The secrets to Parisienne chic (no beret required!)

French women seem to have style in their DNA, which Brit-in-Paris Marissa Cox has finally – after a few faux pas – mastered. Here’s her guide to nailing that je ne sais quoi.

Françoise Hardy
The poster girls for French polish: singer Françoise Hardy. Image: Getty Images

Eight years ago, I quit my job, packed up my London life, bought a one-way Eurostar ticket and embarked on the biggest adventure of my life. I moved to Paris because of a man, and while that relationship didn’t last, my love affair with Paris has become the most important relationship of my life.

I’ve become a fully fledged Francophile and practising Parisienne. For me, it’s about joie de vivre. Put less pressure on ‘perfect’ and more emphasis on pleasure! I think this philosophy towards everything from fashion and style to skincare is why so many of us seek to emulate Parisiennes. To me, to be Parisienne and embrace all that this city has to offer is to adopt a certain outlook on life – and I will show you how.

Parisienne style is often said to embody the famous phrase ‘je ne sais quoi’. The appeal lies in the effortlessness of it all, a laid-back way of dressing. It is far less try-hard than the majority of the world’s fashions.

When I moved to Paris, I was baffled by what to wear and intimidated by suddenly finding myself in the fashion capital of the world. After some experimentation (and a few fashion faux pas), I’ve finally learnt how to dress a little more effortlessly. I no longer try to disappear or stand out, nor do I actively follow trends. I don’t overdress like I did in my London days – here, that’s a big non. Instead, I have adopted a more timeless, grown-up look.

Marissa cox
‘For me, French style is about joie de vivre,’ says Marissa Cox. Image: @ruerodier

I believe Parisienne style boils down to a few key things: simplicity, figure-enhancing pieces and, most importantly, wearing items that are flattering, confidence-building and make you feel like yourself. That’s why Parisienne style is so famous: it makes you look great and appear more confident.

There is a tendency to pigeonhole Parisienne style – think of the red-lipped woman in a white shirt and jeans, who wears a beret in winter, a trench in spring and espadrilles in summer. But, stereotypes aside, I do think there is a sort of ‘uniform’. Parisiennes have mastered the art of a pared-back wardrobe, a careful curation of essential pieces that they love and can all be coordinated with each other.

To emulate their style, here are the ten pieces no Parisienne would be without and, because versatility is key, all the items can be mixed and matched.

Brigitte Bardot
The poster girls for French polish: actress Brigitte Bardot. Image: Getty Images

1. The straight-leg jeans

The one item that my most stylish influencer and fashion editor friends wear more than anything else is a good pair of jeans. The most flattering style, and one that is likely to suit most female bodies, is a straight-legged, high-waisted jean that falls just above the ankle. It will balance out larger hips and elongate your legs, while the high waist will enhance your middle as well as your behind.

Go-to brands Goldsign, Agolde, Citizens of Humanity, J Brand, Rouje, Gap, Arket, Sézane, Levi’s, Frame, Re/Done, L’Agencer.

2. The black blazer

Besides a good pair of jeans, no item works harder in my wardrobe than a black blazer. I wear it with jeans, over dresses, with skirts and layered with jumpers. Look for something slightly oversized, with light padding in the shoulders, like you’re wearing your boyfriend’s suit jacket.

Go-to brands Arket, The Frankie Shop, House of Dagmar, Le 17 Septembre, Musier, Acne Studios, Joseph, Massimo Dutti.

3. The white shirt

This will see you through every eventuality and occasion. It is one of the most versatile pieces of clothing ever invented. Wear it in winter under warmer layers or over a swimsuit on holiday to protect your skin from the sun. Everyone has, at some point, sported the timeless ensemble of a white shirt with jeans – from Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Emmanuelle Alt to actress and model Clémence Poésy.

Go-to brands Citizens of Humanity, Jacquemus, Anine Bing, Uniqlo, Gant, Equipment, Marie Marot, H&M.

Coco Chanel
The poster girls for French polish: designer Coco Chanel. Image: Alamy

4. The ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo

Created by Yves Saint Laurent in 1966 for his autumn/winter collection, ‘Le Smoking’ is an iconic tuxedo suit for women. Jane Birkin says there is nothing better than ‘Le Smoking’ for every occasion: ‘If you have that in your wardrobe, and a silk blouse by Agnès B, you can go anywhere.’

