A vegan editor dishes all on French style.


A (Vegan) Parisian’s Guide to Style

In this guest-post, former VegNews editorial director and part-time Parisian Aurelia d’Andrea does a Healthy Vegan takeover to dish on a subject we’re both obsessed with: French style. From Emily in Paris to the rise of vegan fashion in France, Aurelia gives her take on la mode in the City of Light and beyond.

Long before the Netflix series Emily in Paris captured the imagination of the fashion-obsessed masses around the globe, there were women like me who came to Paris with a dream and a very specific vision of what “la style francaise” looked like.

On my first move to the French capital circa 2004, I arrived with visions of vintage dresses in pastel colors (think Catherine Deneuve in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), the impossible-to-find non-wool red beret, and a cute pair of heels for walking the dog, running errands, and gadding about. Turns out I was way off base (spoiler alert: Emily is, too!).

While French style has become a little looser over the years, there are still style rules and a general code of conduct for dressing—especially so for citadines (city dwellers of the female persuasion). Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but leggings outside the yoga studio are always out. Ditto for overdressing, too much sparkle during the day, and flip-flops beyond the beach. Black, on the other hand, is always in, as are scarves (every which kind) and understated jewelry (and a red lip, but only if you skip eye makeup; more on that later).

Those are some of the conspicuous gestures that define French style, but then there are the more nuanced sartorial signifiers that are so under the radar that they’re practically indiscernible—unless, of course, you’ve made it your mission to study these mysterious creatures in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of their covetable looks.

If you’re ready to put the clichés to rest and try true French style on for size, borrow from this  cheatsheet built on years of observing French people in their natural habitat. Reminder: you don’t have to be thin or rich to cultivate your own allure. Adopting that cool-chic look the French have mastered is within reach, no matter your size, ethnicity, budget, or gender identity. Allez, let’s go!

Take it to the tailor
Whether buying something vintage off of Etsy or (gasp) fast fashion from H&M’s newest sustainable clothing line, getting your garment tailored will make it look like you had it custom made by a famous French couturier. Cuffs on your trench too long? Have them shortened. Waist too wide in your new (old) jeans? A tailor can take it in for a perfect fit. Want to turn Grandma’s hand-me-down muumuu into a sweet summer frock? Let your tailor work their magic. This tip is a game-changer, and it doesn’t cost as much as you might think!

Fashion fundamentals
One thing you can’t help but notice in France is the ubiquity of boutiques vending expensive underwear—not surprising when you learn that France is the number one lingerie market in the world, with women spending roughly 20 percent of their income on luxe bras and silky undergarments. We’re not talking about Frederick’s of Hollywood-style lingerie, but refined, understated, and ultra-high quality designs created to please the women who buy them—not necessarily to attract a partner’s gaze. If you want to adopt a French style of dressing, begin with undergarments that make you feel amazing, whatever that looks like for you.

Quality, not quantity
Buy less, wear more. That mantra existed long before capsule wardrobes became de rigueur. It’s very French to invest in high-quality pieces that might cost more at the onset, but offer more value in the long-term because they’re built to last. This also helps explain why there is a cordonnier (cobbler) on every corner; instead of tossing their shoes when the soles wear out, the French bring them to a pro and have them revamped to good-as-new condition. Ditto for clothes. That adorable jacket from the ‘40s you found at a French flea market looks pristine because it was treated with care throughout the years! So the next time you’re debating whether or not you can afford those stylish (and spendy) vegan shoes (I love French brand Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather), consider them an investment with regular maintenance fees that will pay dividends in the (literal) long run.

Skip the trends
If you see someone in France dressed head-to-toe in the latest fashion trend, odds are good they’re a tourist fresh off an Emily in Paris binge-watching session. Kidding! Kind of. No, really, this is something French women, in particular, steer clear of, because the worst fashion crime of all is looking like you’re trying too hard. Instead, the French incorporate the latest fashion trends in small doses, often as accessories, to freshen up the style they already have. A belt in the color of the year (it’s a vivid magenta in 2023) or a purse in the latest shape (small and square is what I’m seeing on the streets) are just a couple of ways to incorporate a branché look without it taking over and turning you into a fashion victim.

The eyes have it
One widely observed French style rule is the one that says you can choose your eyes, or your lips, but under no circumstances can you apply thick lashings of makeup to both regions of your face at the same time. If you’re doing a smoky eye, the red lipstick will have to take the day off. And if you choose to paint your pucker with a vibrant shade of orange (Kiko Milano makes some great shades that are vegan-friendly), skip the cat eye and go for a bit of mascara or nothing at all. Social media, drag culture, and the rise of the beauty vlogger are helping expand the boundaries of contemporary beauty standards in France, but for now, this is a hard and fast rule.

Hair dos and don’ts
It came as a shock to me to discover just how low-maintenance French hair is. While Emily serves perfectly coiffed waves and ‘60s-throwback bouffant ponytails, other than on a Fashion Week runway, these looks are nowhere to be found. “Natural” is the preferred approach among French women (in quotes because it can take a lot of work to look natural), practically to the point of appearing disheveled. This look is—wait for it––part of the French idea of sex appeal, the implication being that you were too busy rolling around in bed with your lover to worry about styling your hair. It takes a while to get used to the idea of undone hair—and this applies to Black hair, too-–but once you get into it, it is wonderfully liberating! Start with a good haircut, and let that coiff do the work for you.

The skin you’re in
The most important style tip the French deserve credit for is something you can’t buy in stores: being comfortable in your own skin. Survey any French person on the street, and they’ll tell you that the attitude you bring to your clothes is what really makes the outfit. When you feel good about yourself, you exude confidence, ease, and a palpable sense of freedom. It’s about self-acceptance, abandoning perfectionism, expressing your values in your actions, and understanding that your own opinions about yourself are the ones that matter most. Getting to this style phase takes practice, and sometimes you just have to fake it ‘til you make it, but it’s a process worth exploring. And while beauty standards and clothing trends come and go, feeling good about yourself never, ever goes out of style.