Grace Howard

Copywriter and occasional freelance journalist, specialising in the fashion sector.

What's the Deal With 'French Girl' Style? (Fashion Fix Daily)

What's the Deal With 'French Girl' Style? (Fashion Fix Daily)

I’ve never thought of myself as the kind of person who could fall in love online. I’m way too wary of how easily empty statements can be expressed digitally. How are you supposed to know that it’s ‘real’ when the object of your affections is on the other side of a screen and you’ve had no interaction IRL? What if, when you meet in the real world, the attraction just falls flat?

Earlier this year, though, the unthinkable happened: I fell in love. Online. It was the sort of consuming, bordering-on-the-obsessive love that leaves you unable to focus; the sort of suffocating crush that makes you lose interest in people you’ve always been close to because nobody compares to the one that you fancy. Sadly, it never worked out. I was in a relationship at the time, and my new crush wasn’t even in the same country. My desire burned within for ages, though, and I’ll admit that I came close to cheating; to tapping in my card details and waiting. Oh, did I mention that it was a dress?

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I was late to the game with Réalisation Par, a cool Aussie brand with a French moniker, targeted at girls who know their style, but not necessarily how to spot when they’re being duped by savvy marketers with a penchant for e-acutes. It was the brand’s navy Alexandra dress, peppered with a delicate star print, that captured my heart. It’s unlined, it costs $195 and the brand doesn’t readily ship to the UK, but I still lust after it and, like every other wannabe Frenchie who’s been sucked in by the brand’s faux-Parisian mystique, I’d buy one in an instant if I could afford to. I’d probably wear it once and ruin it by being very un-French and spilling red wine down it.

Réalisation’s dresses are silky and shapely yet shapeless. They fall across the body ‘just so’. You would simply never wear a bra with one because they’re the epitome of je ne sais quoi, which you can’t have if you have boobs. Celebs like Alexa Chung, Bella Hadid and Kaia Gerber have got on board with Réalisation, along with various ‘influencers’, whose vanity I abhor, but also admire because I steal all of my styling tips from them. Well, from them and from French girls, the OG style influencers.

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French Girl style has always been cool, with similarly enduring appeal to pieces like black skinny jeans and ankle boots, but it’s become even more popular recently. Even Chanel’s most recent couture show was a love letter to Paris (even more so than usual). One of the season’s most-Instagrammed tops is a skimpy shirred cotton number (pictured above) that’s part of Reformation’s ‘Almost French’ collection, presented to consumers with the tag line, ‘You will never be French, but at least you can pretend in the new stuff.’ Most of the Almost French collection sold out in a flash. It’s still in high demand.

Reformation and Réalisation Par are far from the only brands to get sucked in. There are other many brands, like Être Cécile, Agent Provocateur and French Girl Organics, that have built up their businesses by pretending to be French.

But what is French Girl style? It’s a weird beast that’s impossible to define, yet we all know what someone is talking about when they refer to it. Some pieces are just totally, undeniably French, either by origin or association. For example:

  • Berets
  • Breton tops
  • Relaxed-fit jeans that are lightly cropped at the ankle and/or high-waisted
  • Skinny jeans with little zips near the ankle
  • Wrap dresses
  • Tiny cross-body bags
  • Chunky-heeled sandals with ankle straps
  • Wide-brimmed straw hats
  • All clothes that only look good sans underwear

My own French Girl journey began at a young age, despite my growing up in North Yorkshire and being reared on fat rascals and the Yorkshire Post rather than croissants and Le Monde. I endured a long love affair with French stuff throughout my teens, which even influenced my language choices. My friends and I would say ‘oui’ instead of ‘yes’ and think we were prestige (imagine our joy when French exchange students taught us to talk ‘like the locals’, which essentially began and ended with writing ‘ouaaaais’ in texts instead of ‘oui’). Embarrassingly, watching Godard flicks – in combination with fancying chain-smoking older guys like Bob Dylan (his 60s self, obviously) and dead ones like Ian Curtis – played a part in my starting smoking. All the French babes did it in the black and white movies.

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At the time of writing, I actually have a job interview in Paris next week. It’s unlikely that anything will come from it – in the unlikely event that I’m actually offered the job, I can see myself chickening out of it – but since being contacted about the interview, I will admit I’ve been fantasising about Paris in my head. I’ve never been, but I can see myself swanning around on a balcon somewhere with a glass of red wine (not from Aldi) in my hand. However, I know deep down that such idyllic images are, well, just idyllic images. They’re not real. These fantasies about a life rich in Gauloises, Chanel No5, lunchtime trips to Colette and little else are the same as the ones I used to have about living in London making you cool; in reality, it’s more likely to turn you into a jaded prick.

So slowly but surely, I’ve been trying to shake off my obsession with all things French and accept that I will always be a scatterbrained English girl. It’s hard to break a habit of a lifetime, though. I still hoard Breton tops, for example, and pick out most of my clothes based on how ‘French’ they look (and if they’re not Gallic, then they definitely need to be Nordic, right? Maybe I should start looking to Scandinavia for style inspiration?).

The thing is, I’ve realised that the 'French chic' thing isn’t just about style – it’s more about how you act and how your body looks. French Girls don’t care about anything, apparently, yet they always look immaculate and alluring. French Girls don’t exercise, and they eat a lot of pastry, yet they’re always slim. They smoke and drink heaps but they look ageless, with glowy skin (presumably something to do with all of those miraculeux French pharmacy products). If these women have kids, they’re still somehow slim and pulled-together and well-dressed 24/7. I could go on but, in short, the allure of the French Girl is a myth. There’s nothing wrong with copying how French style icons dress, but assuming that all French women dress like Emmanuelle Alt is like assuming that all American women dress like Kim Kardashian. It’s just not true.

An abridged version of this piece was published by Fashion Fix Daily

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