How to Dress Like A French Woman: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

A lot has been written about how to dress like a French woman. Last month I spent four days in Paris and made my own list of ideas.

Even my husband, not usually tuned in to fashion, noticed “a lack of colorful clothes” on our trip.  He didn’t know it, but he was honing in on the classic strategy of dressing in neutrals. 

And that’s the whole point, really. There’s nothing magic about looking like a French woman. Most of us want to look like ourselves in ways that make us happy and at ease in our surroundings. 

The French seem to have mastered some classic rules for doing this.  Day after day, they appear looking effortlessly appropriate and stylishly ready for anything.  That’s why we copy how they dress.

And so my Dos and Don’t’s are really ideas for dressing well, inspired by the French.   The Do’s are what I saw.  The Don’t’s are what I did not see in Paris—these are clothes I see a lot in the U.S. (including my own closet), and on travels to the UK.

Did I miss anything?  

DO :

  • Try this uniform: skinny jeans + boots + a great jacket – seen on women from 16 to 60
  • Anchor your outfit with a neutral color
  • Go for excellent fabrics
  • Go for the best quality construction possible
  • Wear clothes that fit – that suggest the shape underneath
  • Aim for grown-up femininity
  • Have well-made shoes (ballet flats, boots, and pumps)
  • Make friends with scarves
  • Favor solid colors
  • Keep your hair natural
  • When in doubt, go for the understated look


  • Wear pastels
  • Buy cheap, “fast fashion” a la Target, Walmart, and Old Navy
  • Choose fabrics that wear out, pill, fade, or fall apart in one season
  • Dress in an overtly sexy way
  • Wear capri pants and a tee shirt as a summer uniform
  • Wear sneakers or workout clothes except for working out
  • Hide your shape under shapeless, baggy clothes
  • Wear head-to-toe colors
  • Wear head-to-toe prints
  • Overdo your hair or makeup
  • Give up on fashion after a certain age

For me, the really compelling idea is that French women give off an air of “I’m happy with myself.” I think it shows self-respect to buy a few clothes that are well-made, expensive, and beautiful – to take clothes seriously, but with restraint.

The French way of dressing reflects this.

The French seem to value food the same way – quality over quantity. And this, too, shows in what we think of as the French fashion “look.”

Let’s face it—clothes look different on thin people than not-so-thin. And even though obesity is on the rise in France, French women as a whole are still thinner than Americans and British.

As an American woman with a few extra pounds, I know first-hand the complex and usually painful issues most of us have with body image and weight.  They’re closely tied in with how we dress.   

But I take encouragement from what I saw in France. Can we American women use the French example to treat ourselves with as much respect as possible concerning clothing, food, and body-image?

That seems like a great basic rule for dressing well.

Cheers, Sally 

photos used with permission, from

Expert Advice: How to Buy and Care for Cashmere Sweaters

I’ll never forget the birthday sweater I bought myself three years ago.  It was the most perfect shade of blue and thick, soft cashmere.  The only problem was that after I wore it—once—it was covered with pills under the arms and back.  Into the return package it went.  And you can bet I never bought a sweater from that company again.

I hope this hasn’t happened to you, but I’m guessing it has, if you love cashmere.  

Cashmere is the fiber of the cashmere goat, and it’s been a luxury for centuries.  For most of that time, it was truly a luxury item.  A sweater could cost $200 in the days when $200 went farther than it does today. 

But the last fifteen years have seen an influx of dirt-cheap cashmere into world clothes markets.  More and more manufacturers are selling cashmere, some of it at very low prices.  

Cashmere Goat

isn’t she cute?  Link, here

The good news is, cashmere is more accessible to many of use than  it used to be.  There’s just more of it around—it’s even showing up in thrift stores. 

The bad news is, unless we know what we’re buying, we can be very disappointed in a cashmere purchase. 

Here are some cashmere facts that can help us make good buying decisions (see my sources at the bottom of post).   

  • Today, China has become the world’s largest producer of cashmere—in the past, France and Scotland were top producers.
  • Quality varies according to length and width of fibers.  Width determines softness, while length determines strength.  Long, thin fibers are the best quality and will get softer over time. 

To Test Cashmere for Quality….

  • Rub the surface with your fingers.  Low-quality cashmere will pill almost immediately. 
  • Crush the fabric in your hand.  Fewer wrinkles equal better quality. 
  • Gently pull the sweater.  Good quality springs back to its original shape. 
  • Look for tags that say pure fibers or wool blends only.  Blends with synthetics can mean lower-quality cashmere was used.   

Pish Posh Pashmina

“Pashmina” is not a material separate from cashmere.  It’s a name used to mislead consumers into thinking they’re getting cashmere.  The word “pashmina” comes from the Persian for wool—Pashm.  A garment with a fiber label of “pashmina” in the U.S. is breaking federal regulations that require the exact content of cashmere be disclosed. 

A better use of the word pashmina is to refer to the scarf-like shawl.  Pashminas are super versatile items and I highly recommend having one….but don’t assume it’s made of cashmere. 

Care of Cashmere

Knit cashmere is best hand-washed.  Hand-washing is actually better for the fibers than dry-cleaning, and will result in a sweater that just gets softer over time. 

If you buy cashmere that pills up, try an inexpensive shaver or a sweater comb. 

The Bottom Line

A good-quality cashmere item can last a lifetime if you choose well.  Before you drop good money on cashmere garment, learn what you’re getting.  There’s nothing wrong with choosing a lower-priced, lower-quality garment as long as you know aren’t being misled into thinking it’s something different.  

From:  Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers’ Institute FAQ’s and U.S. Better Business Bureau article on Federal Trade Commission Regulations on Cashmere Labeling.  Albany Times Union, Dec, 25, 2004; “Italy Faces Mounting Threats to Cashmere,” Women’s Wear Daily Dec. 6, 2005.