How French Women Get Dressed for Work?

Lately, Jamie from Michigan USA kindly sent me this rather intriguing message: « I came across an outfit challenge online (#CorporetteOutfitChallenge, editor’s note) that I thought you would find interesting. I remember reading some of your tips for ‘no idea’ days and I definitely have those and get bored, so I decided to sign up for this free challenge to get some work ideas. Every Sunday for a month they email some ‘formulas’ to try for work outfits with items most people already own. I’ve only received the first week so far, but they give links to some examples and I wore a color combination today I never would have thought of (black, navy, olive green). The woman who did this said it took her a lot of time to create it, but I think you could do something similar with Parisian style and even link back to posts you’ve already done (especially the wearing color like a French woman), and maybe set up an Instagram page where people can post what they came up with ».

So many good ideas in Jamie’s message that I had to check the website and see what it was all about

First observation: yes this website can be useful as it’s clearly oriented to help « women lawyers, bankers, MBAs, consultants, and otherwise overachieving chicks who need to look professional but want to look fashionable« . I’m sure that the author Kat Griffin, (then a litigator at a Wall Street law firm) spent a lot of time to create it. The few posts I have read are really detailed with numerous references and suggestions.

Second observation: still, with a French perspective, I will imagine a very different style of outfits. Some of them look outdated to me. Others are not suitable to enhance every silhouette… Even if we clearly speak about working and corporate outfits, we don’t really use the same stylistic codes in France.

So here are 5 fundamental principles…

1/Cultivate your image

No matter your job environment, the way you dress makes a difference in how you are perceived. If you do not make any effort on your outfit, you may, therefore, seem lazy or neglected. We already know that what we wear has a definite impact on how others see us and behave toward us. But not only. A recent study*claims that the formality of clothing might not only influence the way others perceive a person, and how people perceive themselves, but could influence decision making in important ways through its influence on processing style…

Capsule wardrobe for workAnne Hataway in « The Devil Wears Prada »: a perfect case study of an inappropriate working outfit in a demanding stylistic environment…

So every day, whether at work or not, is a chance to shape your image as you wish it to be. Remember this and take the time to really stick to it. That mean no low-cost fabrics, fake leather shoes (or bags) or cheap accessories. You need to invest in a few good quality pieces. Then, you can play with these reliable wardrobe pieces in different ways… Because you still need to express your personality and you don’t want to look either copy-pasted (« how to dress classic chic but not boring ») or older than you really are!

2. Clothing depends on your career, not on fashion. Stay aware though…

The rules of workwear do not necessarily change years after years, they change from one position to another. Are you a manager or an intern? Do you meet clients or do you work remotely at home?  Do you evolve in a rather conservative environment, such as finance or law or do you evolve in areas such as architecture, communication or graphic design that encourage a creative style in the workplace? To summarize:  you must adapt to your environment with a style in harmony with the spirit of the company. But corporate doesn’t necessarily mean « standard » or average. In that matter, details make the difference! You want to be perceived as talented and qualified, it doesn’t mean you want to look outdated!

A trouser suit is a good staple. Still, even if the trousers come in a classic cut, it has to be modern and up to date

Parisian style

(Gérard Darel)

As long as it’s elegant, you can even wear your trousers with an unpaired jacket…

French chic

Parisian chic

(both pictures Gérard Darel)

3. Choose pieces that boost your confidence

Nothing worse than wearing a supposed « perfect working suit » if you feel ill at ease in it. At the opposite well-chosen clothing items will let you move with confidence and create trust, because of their flattering shapes or colors. These pieces have the ability to put you in a good mood and facilitate your professional relationships. It can either be a well-cut suit, a blazer, a shirt dress or a silk blouse… But I won’t tell you that you absolutely need a sheath dress or a pencil skirt… depending on your silhouette these pieces might not be made for you and you can easily replace them with something else…

If you want to learn the right way to look at you and harness the power of your silhouette, I wrote an e-book that already helped many women

French women style

All in jersey black or in a printed fabric (above), this Boden dress is more easy to wear than a pencil skirt and still looks perfectly « corporate friendly »

