…and Pierre Cadeau!,don’t get me started….that episode is hilarious just be careful if someone blurts out ‘ringard’ when eyeing the purse charm on a bag!!!
    It’s just fluffy, silly fun..after doffing my mask, face shield, gloves, gown and some times a N95 at the end of my day it’s exactly what I need!

  33. Re. Emily in Paris: it is a macaron (or something even less substantial!), but it is written primarily for viewers Emily’s age or younger, I believe! It is a trifle timed perfectly for the pandemic: total fantasy in a setting many of us love!

    I don’t see Emily as dressing poorly: I think she wears her fashion choices well, even if they are very youthful, and many, a bit too “fun” (the bags with long fringe). Her dress-up evening clothes are elegant, but youthful. But yes, her boss wears seriously beautiful “architectural” clothes.

    I’m surprised at all the serious criticism that the show has received, but the first 3 episodes I’ve seen have been a great escape from my 60 year old, too-quiet, constricted-by-the-pandemic, stressed-about-the-American-election life! Let’s see about the remaining episodes…

    Thank you, Susan, for the nice European style synopsis, and for the links to all the lovely handbag companies that I did not know about!

    1. Ditto here re your take on “Emily.” I’m a 76-year old who loved the show.

      And thanks, Susan, for the great news about more “Call My Agent” installments in the works. It was one of my favorite binging pleasures.

  34. Emily in Paris is truly truly awful, by any standard. I would heartily recommend the hilarious live tweeting of each episode by French historian Arthur Asseraf, who takes it all apart and then puts it all in context for you.

  35. I just received the J Crew coat featured in this blog. The color, fit and quality is superb! The color is deeper green than pictured; such a rich beautiful green. It’s a bit heavier than I thought which is great because I live in southern Missouri. I’ll be able to wear it longer by layering with a sweater and/or a vest underneath.

  36. Your posts are always refreshing. Interestingly enough, it’s this post that tells me that I’ve been on the right track for so many years…simple yet elegant, with one defining twist that makes fashion uniquely me. Just today, i was able to find items I had on storage that round out anything what I need (beloved was diagnosed with c-beast & we’ve moved cross country to be close to family & world class treatment…it’s been a seriously hellacious 14 months!)…granted a couple things were lost in transit, but i gladly give those items up forever as long as beloved can beat the beast…as much as I love fashion, I love having my partner with me so much more…coming to your corner of the neterverse provides me a few minutes of “getting away from it all”. Thank you.

  37. Thanks, I finally got your posts back on my devices. Reading your blog on Instagram isn’t as satisfying for some reason. And the LTK option, isn’t my favorite link, hopefully there is a simpler option in the future. That said, I miss reading your content.

  38. I recently did a deep dive into YouTube’s Marie-Anne LeCouer – The French Chic Expert. She certainly emphasizes the points you mention but you translate them so beautifully into North American sensibility, and your own personal style, which is why your blog is my fave! And no pumps to be seen – my orthotic wearing feet thank you. I think we are all on our own style journey – I have a love of prints and statement jackets alongside French chic! However, fundamentally important are the elements of fit, quality and wearability. Which you champion par excellence Susan – so thank you again!

  39. Timely, thanks! Been aiming to focus on the simple items I wear a lot that FEEL right to me. I am finding it fun to add details e.g. shoes, bag, scarf, color, etc. after dressing (and feeling like myself) in basics. Economical too as accessories can be varied forever.

    1. Hi Elaine, I did try it but it’s a thicker cotton and was a little too warm for our climate. It’s a really nice piece, though!

  40. So happy to see your post and in colors I might be able to wear. I have dressed this way for decades plus spice it up with artsy clothes. Even French women seem to experiment with special pieces! One of my closest friends was French and had a way of dressing simple but still feminine.

  41. Hi Susan, in response to your question, THIS is the style aesthetic that inspires me and helps me organize my wardrobe. Always something to keep in mind. I think your first four points – simplicity, cohesion, attention to detail, and emphasis on quality – help to create a personal style, your last point. Lately I’ve been reading Lindsay Tramuta’s book, The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris, which showcases a very diverse group of Parisian women – a real departure from the cliched image of the Parisian woman.

  42. Hi Susan, my son was in Elgin in December and bought me that exact scarf at Johnson’s of Elgin.. They have an amazing factory there which we visited many times when we lived in Inverness and it will be one of our stops when we do eventually get to go back home for a visit. The shop is beautiful and they have a cafe which serves home baked goods and lovely lunches.
    Writing this makes me very homesick ☺️
    Well worth a visit if you are in the area and in November every year they have the most amazing sale !