Disclaimers: I have never been to France. I only know a handful of French people. These are merely an amateur’s observations of French style icons, based purely upon photographs and a small amount of reading.
Observation no. 1: Hair is either very long or very short and extremely minimalist.
Essentially, French hair is the opposite of Texas hair. French hair seems to be best when it looks like you have done absolutely nothing to it. Messy is better than structured and coiffed.
Observation no. 2: Color and patterns are used sparingly.
One color seems to be more than enough for one outfit. French women never seem to overdo it. The proverb seems to be: If you’re going to use a pattern or a crazy color, use them carefully; the pattern and the color should never be excessively distracting.
Observation no. 3: Subtle sexiness.
Again, we find the opposite of American sexiness (BOOBS! In your face!) in the way that the French woman seems to project how alluring she is. French women don’t show a lot of skin, but when they do, they really know how to do it tastefully, playing up their best assets (e.g., a short skirt if you have great legs, an exposed collarbone if that’s your angle). Sheer also seems to be really big in everyday French fashion right now.
Observation no. 4: FIT!
If it doesn’t fit your body, don’t wear it. I still have a lot to learn in this department. This is something that Jonathan is always (wisely) preaching to me, too. One of my goals this year is to actually take some of my clothes to a tailor! Gasp. I have never done this before. Few of us, as Jonathan says, are lucky enough to be able to buy clothes that fit straight off the rack. The majority of us should get our clothes tailored. Accordingly, French women seem to inherently understand this principle of fit. Their clothes seem to be made for them.
Observation no. 5: Minimal makeup.
It seems that the French trick to makeup is to always look as if you weren’t wearing any. This was always what my mom told me, too, when I started experimenting with makeup as a young teen. French women never look overdone. French women are also famous for their skincare routines and their seeming acceptance of natural skin tone (e.g., lack of the American urge to be perennially bronzed). And if in doubt, just wear a bold red lip with nothing else on your face.
My conclusion is one word: Natural. French style strikes me as so very natural. Obviously, it takes a lot of time and effort and money and a great eye, but French style presents itself as natural: This is the way my hair and face naturally look; I have done nothing to them. These are the clothes that I just “throw on” when I roll out of bed in the morning. That seems to be the consistent theme of French style, if I had to narrow it down, in my limited observation.
To an American like myself, cultivating this aesthetic will clearly take a lot of work before it comes to me “naturally.” But that’s the idea.