French Inspired Tips For Creating A Wardrobe You Love

Creating a wardrobe you love

One thing French women appear to have the ability to do time and time again is create a wardrobe that makes chic dressing look effortless.  From skinny jeans, via perfect little black dresses to nonchalantly tied trench coats, their wardrobes seem filled with items that communicate two of my very favourite ‘E” words – elegance and ease.

On days when you don’t know what to wear, or you feel frumpy or uninspired or whatever, it can be tempting to think that there is some magic formula that the French received and the rest of us missed out on.

Unless of course it is genetic. Or perhaps there are just better shops in France…

There’s got to be something that can explain the situation, doesn’t there?

Well, let me tell you that you don’t have to be French, live in France or even visit France regularly to create a wardrobe you love.

And while there is no real magic formula, there are a few strategic elements worth mastering. Once  you have these sorted, you’ll be well on your way to creating a wardrobe you love. Just like the chicest of those French women.

Develop Your Signature Style

Yes, yes, I know I bang on about the French and their signature styles all the time but really, developing your signature style can be life changing. Spend some time thinking about looks you love. Determine what works for your unique body shape. Getting clear on what suits you as well as what you like is an absolute must for creating a wardrobe you love.

Not sure where to start?

Pinterest is fabulous for identifying looks you are drawn to. Create a ‘Signature Style’ board, start pinning and over time you will begin seeing commonality in your pins. Alternatively, pick up a magazine or two and spend a little time flicking through. Tear out looks you love and keep them in a file. Eventually you will be able see the patterns in the pages you choose. Once you understand the looks you love you can start incorporating elements from these styles into your own wardrobe.

Understand Which Colours Flatter Your Skin Tone

You might be a neutral girl who can wear the Parisian palette. Or perhaps you look better in brighter shades, like some of those girls in the south of France. It really doesn’t matter which colours suit you best, so long as you can narrow things down to a few core colours that complement each other – and you. That way you’ll ensure that you always look your best and you’ll also avoid filling your wardrobe with orphan items that don’t go with anything.

Now, I know many women don’t know where to start when it comes to adding colour to their sartorial choices. I’m sure it is why some wardrobes are filled with black, black and a little more black. And while all black is often considered the epitome of chic in Paris, London and Melbourne, it can also get boring. (And it can be just plain wrong in certain climates.)

A simple way to start playing with colour is to collect some large paint colour swatches from your local hardware store. (Don’t worry, no paint brushes are required for this little DIY project – it’s actually a trick I used before my style studies saw me upgrade to colour capes and wheels). Find yourself a large mirror, position it in good natural lighting and start placing the paint swatches near your face. You will quickly work out which colours make you sparkle and the ones that make you look plain ill. Next time you are in the market for a new item or two, keep an eye out for the colours that work best for you.

Wardrobe Analysis – Or Understanding What You Already Own

French women survive with, generally speaking, far less closet space than those of us in the rest of the world. Yet they always seem to find classy outfits to wear.

Does it ever seem that you have nothing to wear, despite the fact that your large wardrobe is packed with clothing? Or perhaps you find yourself wearing a variation of the same outfit over and over…mainly due to the fact that your wardrobe is full of really similar items that you just seem to buy time and time again?

I have a view that no one should ever go shopping for clothes without a plan and that no clothing should make it into your valuable wardrobe real estate unless it qualifies as a great addition.

What makes an item worthy of the title of great addition?

Well, there are numerous qualities, but as a bare minimum it should:

  • Fill a gap in your wardrobe,
  • Harmonise with clothing you already own,
  • Be an item that you will wear regularly,
  • Not require any additional purchases to make it work.

Oh, and ideally it shouldn’t blow your budget.

With these guidelines in mind, you can start adding clothing to your wardrobe that aligns with your strategy. And over time you will find yourself living with a wardrobe that not only works but that you absolutely adore.

One More Thing

However, there is one more hurdle that could stand between you and your ability to get dressed everyday with pleasure and ease.

Actually shopping for the clothes.

