If there’s one style trope that just will not quit, it’s “French girl style”.
You know, it’s the countless articles about how to wear battered ballet flats with a perfect V-neck cashmere sweater and look exactly right. It’s an unbuttoned just-so shirt, and gently mussed hair. It’s Jane Birkin in a white shirt and jeans, and Caroline de Maigret in a boyish blazer and Coco Chanel in her silk pyjamas.
And it’s sexy too, like former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, but never obvious. It’s all about effortlessness, see. And despite the amount of energy that is put into lumping all French women into one category, it’s really awfully tricky to dress like a French woman. For one thing, well, not all French women dress the same.
But mostly, because the minute you start trying you’re the opposite of effortless, and the cruel thing is, it takes work to look like you haven’t tried. The French women with the style that makes it look so easy are not pinning images of French girl style to secret Pinterest boards, or telling their hairdresser to make them look “French”. They’re just living their lives, stylishly or otherwise (and in the case of Jane Birkin, that meant spilling the contents of her straw basket and inspiring a man to create an iconic luxury handbag in her name).
Which brings us to another French woman, one in the spotlight thanks to her much gossiped about marriage. Brigitte Trogneux, 63, who might end up being the next First Lady of France, is a French woman with style. Married to Emmanuel Macron, a man who is 24 years younger than her and was once a student in her high school drama class (cue the quelle horreur!), much has been made of both her marriage, and the way she dresses.
Because she does not dress, as British Vogue pointed out, in the way that is expected (or at least projected) of a French woman. Or indeed, and most importantly, a woman of 63.
Because lean in a little closer for what I have to write is shocking … Trogneux wears mini-skirts! As in above the knee! And leather pants. And perilously high heels. Her hair is coiffed in the way that you know is both expensive and definitely not wash and go. Her limbs are lithe and tanned. Her teeth gleam. She has been dubbed the French Jane Fonda. She loves Louis Vuitton bags, and edgy perspex Gianvito Rossi heels and rock chick black ankle boots.
“Ms Macron is turning the tables on the Chic Bobo aesthetic (read: slim-cut navy tailoring, low-heeled shoes, shiny-but-not-obviously-coiffed hair) that has long classified the wardrobes of French women d’un certain âge in the political sphere in favour of a high-maintenance look that’s based on an “allure rock”, according to L’Express,” writes Ellie Pithers in Vogue.
Delphine de Canecaude, a Paris-based art director, said of Trogneux in L’Express: “She’s rock’n’roll. Not for a second does she say, ‘I’m 63, so I cannot wear short skirts’. Twelve-inch heels, sleeveless dresses, leather trousers, she dares everything.
“She is a mega wonderwoman.”
Trogneux clearly puts effort in. She enjoys fashion and she’s not about to dim her light in deference to the way a French woman — politician’s wife or otherwise — is meant to look, or meant to behave.
What Trogneaux is really doing is being herself, and not being perfect and not really caring what people might think. Which is what true style is all about. It’s not about nailing that dishevelled chic, pared back classic style that has become so idealised among fashion girls.
As Carine Roitfeld once said in an interview when she was still the editor-in-chief at French Vogue.
“I like to have something every month that is — how you say? — not politically correct. A little bit at the limit. Sex, nudity, a bit rock’n’roll, a sense of humour. That is very French Vogue.”
“It is the same with how I dress: I like to wear high heels with sweatpants, to wear white shoes in the middle of winter. I love when things are not quite going together. Even when I am old I will dress like that. Sometimes, when you go to airport and look at the people, you see the worst looks – but the worst looks can give you more ideas than the best looks.”
Fashion is best when not following rules, when it’s a bit wonky and when it expresses, in some way, exactly who you are.