Men’s French Style: How To Dress Like A Parisian
With a seemingly innate knack for tailored swagger combined with an effortless knowhow for modern streetwear, here's why stylish Parisians rarely falter when it comes to putting looks together.
As residents of the global luxury fashion epicentre, not to mention one of the most romantic cities in the world, it would be near enough criminal for Parisian men to dress poorly. Take a trip to the French capital and stroll the streets of Le Marais, SoPi or St Germain des Pres and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a badly dressed man, no matter what his age.
At its rudiments, Parisian style is defined by an understated elegance, with a strong focus on quality essentials and statement pieces, all the while incorporating a certain nonchalant savoir faire. Whereas the Italians have cultivated what they call ‘sprezzatura’ – the art of looking effortless – the Parisian’s seeming easiness when it comes to style belies a diligent adherence to classic tailoring principles and timeless menswear tropes. His is a tighter colour palette, a slimmer silhouette and a preference for refined business casual, mixed in with vintage classics.
Of course, Paris is home to many different fashion tribes and each one legitimately requires its own treatise, so we have chosen our favourite elements that we think best constitute modern French style on the whole. Fashion moves with the times, but Parisian style seems to have a timelessness all of its own.
Work your niche
The stylish Parisian knows his lane and stays in it. Religiously. He has defined his ‘look’ and he rarely deviates far from it – to the extent that it becomes part of his persona.
His niche might not even be a genre or tribe of menswear, but a tight colour palette. He may only wear navy, white and the odd splash of neutrals, for example, or perhaps his silhouette is strictly slim and uncompromisingly made up of black garments. Maybe his thing is to mix vintage casualwear with high-end luxury tailoring – the point is he knows unequivocally how he wants to present himself to the world, and it’s this self-assurance that compounds the Parisian confidence.
It doesn’t mean that your look can’t evolve over time, but that journey will look and feel a lot more cohesive if you perfect certain aesthetics along the way.
Take the basics to the bank
Such is the Parisian’s attention to detail, he does not cut corners when it comes to wardrobe basics. That’s because his definition of basics is likely far broader than many. For example, a well tailored navy suit jacket or blazer would be deemed a basic since it plays such an integral part in everyday Parisian style. It’s as ubiquitous as the white T-shirt, or minimal sneakers, and such items can be incorporated into so many different looks that they have become wardrobe staples.
Hence, the Parisian does not scrimp on quality. Investing in top quality basics such as tees and denim goes a long way to elevating the rest of your wardrobe.
Tailored to your body
French fashion brands have long had a love affair with svelte tailoring, despite a more contemporary move towards more relaxed and boxy shapes. Trends aside, the smart Parisian silhouette fits and flatters the body, rather than hides it. Suit shapes are decidedly slim, with narrow lapels being the norm.
Hedi Slimane is often credited for bringing that skinny, rock ‘n ‘roll aesthetic to Paris but really it was there all along because discerning Parisians don’t typically do experimental shapes. Naturally, this all calls for the requisite waistline, too, which many Frenchmen seem to be able to maintain despite patisseries being on every corner.
Mix classy with casual
In certain arrondissements, but particularly Le Marais, you’ll very often see Parisians sporting the perfect blend of casual sportswear and tailored outerwear. It might be in the form of a statement hoodie with a stunning tailored coat over the top, or perhaps it’s a pair of sweatpants and sneakers worn with a belted mackintosh or a technical parka.
That mix of sportswear and tailored outerwear is a brilliant Parisian concoction – on the one hand it displays a certain amount of status thanks to the statement outerwear, while on the other it speaks volumes about Parisian nonchalance and confidence. It’s as if to say “What, this? Oh these are just some things I threw together” when actually each element has been carefully considered.
One French menswear brand that does this exceptionally well season after season is AMI, so check out their previous shows for inspiration.
Be colour blind
The quickest way to look Parisian? And make your life easier to boot? Wear nothing but black, navy and white. Sounds boring on the surface of things, but restricting your colour palette to three or four fundamental tones makes you think much more about shape and texture and less about the things you can really get wrong, such as patterns or vibrant colours.