Many women have written to me about their concerns with shopping. These concerns range from complete anxiety when it comes to selecting clothes for themselves, right through to a lack of suitable shops near to where they live. And of course time constraints also come up as a reason that women struggle with shopping.

If you feel like shopping is somehow stopping you from creating a wardrobe you love, you might like to try:

  • The Internet. Technology has broadened our horizons when it comes to clothing choices. We can now tap into fashion from anywhere in the world from our computers. Personally, I love the convenience of selecting my favourite shoes from London, choosing a handbag from Florence, or a picking up a bargain shirt from Paris and having them delivered right to my door (for what these days are generally reasonable shipping costs – even to Australia). And I’ve learned some tricks along the way which mean I rarely have any issues with my internet purchases. First of all, know your body measurements. Sizing varies wildly around the world, so rather than assume I am a particular size I always consult the sizing charts before making a purchase. Also read as many customer reviews as you can – I find they are generally pretty accurate. And in terms of protecting your finances, using a debit card that you keep just for internet purchases can add in some protection. If that doesn’t appeal, you might like to try Paypal.
  • Building a relationship with a local store. If there is a local store that stocks items that match your signature style you can do worse than cultivating a relationship with the store owner. Over time, you’ll come to trust their advice. Furthermore, they may be able to order clothing especially for you. Alternatively, they may start giving you a call when an item they know you will like comes in.
  • Using a personal shopping service. A number of the large department stores can offer support when it comes to shopping. Or perhaps you might like to engage a private service.

Do you have any tips for creating a wardrobe you love? Or perhaps you’ve overcome some shopping challenges. Either way, I’d love for you to share your experiences in the comments section below.

And until next time – au revoir.

About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.

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9 thoughts on “French Inspired Tips For Creating A Wardrobe You Love

  • Alisa

    I LOVED this post! and as usual, it got me to thinking.
    I rented an apartment and lived in Paris for a large part of the summer, and here are some complementary observations that I took from that long/linear observation (I discovered your blog not so long before this visit, and tried to look at things through your focused eyes!)
    1. I often saw the women in my neighborhood wearing the same clothes from day to day, but it was not obvious to the casual observer because they were in neutral colors and classic styles. Really just a canvas for a more ‘pop’ item, which might be a scarf or pretty top. (In the United States, that might be a piece of signature bold jewelry)
    1a. I went to Paris this summer with the intention to buy a nice piece of jewelry while there, a souvenir, nothing very extravagant. I was struck by the many small and non-flashy items that were everywhere, and got to thinking about this. A piece of bold jewelry is visible from afar – there is nothing to discover when approaching or getting closer. The French use the word ‘discover’ in many more contexts than we do, and always in a very positive way (I will make a generalization here and say that the French, as a whole, are a very curious people) – and the smaller jewelry allows the observer to discover this element of the woman’s style only as he or she approaches. it is a more intimate wearing of jewelry – not something for everyone to see from across the room or across the street.
    2. I was there for the July sales, and was very struck by the different approach of the French shoppers. In the US, women would have had armloads of things to try on at the amazing prices! (I sometimes did…) But even faced with the sales, French women rarely took more than one or two items into the dressing rooms, and were out again having made a lightning decision that it was right or not. I once asked a sales associate to hold several items for me while I tried on some others, and when I returned she was surprised and said that she thought I had left the store, since I was away for so long (probably 10 minutes!). We in the US agonize trying to decide if we like something – the French woman knows that if she isn’t absolutely positive, then back it goes.
    3. If I was holding something up in a shop to examine, a sales associate would always ask what I would wear it with, a subtle reminder me that orphan clothes, even if technically a bargain, are not. Unlike the US, I was never nudged to buy additional items to make an outfit. As you say, a French woman’s closets are likely much smaller than ours.
    4. Americans are much more likely to think that we need multiple wardrobes: for work, for going out, for home, for travel…French women of course have very dressy items, but classic neutrals in different combinations fit most other circumstances.

