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Style Advice

Your guide to French style

Your guide to French style

No nation combines chic elegance with an undercurrent of arty intellectual sex appeal as well as the French. Sure, the Italians nail statement style and the Spanish have aced laid-back Mediterranean cool. But it’s the indefinable crossover of style, sophistication, and philosophical smarts that makes French style at once so appealing and inimitable. 

It’s a look that can easily fall into novelty costume territory (make sure your Breton stripes and your beret never meet), but with a little knowledge of the history of French fashion and the key pieces that define it, it can be as effortless to pull off as it looks. To help you navigate this sophisticated palette, we’ve broken down the je nais se quois of French style into a quick, cultural crash course.

The origins of French style

When it comes to style, the French value charm over effort. Like the Scandinavians, they favour timeless minimalism and quality not quantity, but with the laissez-faire attitude of dressing everything down a little. The French can be credited with making intellectual appeal en vogue. In fact, the quintessentially french beret and black rollneck look that’s synonymous with French style became embedded in the nation’s fashion after the 1968 riots, in which students revolted against capitalism, consumerism, and American imperialism – you don’t get much more French than that.

But these days, you’re more likely to find a typical french guy either nailing tailored style in a perfectly dishevelled manner, or sporting a simple sweater and jeans with more effortless cool than anyone else in the room – it might be a little rumpled, but it’s undeniably refined.

Three French styles in a nutshell

Workwear

French model and style icon Inès de la Fressange says French style is not about the clothes themselves, but how you wear them. “All Parisians have something they particularly love,” de la Fressange said. “Whether it’s a special shirt, or an old cosy sweater, or a vintage belt, they consider them treasures, even if you think it's just a rotten old thing.” Her advice? Invest in timeless clothing and accessories that you intend to wear for years to come, and you’ve nailed French style. 

And that’s exactly why workwear is such a timeless French look. It’s about the smart mixing of high and low pieces, like expensive boots with a worn-out utility jacket and luxury cashmere jumper. Workwear style, like the French, prioritises hard-wearing pieces like denim and leather, along with classic pieces like peacoat – a now-ubiquitous look that originated in the French military in the 1700s. You can go as minimal or as deep into the workwear look as you like, but for extra French flourish, throw on a coloured neck scarf or minimal tote bag.

Riviera style

On the opposite end of the style spectrum to workwear is resort wear. Icons of the trend include Cary Grant, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Talented Mr Ripley – proving you don’t even need to be in the Cote D’Azure to nail this laid-back look. Think loose, printed holiday shirts, polos, chino shorts, and loafers. In short: if it conjures the smell of sand and sea, you’ve nailed riviera-style dressing. In fact, the look is so secured in French style that men have been known to have their shirts made without buttons about the navel – because who needs to do up their shirt when you’re sipping cocktails on the marina?

Breton stripes

The Breton top was originally designed in 1858 in Brittany for the French Navy in 1858, and it’s easy to see how the look caught on with those on dry land. Traditionally made from wool, its timeless, year-round appeal brought this palatable and ubiquitous French look into the wardrobes of fishermen, painters, and school-run mums alike.

The best thing about the Breton top is its versatility. Unlike layered-up workwear or stripped-back summertime styles, you can throw on a Breton in any weather, with almost anything. For a truly French take at any time of year, pair with your Riviera blazer and chinos, or rugged denim and a peacoat.

Three French brands we think you should know

Photographed: Vilebrequin Moorea Swim Short (£145)

Vilebrequin

Founded 50 years ago in St Tropez, Vilebrequin now fulfils the swimwear needs of men around the world – not just on the French Riviera. The brand prides itself on its unforgotten heritage, providing a timeless holiday charm in everything they design from swim shorts to sunglasses to polo shirts. But for a nod to the classic ‘70s style, pick the original Moorea swim shorts. And it’s not just your beach style Vilebrequin cares about. Since 2016, the brand has supported Polynesian non-profit organisation Te Mana O Te Moana, which is dedicated to the rescue of sea turtles. 

 

Photographed: Armor Lux 73842 Mariniere Tee (£39)

Amour-Lux

Armor-Lux was founded in 1938 with a vision to produce top-quality underwear for men. Now, Armor-Lux’s sustainable and organically made ready-to-wear collections span navy-inspired sweaters, workwear jackets, and luxury knits, all with a distinctively French edge. The brand takes inspiration from the French maritime tradition and is the only remaining Mariniere crafter in Brittany – so if you want a truly authentic Breton top, these are the only ones left on the market. Remember what we said about the French valuing quality over quantity? 

 

AMI Paris 

If you can’t decide on just one French style to suit you, AMI blurs the lines of chic and casual aesthetics better than most. The simple yet stylish collections embody Parisian nonchalance in an authentic way that is friendly rather than intimidating. Its ranges bridge the gap between statement-making styles (think polka dot co-ords, leather flares, and purple knitted vests) and timeless, easy-to-wear pieces like comfy sweaters, macs, and relaxed-fit pants. So whether you’re having a laid-back weekend or can’t wait to tackle a bolder post-pandemic look, AMI will have you sporting French style with ease.


Words: Ella White