French Wardrobe Philosophy: How to Build a Timeless Wardrobe


French style icons such as Jeanne Damas and Caroline de Maigret have heavily influenced my personal style. I just love perusing their Instagram feeds and studying their outfits. What makes them look so put together, so stylish and just so freaking cool?

If you’re a Francophile like me, you most likely admire the way French women pull off amazing timeless style with such an air of simplicity and ease. They seem to just know how to accentuate their best asset(s) and present themselves with confidence. I’ve often wondered, is there some secret French wardrobe philosophy that those of us in the states are not privy to?

The French do appear to have a different mindset when it comes to their clothing. They much prefer quality over quantity. Even their daily casual wear is more elevated than the average dress of those of us in the states. However, beyond quality, I’ve come to believe the key to a French women’s timeless wardrobe and effortless look is her well-developed personal style.

The French wardrobe philosophy is to create a timeless wardrobe of quality pieces you love wearing and feel confident in that reflects your personal style.

Creating a year round capsule wardrobe of quality basics that reflects your personal style is one of the simplest ways to achieve this coveted “effortless” look. The guesswork of getting dressed is removed and you can quickly pull together outfits that make you feel confident every day.

Let’s take a closer look at ways to implement the French wardrobe philosophy into your own closet.

Wardrobe Uniform & Outfit Formulas

Identifying your tried and true wardrobe uniforms will help you polish your personal style and maintain your capsule wardrobe with ease. The term wardrobe uniform may conjure visions of Steve jobs with his black turtleneck, which he so famously wore on a daily basis. You may also think of school uniforms, work uniforms or any other uniform that sounds dreadful to wear. Thankfully, incorporating wardrobe uniforms into a capsule wardrobe isn’t so restrictive and you may even find the process fun.

A wardrobe uniform is simply an outfit combination, or outfit formula you wear on repeat. Having multiple outfit formulas can help you define and round out your style. Some outfit formula examples are:

wide-leg bottom + tucked in tee shirt + ankle boots

wrap dress (a-line) + open cardigan + wedge sandal

blazer + sweater + skinny jeans + loafers

What are some wardrobe uniforms you are already wearing? Take some time to identify your favorite outfits or favorites pieces of clothing. Are there certain combinations you wear often or are drawn to? I recommend that you identify at least 1 to 2 favorite outfit formulas before working on developing your personal style.

Fashion changes, but style endures. – Coco Chanel


Define Your Style

Why is it timeless you say?  As Chanel quotes above, fashion comes and goes, but style endures. A wardrobe is timeless when it isn’t built around fads or trends, but is a statement of your own unique style.

Once you’ve identified your wardrobe uniforms, you can start to defining your unique personal style. Try not to simply pick out what appeals to you based on what looks good on a model or is trendy at the moment. Scrolling through Pinterest or the latest ads from our favorite brands can be a great source of inspiration, but the best way to hone in on your personal style is to look to items you already own.

Evaluate and study the wardrobe uniforms you identified to determine what it is you like about them. Start by considering the following:

Silhouette (boxy, a-line, cropped, etc.)

The silhouette is the foundation of any outfit. It determines the proportions and is the main criteria for creating your outfit formulas. Reducing an outfit down to simple shapes is a quick way to find its proportions. Using the outfit formula wide-leg jeans + tucked in tee shirt + ankle boots, the proportions would be tall trapezoid on the bottom and vertical rectangle on top.

The diagram below shows how the three example outfit formulas break down into simple shapes for the silhouettes.


Do this exercise for all the uniforms you’ve identified in your wardrobe to figure out the proportions for each.

Also, don’t worry if you discover each of your wardrobe uniforms has the same proportions. As you’ll see, there is lots of opportunity for variety by playing with fit, color and fabrics! Making sure the proportions are flattering and that you feel confident and comfortable in them is the most important thing.

Fit (structured, relaxed, fitted, etc.)

Next, consider the fit. Are the pieces structured and crisp and constructed of heavy woven fabrics? Or are they made of light woven or knitted fabrics that drape and have a more relaxed fit.

Quality of the fabrics (cotton, linen, silk, polyester, etc.)

What is the quality of the fabrics? Are they made of natural fibers such as silk, cotton and wool or are they synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon and acrylic? If you have a mixture of both then evaluate which ones you like better than others. This can be a great time to identify pieces where the proportion and style is right, but not the quality of the fabric. When you eventually replace the item you can opt to upgrade to a similar style in a nicer fabric.


Lastly, what are the colors (or lack of colors) in your uniforms? Most likely (or should I say, hopefully…) you’ll discover there are about 2-4 main colors.

Capsule Wardrobe Basics

Once you identify your outfit formulas and the core qualities of your personal style, you’re ready to build your capsule wardrobe of basics. The term basic only refers to the fact that these items are the basic building blocks of your wardrobe – it doesn’t have to mean the items themselves are basic.

The final step is to identify what your basics are by looking at your wardrobe uniforms. What are the styles and qualities of the tops, bottoms and other pieces in your formulas?

You’ve probably seen lists that say something like you must have 3 pairs of skinny jeans, 3 neutral tee shirts, etc. in your basics. Ignore these lists! You don’t have to adhere to someone else’s idea of basics, and why would you want to? Your basics are whatever items you love and wear the most.

Using the example wide-leg bottom + tucked in tee shirt + ankle boots once again, imagine it is one of your outfit formulas. You may have multiple variations of this outfit that you wear as a daily uniform. However, when you evaluate this uniform using the criteria above you may discover the following:

  • the wide leg bottoms you wear most are cropped structured jeans
  • the tee shirts you wear most are all fitted, brightly colored and constructed of linen
  • you own multiple pairs of ankle boots but the ones you wear the most are black

After you’ve evaluated each of your uniforms using this method, you should start to see a clear pattern emerge as to what your basics are. Once you know your basics, it’s easier to pull together a capsule wardrobe you’ll wear and love. It’s also easier to shop for new pieces because you know the shape, color and quality of the piece you’re looking for. This is very useful when replacing items in your wardrobe with a similar item of nicer quality, you know exactly what you’re looking for.

5 Piece French Wardrobe

Once you have your basic capsule wardrobe of quality pieces, practicing the 5 piece French wardrobe system is a great way to maintain it. The idea is that you only purchase five new items each season to keep it fresh and up to date. These 5 pieces are meant to supplement your core basics and inject a bit of personality. Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter are the seasons. Not – spring, summer, fall and winter. So we’re talking a total of 10 new pieces per year, not 20.

I love everything about this idea because it forces you to be thoughtful and really consider each new piece added to your closet. If you’ve struggled with impulse buying, adopting the 5-piece French Wardrobe can be a great tool to keep your shopping in check. Additionally, because you’re buying less, your budget can stretch further allowing you to purchase higher quality pieces.

We’ve covered a lot of concepts in this post, but I hope I’ve shown you how basics can form the foundation of a timeless wardrobe and your personal style. Using these tips should put you well on your way to developing you own well-developed personal style. You don’t have to live in France to look effortless and chic!

I’m going to leave you with one more quote by Chanel on personal style and being yourself.

The best color in the whole world is the one that looks good on you. – Coco Chanel


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