LIKE A FRENCH GIRL

The French Girl Myth Will Never Go Away Because We Don’t Really Want It To

A look back at the enduring desire to do everything like a French girl.


Coco Chanel, French couturier. Paris, 1936. LIP-69
Lipnitzki/Getty Images

I’ll never forget the time I took a bite out of a flaky, butter-filled croissant one morning while walking down the streets of Paris, only to have a French girl sneer at me with the utmost disdain. “Are you enjoying that?” She said scathingly, shaking her head. My mouth was too full to tell her that, yes, in fact, I was.

Eating in public was something I’ve done—and continue to do—countless times in New York City, where pedestrians are committing far worse etiquette crimes on a regular basis. But in France, this is an affront. Having only been in the country a few weeks, I didn’t yet understand these strict codes of conduct, from food to fashion to friendships. But, as evidenced by my breakfast blunder, I would soon learn that the French have a very specific way of doing things, and that it was in my best interest to do them, too.

Such is the root of the “French girl myth,” which has captured the imaginations of fashion publications, brands, and popular culture writ large ever since the days of Coco Chanel, and maybe even as far back as Marie Antoinette. We find ourselves wanting to do everything “like a French girl,” simply because there is a way in which French girls do things. That is to say: there is arguably no unified sense of taste for American girls, which is, of course, ultimately what makes America the place that it is.

The grass is always greener, though, and thanks to celebrated French fashion icons like Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy; movies like An American In Paris and Amélie; and books like A Moveable Feast and French Women Don’t Get Fat, American women entertain the idea that French woman have the innate ability to possess superior style, smaller waists, clearer skin, more complex neckties, cooler social lives, and richer romance than the rest of us—and all while putting in little to no effort.

The Most Iconic French Girls of All Time, From Brigitte Bardot to Jeanne Damas

French actress Catherine Deneuve at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1966. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Françoise Hardy has been cited as an inspiration for many fashion figures such as André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, and Nicolas Ghesquière. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Brigitte Bardot, here in 1960, was a French actress, singer, dancer and fashion model, who later became an animal rights activist. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy exits the The Metropolitan Museum of Art following the The White House Symposium on Advancing Global Literacy Meeting on September 22, 2008 in New York City. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Charlotte Gainsbourg attends the Cesar Film Awards 2013 at Theatre du Chatelet on February 22, 2013 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Eva Green started her career as a model in France, eventually becoming Tim Burton’s newest muse. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Since breaking out at age 14, Vanessa Paradis has been the face of Chanel since 1991. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Melanie Laurent attends ‘L’Attrape-Reves’ Paris Premiere at UGC Cine Cite des Halles on October 20, 2016 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Ines de la Fressange attends the Schiaparelli show as part of Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2015/2016 on July 6, 2015 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Soko attends the Gucci Cruise 2019 show at Alyscamps on May 30, 2018 in Arles, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Audrey Tautou arrives at the H&M fashion show during Paris Fashion Week Fall Winter 2015/2016 on March 4, 2015 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Lou Doillon attends the Saint Laurent show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2017/2018 on February 28, 2017 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Lea Seydoux attends the ‘Louis Vuitton Masters: a collaboration with Jeff Koons’ dinner at Musee du Louvre on April 11, 2017 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Constance Jablonski attends Harper’s Bazaar: 150th Anniversary Party at The Rainbow Room on April 19, 2017 in New York City. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Marion Cotillard attends the Chopard and Annabel’s Gentleman’s Evening at the Hotel Martinez during the 70th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 24, 2017 in Cannes, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Jeanne Damas attends the Tory Burch Regent Street opening on May 22, 2017 in London, England. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Caroline de Maigret attends the CHANEL Metiers D’art Collection Paris Cosmopolite show at the Tsunamachi Mitsui Club on May 31, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Clemence Poesy attends Vogue Foundation Dinner during Paris Fashion Week as part of Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2017-2018 at Musee Galliera on July 4, 2017 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Gabrielle Chanel, known as Coco, the French couturier. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele attends the Glamour dinner for Patrick Demarchelier as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2014 at Monsieur Bleu restaurant on September 29, 2013 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Laetitia Casta attends the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2016/2017 on March 5, 2016 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Astrid Berges-Frisbey attends the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2019 on October 2, 2018 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Isabelle Hupert attends the 16th Sidaction as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 25, 2018 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images

Portrait of actress Juliette Binoche. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Getty Images
1/24

It sounds impossible because it is. Lest we forget that French women are human beings, too. But it’s close enough to reality for us to indulge it, and where there is demand, there is also supply. As Racked highlighted this summer, the French girl fantasy has become a billion-dollar industry, from beauty to fashion to lifestyle. Today, for example, rather than British actress and honorary French girl Jane Birkin, we have an Instagram influencer like Jeanne Damas, who can consistently be seen wearing espadrilles and red lipstick on social media, and who also just launched her own label of French girl essentials, Rouge.