Go-to brands House of Dagmar, Vince, Sézane, Sandro, The Frankie Shop.

5. The beige trench coat

If you’re looking to invest in a Parisienne essential that won’t go out of fashion, you can’t go wrong with a beige trench.

Go-to brands Totême, APC, House of Dagmar, Massimo Dutti, The Frankie Shop, Les Coyotes de Paris, Le:Apt.

6. The basket shopper

This was once synonymous with wealth, since it was only available in seaside destinations and therefore bought by those who could afford to travel. French fashion designer Vanessa Seward once called the basket bag the ‘anti-It bag’ as it ‘showed taste over money’. They don’t need to be expensive to look elegant. You can find them at markets and many high-street brands have their own versions.

Go-to brands Jacquemus, Loewe, Sézane, APC, Chloé, Céline, Kayu.

Sylvie Vartan
The poster girls for French polish: singer Sylvie Vartan. Image: Getty Images

7. The low-heel sock boot

One of the most go-to footwear styles in the Parisienne’s wardrobe, the sock boot is easy to wear, comfortable and oozes elegance. Tight round the ankle so that it can be worn neatly under jeans and trousers, it looks just as good on a naked leg.

Go-to brands By Far, Loq, Rouje, Miista, Acne Studios.

8. The neutral cardigan

Known as the gilet in French, this is updated every season by French labels. Choose a wool/alpaca blend for extra cosiness.

Go-to brands Claudie Pierlot, Eric Bompard, Vince, Sézane, Rouje, b.Fleurs, Loulou Studio, American Vintage.

9. The sleek bag

Think the Fendi Baguette – launched in the 1990s and worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City, it’s been synonymous with French chic ever since – or something simpler like a crossbody in navy or black with minimal hardware. APC’s ‘half-moon’ crossbody bag has become an iconic French design.

Go-to brands Léo et Violette, APC, Loewe, Sézane, ATP Atelier.

10. The one-piece swimsuit

This is the swimwear style that every Parisienne is sure to have in her wardrobe. The streamlined silhouette does wonders for the figure, flattering you in all the right places. It’s versatile, too – very Parisienne – as it can be worn as a body with shorts or a skirt.

Go-to brands Eres, Hunza G, Solid & Striped, Ysé, Evarae, Peony, Rouje, Magda Butrym.

What you’ll find in every Parisienne’s wardrobe

tuxedo jacket

black trousers

trench coat

ankle boot


white shirt



black handbag


basket bag

…And the dress code they live by

Remember, less is more To overdress is deemed a fashion faux pas and, just as their beauty regime adheres to the same adage, Parisiennes tend to go easy on accessories, often opting for one carefully chosen piece to elevate a look.

Invest in items that last Reach a little deeper into your wallet: investing in a better piece will save money later on.

Give skyscraper heels a miss Low block heels, loafers and espadrilles are your friends. Comfort is key.

Avoid prints Patterns can date fast, except for leopard print (which Parisiennes consider a neutral), gingham and checks, plus tweed in winter, à la Chanel.

Shop vintage There are dozens of shops dedicated to vintage clothing dotted around Paris, such as Kilo Shop and Hippy Market, or Parisiennes will find unique pieces at local pop-up brocantes (flea markets) and online on sites such as Ebay, Etsy, Vestiaire Collective, Vinted and Le Bon Coin (France’s answer to Gumtree).

Borrow from the boys Parisiennes have mastered the art of masculine dressing. There’s nothing sexier than wearing something a little oversized and slightly masculine that leaves more to the imagination. Try wearing an oversized shirt or jacket, but keep underwear dainty and lacy.

Make accessories minimal Discreet jewellery goes with everything and looks elegant.

Flatter and accentuate your assets Clothes should make you feel confident and sexy, not like you’re trying to be someone else.

This is an edited extract from Marissa’s book Practising Parisienne: Lifestyle Secrets from the City of Lights, price £14.99. Published by Headline. To order a copy for £12.74 until 26 September, go to or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.