A relaxed, unstructured navy suit with a quality white T-shirt one day, a tonal navy knitted polo the next, or swap out the trousers for white pleated chinos and tan loafers. Or go slim black denim jeans, black Chelsea boots and knitted polo shirt, layering over a grey suede trucker jacket. You get the idea.
Working with a tight circle of colours can actually make you more creative, not less – something the stylish Parisian has known for a long time.
Double down on denim
It’s no accident that a number of contemporary French labels have made a name for themselves for producing high-quality denim. The likes of A.P.C, AMI and Officine Generale produce amazing denim season after season, catering to the Parisian taste for wearing them in casual outfits with simple tees, bomber jackets and sneakers. Think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and you get the vibe.
Lean towards a straight-leg style or one with a natural taper and steer clear of overly distressed styles. While jeans are definitely an off-duty look for most stylish Parisians, it’s still good to err on the smarter side of casual.
Killer pieces of outerwear
Whether it’s a vintage trench coat by Burberry or a sublime leather blouson by Berluti, stylish Parisians invest in outerwear. It’s the part of your look with the biggest bang for your buck since it takes up the most visible area of your personal real estate. Hence, it makes sense to pour your hard-earned cash into pieces that are going to be admired and remembered.
Wearing a statement jacket is all the more evident when you team it with vintage or thrift elements because it shows that you have your own sense of individual style (no Parisian would ever wear one brand head-to-toe).
In the spring and summer, think suede truckers, lightweight linen or cotton blousons, and push the boat out. In the winter months, go big on trenches and voluminous wool coats. It’s the one element of the Parisian look where you can afford yourself a little extravagance.
Level up your shoe game
Whether it’s one-piece leather Oxfords, impossibly soft suede loafers, retro Converse high-tops, or on-trend sneakers, Frenchmen don’t scrimp on their footwear. Which makes sense seeing as some of the world’s finest shoemakers – the likes of JM Weston, Maison Corthay and Berluti – manufacture in Paris.
Parisians place great value in their footwear and rightly so, because they can make or break an outfit. In the summer, the focus is very much on suede and leather loafers on the smart side, and lo-fi sneakers and slip-ons on the casual side (check out the Provençal brand Zespà for a great range of luxury kicks). Espadrilles are an off-duty favourite, too.
Smart trousers are a smart idea
Stylish French men are well aware of the transformative power of a pair of smart, well-tailored trousers. Chinos are popular, but we’re talking a level up here – think buttery-soft pleated (or double-pleated) cotton trousers.
The tailored approach instantly upgrades a look, regardless of whether you’re wearing a matching jacket and loafers or are dressing down the trousers with a loopback sweater and sneakers.
While tailored trousers provide a level of sophistication and refinement that chinos can rarely offer, you can still style them in casual ways. Wearing them shows that you appreciate quality and craftsmanship, and are creative enough to see their utility beyond being one half of a suit.
Black, navy and white or off-white styles with pleats will stand you in good Parisian stead.
Never enough leather and suede jackets
While stylish Parisians tend to refrain from indulging in vapid logomania, they do appreciate fine fabrics, foremost among them being leather and suede. Supple leather and suede jackets in the form of elevated motorcycle jackets, bombers, blousons, trucker jackets and overshirts are the height of luxury, providing contemporary elegance and low-key status signalling.
Leather and suede are both easy to dress up or down, too. For example, a black leather jacket can be worn in a head-to-toe black look with slim jeans, a black T-shirt and Chelsea boots, or it can be nonchalantly thrown over a hoodie and trackpants. A tan suede blouson on the other hand is a brilliant textural addition to smart tailored trousers.
Leather and suede only seem to improve with age if cared for well – so whether it’s a Perfecto style by Saint Laurent or a tactile tan silhouette by Dior, discerning French men know these are garments for life and invest wisely.