The myth of the French girl remains the same; what’s different is that it’s never been easier to both achieve it, and profit from it, whether you’re French or not. And so, as long as there are French girls, we will find ways to be like them.

While the “like a French girl” trope produces more eye-rolls each time it’s used, and may feel like it has reached its saturation point, it’s never going away simply because we don’t want it to. As free as Americans think we are do to as we please, we still crave being told how to dress and what to eat. In 2017, we also want to believe there’s a better way of doing things.

The French girl myth isn’t so much about them as it is about us and our desire for fantasy. To use a French word: it’s the most delicious cliché there is, like eating a croissant in Paris. Don’t fight it.

Celebrate Bastille Day With the Best French Girl-Approved Pieces

The inspiration: Street style during Paris Couture Week Fall 2016, photographed by George Angelis.

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about this new bag from Givenchy. Givenchy bucket bag, $2,290, farfetch.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Jacquemus’ hit spring collection may be winning Instagram right now, but this staple is something you’ll wear for seasons to come. Jacquemus linen shirt, $297, mytheresa.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Where would she be without a classic scarf wrapped around her neck? The Kooples silk scarf, $105, thekooples.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Wear a lucky talisman around your neck. Maje lucky number necklace, $45, maje.com{: rel=nofollow}.

During the hot summer in the south of France, toss on a barely-there tank. Sandro knit top, $105, sandro-paris.com{: rel=nofollow}.

A french girl effortlessly rocks a bohemian dress; give this blush-hued one from Zadig & Voltaire a try. Zadig & Voltaire ruffle dress, $398, zadig-et-voltaire.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Saint Laurent is the backbone to every cool French girl’s closet. Saint Laurent suede belt, $375, mytheresa.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Every woman inspired by French girl style must own a Louis Vuitton bag – snag this brand new style inspired by the ‘80s. Louis Vuitton New Wave bag, $2,270, louisvuitton.com{: rel=nofollow}.

A classic Balmain knit with brass buttons is a nautical-inspired take on French girl style. Balmain sweater, $528, farfetch.com{: rel=nofollow}.

A flirty denim dress is essential to a French girl’s closet. Alexa Chung denim dress with keyhole, $380, mytheresa.com{: rel=nofollow}.

A chic French girl polishes her look off with a great watch. Tag Heuer Ladies Formula 1 watch, $2,100, tagheuer.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Chloé may be the most sought-after French label of the moment, and you can wear these pants well into fall. Chloé pants, $1,250, mytheresa.com{: rel=nofollow}.

When she is not wearing a ballet flat, the quintessential French girl may opt for a loafer. Bruno Magli metallic loafers, $425, brunomagli.com{: rel=nofollow}.

An A-Line skirt, mini or midi, is a must. Bottega Veneta white leather skirt, $2,980, netaporter.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Red, white, and blue is not just for American girls. Bally stripe turtleneck sweater, $595, bally.com{: rel=nofollow}.

A chic French woman knows she can wear white jeans year-round. AG straight-leg jeans with frayed hem, $215, agjeans.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Parlez-vous françias? Maison Labiche embroidered French sayings shirt, $150, farfetch.com{: rel=nofollow}.

A French girl knows how to show off her best assets, in a chic way. Kenzo knit mini dress, $605, mytheresa.com{: rel=nofollow}.

The French queen of knits was certainly Sonia Rykiel – be sure to snag one of the brand’s classic striped pieces. Sonia Rykiel t-shirt, $263, farfetch.com{: rel=nofollow}.

Embrace a square-toe, even for night. Sergio Rossi crystal-adorned sandal, $750, barneys.com{: rel=nofollow}.

French women know how to dress for the occasion, in an understated manner. Mizuki pearl and diamond earrings, $2,350, modaoperandi.com{: rel=nofollow}.

You don’t need to be french to wear a beret. Maison Michele wool hat, $520, mytheresa.com{: rel=nofollow}.

W may earn compensation on these sales through affiliate programs.

1/23

Marion Cotillard Knows She Would Make a Bad Spy: