I got into a heated conversation this spring while at lunch with fellow expatriates Ali and Susannah (from North Carolina & California). We talked about the differences between what we see on the streets everyday from a french style/life perspective vs how the media likes to romanticize it. This conversation needed to make its way to the blog! Below is a combination of quotes from Ali & Susannah, and a bit of my POV as well. Enjoy and feel free to ask ?s or share observations of your own! Xxo Alicia
Expat Observation #1 – The Men (French Men’s Style):
The men are the real story in France. The women get all of the articles, but the the look of the men are actually what make France so different than other countries from a looks standpoint. So many beautiful things about them… I love that they care. American men can look unkempt in comparison. Some include:
Super well-cut suits.
First, they aren’t as meaty–so they can wear tailored, narrow suits (typically navy). These are usually paired with white button-down shirts open at the collar and long brown dress shoes. Meanwhile, you can spot an American businessman from a distance: he’s the one wearing billowy suit pants and an oversized suit coat.
Even in casual clothes, men’s pants are well-cut, slim, and fit well. They pair them with clean, stylish white tennis shoes (typically Stan Smith’s) or nice leather shoes. Casual blazers are typically layered on top even with jeans.
Ever present sexy stubble.
Being clean shaven? Not a thing in France. French men seem to have a well-maintained amount of stubble and a tidy haircut, maybe with some flow, but definitely no nasty shag hanging down their necks.
Not in a bulky, cheesy way. They seem to just eat well (an example: I saw construction workers at my house eating yogurt and bananas that they brought for lunch – ie not McDonalds like they would be eating at home!!) and take care of their bodies.
Expat Observation #2 – French Women’s Style
Style is truly more “timeless” here. That’s not just hype.
There are trends–like the types of jackets or colors, but the pendulum doesn’t swing as widely. People will wear one or two new things in a season but clearly there is a lot of uninhibited mixing & matching of old stuff going on.
When we first came (4 years ago), I remember looking in the windows and thinking the delicate little bracelets and earrings were fascinating and cute. Then, two years later, it was the same stuff.
Unabashedly feminine, even dainty. Beautiful and sexy aren’t reserved for dinners out or nightclubs – they’re 24/7.
Think slim little pants and cashmere sweaters. Loads of button-front dresses. Black and nude (yes nude!) tights in the winter. Moto jackets over floaty dresses.
There is zero shame in highlighting one’s femininity – and even sexiness. Button down tops are buttoned low with the intentional lacy bra glimpse for daytime. Another example: The other day I walked into my dentist’s office and the receptionist was wearing black lace short shorts, a low-cut silk cami, high heels and had bedhead hair. No scrubs in sight. She looked amazing – yet somehow still professional. Black lace shorty shorts? Meh, just another everyday outfit. Somehow the women don’t really ever look trashy though … the clothes they wear always fit their (tiny) bodies well. Plus, they tend to only expose one area at once, and it’s less of an “expose” and more of a “suggest.”
Unbrushed hair, little to no makeup (excluding a red lip).
Makeup & hair finishes are always effortless & natural – not done to the airbrushed state (that’s more of an American look). Their hair seems to be rarely brushed. I have stopped wearing more than moisturizer, a touch of cream blush, and lipgloss here, because wearing makeup feels overdone and embarrassing here.
Age-appropriate yet without regard to age.
It is normal to see super stylish octogenarians adhering all of what we mention above, including the perfect red lipstick and a smartly-tailored wool coat. I guess the psychological difference is that these women are still in it–they’re trying on clothes in the stall next to you in the dressing room at Zara. When would you see that in the States?? It’s empowering and amazing that it’s so startlingly different. That said, my sense is they are not buying everything they see. They are on the hunt for one thing to supplement their existing wardrobe, eg “I’m looking for a navy pair of wool pants and I’ll go to 10 stores until I find it.” I’ve had many a bumbling conversation in french with an octogenarian woman who needs a second opinion in the dressing room on anything from leather pants to a dress.
Basic everyday street style in Paris is different than basic everyday American style – it’s more polished and intentional, and you don’t see workout wear.
There is no workout wear here on the streets. Basic everyday French daytime style tends to include a stylish top, black pants, wide leg pants or straight/cropped denim, and sneakers worn on the street (but good shoes packed in her bag). In the summer it’s thin sweaters, gorgeous patterned dresses, and espadrilles.
Expat Observation #3 – Beauty:
Nothing Fake (yes that includes you, fake eyelashes and nails…).
