Trying to be Conscious: How to Look French

Trying to be Conscious: How to look French

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Parlez-vous Francais? Not quite? Well, now you can look like you do! Cécile shares the secrets to the coveted French style.

While I was in New York, I often turned up to parties in jeans and Converse. At first, I would feel out of place but then people would tell me “You look sooo French! I wish I was French.” I didn’t know what they were talking about; I was wearing neither a beret nor onions after all. Whatever it was, it seemed to be desirable. I realised that the French had a special look and attitude when I came back to France and then again when I moved to Switzerland.

Looking French doesn’t require much effort. You may even have to give up some of your beauty habits to achieve Frenchness. But first, let’s define what it is, or at least what I think it is…

Charlotte Gainsbourg (actress and singer) and Guillaume Canet (actor and director) are good examples of raw Frenchness. They aren’t traditionally beautiful but they both became icons thanks to their charm. They’re so cool we all want a bit of their swag. So let’s examine their looks:

Trying to be Conscious: How to Look French
Bed-head. Light make-up. Simple and comfortable, yet classy outfit.
Nonchalant attitude. Smile. Looks like she’s thinking about something else.

 Trying to be Conscious: How to Look French
Just got out of bed hairstyle, 3 day beard,
messy collar, nonchalance, smile, sparkly eyes.


The French mastery of the bed-head hairstyle doesn’t mean they never shower! Negligé isn’t dirty. Your hair and clothes need to be clean but it’ll look Frencher if you mess it all up a little before going out. French women sure use brushes, straighteners and irons. How many times did I straighten my hair and then mess it up a bit to avoid looking over done? Same with guys. They prefer to have a little beard showing that they don’t care rather than being freshly shaved. Their shirt will never be perfectly ironed. The French will manage to add a bit of negligé to their look, even in a suit.

Less is more

In all circumstances, we avoid looking “too much”, as we say in France. We’d rather be underdressed than overdressed, even at a fancy party. It means uing less stuff: less hairgel and after-shave for men, less make-up and accessories for women, and less perfume for everyone. French women are great with make-up. I think it’s because we love make-up. We don’t treat it as a mere tool to conceal flaws and enhance beauty; we have fun with it. It means trying new things but with measure. Checking that the colours match and that we don’t use everything we have at once (a bright red lipstick will call for sober eyes, for example.)

Since the French hate looking overdressed, they tame their style by mixing cheap basics with more charismatic pieces. Even if it means showing up underdressed at a party, it won’t matter, it’ll look cooler.


Insouciance means having no worries. To achieve this attitude, you have to act like you don’t care. The French are friendly with an easy smile but they tend to stay in their own mysterious world, thus keeping a distance. Unfortunately, some people misinterpret insouciance with rudeness or disdain. I’m always surprised when I hear that someone thought I was snooty when I really tried to be friendly. I guess you have to give up being liked by everyone in order to look French.


The French look definitely lies in the details:

- Layers

- Dresses for women in all types of weathers

- Scarves: yes, also for men

- Stripes: it’s a bit cliché but whenever I go to France, I notice that everyone wears more white shirts with colourful stripes than anywhere else.

- Few accessories but high quality ones: a nice watch, a leather purse…

- Never ever wear sneakers, especially white ones. Except to do sports, obviously. In France, we can spot tourists with their white sneakers. If you want to be comfy and look French at the same time, wear Converse or ballerinas for girls instead.

Did I forget anything? How would you describe the French look?

Reprinted with permission from Trying to be Conscious

CecileCécile is a French girl who decided to settle for a while in Zürich after trying New York for a year. When she is not teaching French to the Swiss, she sits in cafés for long hours and writes. You can find her writings on her blog Trying to be Conscious and now on Expatica. Enjoy! 

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Jean mi posted:

    on 16th August 2012, 12:37:43 - Reply

    I am French and I admit that this article has valid point. I recognize myself in this because I just wear simple and comfortable clothes and I don't really care much about my look. I have a suit if it's needed but I don't like wearing it.
  • Laurie posted:

    on 15th August 2012, 15:51:06 - Reply

    I love Charlotte Gainsbourg because she is a good actress, not because of her looks. [Edited by moderator] And yes, I wear tennis shoes, not the trendy Converse that are uncomfortable, because I have foot problems. I must admit I don't wear white tennis shoes because I already receive enough insults but that is my one concession to the French. These types of articles make me cringe. How about an article on the lack of French intervention in Syria?
  • April posted:

    on 15th August 2012, 11:16:39 - Reply

    Nice article. Pretty much on target.