    I returned home and viciously attacked my five closets! While I was still in the French mindset, I gave away DOZENS of bags and boxes of very nice things, including over 50 pairs of shoes that I deemed too fussy or had bought to wear with a specific outfit – and I have to say that several months later, I do not regret a single item, and I am dressing better than I ever have.

    So, a huge ‘merci!’ for your inspiration to this time really look at this facet of French that I had never really considered in such a focused way!
    (P.S. For thinking about color, the various ‘color me beautiful’ sites can be a good starting point.)

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much Alisa for taking the time to share such in-depth thoughts on wardrobe building. I love your insights into the French approach to ‘discovery’ and of course the sales. Can you believe that, even after all my visits, I’ve never managed to coordinate one single trip with the sales?? (I’m sure Scott will smirk when he reads this!) It doesn’t surprise me at all that French women can make buying decisions quickly, nor that they seem to have a ‘unified’ wardrobe. It took me years to realise that I didn’t need to compartmentalise my clothes. And yay to you for tackling your wardrobes – sometimes it is tough going when you are in the middle of it, but it feels so good when you are done!

      Oh, and I agree that the ‘Colour me Beautiful’ sites are helpful. After my initial learning experience with paint chips I moved onto their sites. I’ve since graduated to ‘colour capes’ as part of my styling work, but I still use their advice often. Xx.

  • Garden Goddess

    A way to determine which colors are best for you is to first determine which type of skin tone you have: Warm or cool. If it’s not readily apparent to you, you can figure it out by going outside, into the sun and looking at your inside wrist. If the blood running through the vein looks green–you have a warm skin tone. If the blood looks purple, you have a cool skin tone. Right there you’ve eliminated half of the colors on the racks and made your shopping much easier! Warm colors look best on warm skin tones and cool colors look best on cool skin tones. Throughout the 1970’s when only warm-toned clothes were in the shops I was constantly accosted with the phrase “Are you feeling well?”. It wasn’t until I learned about color that I started wearing cool tones and no longer looked ill all the time…

    If you are unfamiliar with identifying warm and cool colors, then you need to purchase a color wheel (less than $5–more like $3 the last time I looked…), which you can easily find at and art or craft store or in the craft department of Wal-mart or Target. Then you need to thoroughly read it front and back and it should give you what you need to know AND you can take it with you while shopping!

    Oh, and when you are looking at color swatches, it’s best to use big scarf-sized swatches that drape around your neckline so no other colors reflect upon your face–then look in a mirror when you are lighted by the sun to give you your best chance of getting the accurate answer as to whether it’s a good color for you or not.

    Best of luck!

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much for this comment Garden Goddess – I really appreciate you taking the time to post such in-depth advice. I’ve shared before on DF the vein trick – it really does work for most people, and if you are reading this and new to colour analysis, I highly recommend you take Garden Goddess’ tips. One thing that I haven’t shared on the blog is that the vein test didn’t work for me! (And yes, I shook my head for a long time – I tried it with white paper behind, everything, but I still couldn’t identify the colour of my veins – hence my playing with paint swatches.) It wasn’t until I well into my styling studies that I realised that you could also be neutral…or that you might identify better with bright or muted shades. Who knew there was so much to learn about colour??

      Thanks too for sharing the tip about the colour wheels. I’m off to scour Australian stores, as while I’ve not come across them, it doesn’t mean they are not there. Like you, I’ve graduated to the capes for comprehensive colour analysis but any small sized colour items are handy for those who would prefer to sort things out for themselves.

  • annette @ afrenchcollection

    A signature style is indeed the foundation of it all I think. When we choose well we need less. Compare the average size of a French amoire to Amercian and Australian style built in or walk in wardrobes. Less but better quality and personaly flattering are the answer. This approach also helps to reduce clothing waste when inferior items are discarded and replaced with yet more seasonal inferior items. Great post Janelle @distantfrancophile

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much Annette. It’s a good point. That whole ‘seasonal shuffle’ is something I’ve been trying to eliminate for a while now. In the long run, you can save money by purchasing the more expensive piece in the first place, rather than buying a whole lot of inferior pieces.