French women style

Knowing that, I’m sure you already have one piece in your wardrobe that you like and that makes you happy and confident. Then, compose your outfit around this item (except if it’s a holy bleach skinny jeans…). Personally, for business meetings, I will always rely on a shirt dress. In fact, I know I need sleeves (my arms aren’t thin and shaped anymore), my shoulders width doesn’t fit round collars but my waist is rather narrow and I can easily tie a belt…

These dresses cuts work for me. But it doesn’t mean it should be a « must-have » for you too…

French women style(J. Crew)

French women style(Boden)

In all cases, avoid wearing anything just because you think you « have to ». As another example, you shouldn’t suffer the whole day with high pointed pumps if your feet can’t stand it…

Other solutions exist for wearing elegant shoes.

Like these booties…

French fashion brands(Sezane)

French fashion brands(Carel Paris)

A pair of penny loafers

French women style(J. Crew)


French fashion brands(Sezane)

And if you really need to wear heels, why not considering a more stable option like square ones…

French fashion brands(Sezane)

4. This is not the Fifties anymore…

Whatever the job uses and traditions, there is no longer a unique « professional » style. The time when the women had to wear a strict uniform with a straight skirt and a close collar is over. We don’t want to attract the attention on a specific part of our silhouette and to be honest, I think that cropped tops, very tight tops, mini dresses or mini-skirts are generally not recommended on workspaces. But we no longer have to erase our femininity in an unflattering outfit to work in a male-dominated environment… (therefore, it can be rather comfortable and fun to steal few masculine codes and play with them to twist our working outfits)… It is possible to model a feminine silhouette with many different options.

With a blouse…

French women style(Gérard Darel)

A white shirt

French women style(Alain Figaret)

A nice printed sweater

French fashion brands(Gérard Darel)

Or pants that show your ankles…

Parisian style(Gérard Darel)

5. Office attire needs to be well adjusted

The first thing all workwear should have in common is a good cut. As an example, if you think about it, it’s not because air companies wanted to make flight attendants look fashionable that they usually choose renowned fashion creators to design their uniforms. In doing this the company knew that men and women wearing them will move at ease and always look impeccably dressed…

French women styleAir France uniform

Shapeless clothes in soft fabrics are OK to chill out the weekend; they will never reflect your professionalism. A few custom pieces are required.

Then, knowing all of these principles you still may face « don’t know what to wear » days.

The solution: create your own « uniform ». When I say « uniform », I don’t say a boring suit. I mean a capsule wardrobe composed of all the items you need for one week and that is easy to switch from one day to another. And if you feel like you need some help, have a look at this section: Your Capsule Wardrobe for Work

*A study from a research team of psychological scientists from California State University, Northridge and Columbia University

I just love when you send me comments and feedback: always so interesting!

Kate just did it via email. I copy paste it here so you can join the conversation in the comment section, that would be easier :)

Happy New Year! 🎉🎈
You are so ‘ spot on ‘ … When I clicked to that message – and read your observations,
you are absolutely right.
As I wrote to you earlier, when I found your blog via Paolo, it was a huge turning point for me.
I must of read and reread many times… Each time, I am inspired, I smile, and tell myself when I just don’t feel like it – what would Cecile say….
You see, I am Une Femme d’ du Certain Age and finding my personal style in many ways.
Who dresses older than their age – well some do… Stuck in the sixties.. I mean, stuck. Blending the sixties with current is fine… Don’t you think so?
I have made many mistakes in fashion and in hair… 😱. Oh, dear…. Move forward, shall we?
I know what I like and know what looks good on me. I like to try something new at times, but I always return to what works on me – still… I want to introduce a few pieces for fun.
When I saw the photos I told myself that is what I am looking for and take a chance and try – for goodness sake.
Through you, Cecile, I learned about myself. I am going to pray that one day WILL come and ask for
your personal service. You betcha!!
From bottom of my heart ‘ Thank you’ ‘ Thank you ‘ !!

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