It is hard for my American friends to understand that there are absolutely no fake eyelashes, fake nails or “contouring” in makeup here. That kind of thing would look overdone here. The beauty of French women is they enhance their natural features (freckles! eye color! natural hair!) through basic grooming and meticulous skin care. I have a french friend in a tiny parisian apartment who has an entire floor to ceiling cabinet full of skincare lotions & potions. As mentioned, the vast majority of french women hardly wear any makeup. Even when you stand outside the fashion shows, the women coming out have very little on their faces besides mascara and lipstick.
Blowouts are not a thing here.
Air-dried hair and bedhead dominate.
I always smell gorgeous perfume. There’s a beautiful breeze of scent wafting behind most French women in the morning. Although, come summer some might be perfuming their way out of perspiration, which I don’t love.
Expat Observation #4 – Food:
Meals, not snacks.
French people seem to have a healthier regard for food. People don’t snack. Even the kids have gotten used to the French way of eating – eg plat, main, dessert – because that’s what they get at school for lunch every day. They expect this at home. Even kids want and expect meals to be a big thing! Suddenly they care a lot more about the provenance and preparation of food. The French way with food and the time spent making and enjoying meals really matters.
No eating on the go, and the phone stays in the purse or pocket while eating.
French people sit down and mindfully eat, without their phones. Copying this approach makes the food more enjoyable and, turns out, I eat less.
Food shopping happens daily (vs weekly) and involves several stops.
My shopping habits have completely changed. I used to do Costco run a couple times a month, plus hit the grocery store 2x/week. Now I’m in a grocery store or the marché nearly daily – it’s a MUST because my refrigerator is small. Plus, the produce is fresh and local and doesn’t last more than a day or two so timing is everything. Even leftovers get moldy quicker! The eating changes because the ingredients are different. Thankfully, the marchés and grocery stores are within close walking distance so it’s not too bad. Here, if you want to cook a typical American meal, like tacos (yes, I realize this is Mexican food), you have to be a hunter/gatherer to collect all the necessary ingredients. I go to one place for corn-on-the-cob, another for tortillas, another for ground beef, etc. Thus, because my American way of cooking (which typically involves a long list of ingredients) is time-consuming I’ve simplified my meal ideas and preparation.
Picard is a grocery store that only sells frozen food–pureed fruits and vegetables, couscous dishes, tandoori chicken, everything! Plus they have already thinly sliced onions, garlic, etc which makes cooking so much faster! I was at a fancy dinner party and saw a Picard box for the mini-Croque Monsieur sandwiches the hostess served. C’est normal! The US needs this …. someone please start a franchise at home.
Eat late. We eat so late here – 8pm. I don’t like it and it’s not good for you but it’s the French way.
Dinner parties are deceptively simple. Don’t let the multiple courses fool you…they’re just splitting up what we would put out for one sitting. A common dinner would include the following courses:
A good bottle of champagne to welcome you
Appetizers: 2 heated up Picard appetizers straight from the box. Or hummous + crackers. Or pistachios + tapenade and bread. In America the appetizers tend to be homemade and more extravagant (think from scratch guacamole)
Mains & wine: Usually one piece of meat (eg bœuf bourguignon) and potatoes. Very simple.
A simple salad. Mains dish is cleared and a salad is served. When I say simple I mean SIMPLE – eg beautiful lettuce and dressing and maybe some tomatoes cut up in there. It’s just a palette cleanser.
Cheese tray. (3-5 cheeses and some baguette – nothing so extravagant like we create in the states. I used to really pinterest out on my cheese trays at home)
Dessert: 1 tart (eg Apple Tarte Tatin)
Tea & coffee. This is never, and I mean never, skipped. I love this because I’ve gotten used to how it settles my stomach and sobers me up.
For me, this isn’t so different than what we do at home in the US. It’s even a bit simpler. That said, the table and glassware tend to be gorgeous at dinner parties in paris so that takes up more time as well.
About the Authors: Ali & Susannah:
Ali: I moved to Paris two years ago from North Carolina. My style is unapologetically all-American in terms of my love for great jeans and cool tees. I do love a slight edginess, but in a simple way – eg a necklace, stack of bracelets or good blazer. Admittedly, a few years ago I gave myself permission to stop trying so hard (especially with colors and patterns– not my thing) and just wear what I love. Thus, I maintain a rather minimal wardrobe full of favorites.
Susannah: Not the same for me – I love color and mixing patterns! I mix florals and stripes nearly every day. I love button shirts and usually wear a collar of some kind. My closet is full of skirts, wide leg pants, and sweaters. I do wear jeans, but not often. They never fit me well. I moved to France 4 years ago
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