Do you like French fashion? I love it. Sure, couture creations are pricey and may seem a bit silly but that doesn’t stop me from looking longingly at the fanciful frocks that adorn the runways season to season. While I know I will never be on any “best dressed” lists, my interest in fashion started young. At nine years old I remember wanting a black-with-white-pockets skirt and T-shirt set. My mom refused to buy it for me unless it was the blue-with-green-and-pink pockets set because “a young girl shouldn’t be wearing black”. But it was so chic! Wearing black equaled being sophisticated and even though I’m not sure why I was concerned with that at nine years old, I was aware of how one dressed could make you feel. And French fashion just seems to exude being chic, sophisticated, and just a little bit daring!

For all of us who love the fashion that comes from France’s capital, September 27-October 5 will mark the unveiling of the 2022 spring/summer fashions shows in Paris. Well-known fashion houses like Chanel, Dior, and Armani Privé will be showing alongside other lesser-known fashion houses such as Olivier Theyskens, Chloé, and Balmain.

Let’s have a look at famous French looks and silhouettes that have influenced generations.

Coco Chanel’s Little Black Dress

Image via Marie Claire UK

In the Victorian Age prior to the 1920s the color black was reserved for mourning. Coco Chanel reinvented this notion by making the little black dress (LBD) chic instead of sad. The LBD became a dress simple enough for any social level. With a lower waist, shorter hemline, and a string of white pearls, this silhouette allowed women to feel more “free” without the restriction of the corset.

Christian Dior’s New Look

Image via Flickr

After former American editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Carmel Snow exclaimed, "It's quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!" a new look was indeed born. While women’s fashion during the 1920s and 1930s focused on freeform looks, Dior’s silhouette focused on tight-fitting jackets with padded hips, petite waists, and A-line skirts. Not everyone embraced Dior’s way of dressing, claiming it was too restrictive and regressive. Personally I adore this ladylike look and silhouette. It is the epitome of French fashion and while Dior himself relaxed his silhouette later in his career, he will always be known for this look.

Yves Saint Laurent and Le Smoking

Image by David Hilowitz via WikiCommons

Designer Yves Saint Laurent grew up in Algeria and moved to France at the age of 17. He worked for Dior at a young age and in 1957, when he was just 21 years old, became the head designer at the fashion house. While he had several iconic designs and collections (the Mondrian dress in 1966, the artist collection of Spring 1988, and the safari jacket in 1968), he is well-known for le smoking which he introduced in 1966. The look was controversial as it was the first time a high fashion designer offered trousers for an evening look. Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s former business and life partner said, “Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power.” Le smoking undoubtedly made a statement both in fashion and for the women that wore it.

André Courrèges and the Mini Skirt

Image via Flickr

Did you know that a Frenchman is co-credited in inventing the mini skirt? Who would have guessed?! Whether it was Courrèges or Brit Mary Quant, this Balenciaga-trained designer certainly had a flair for what would be known as 1960s fashion. After launching his own fashion house in 1961, he was known for simple, geometric designs and designing with materials such as Lycra and vinyl. He paired his short-skirt creations with low-heeled white ankle boots which eventually evolved into the go-go boot.

Whatever your favorite French designer or French look, it is undeniable that France has influenced the way we dressed in the past and dress today. We’re sure many of our readers have a little black dress, a striped shirt, or evening trousers in their closets. Merci les Français !

Can’t get enough of fashion and fashion week? Check out this story from CNN style about the most iconic moments in Paris Fashion Week history. And register for our fashion event with Jay Calderin on October 7!

What’s your favorite French fashion look?

Natalie Collet

Former Membership Manager

From the Midwest, Natalie is a Francophile at heart. Her interest in French started when studying ballet and​ the language and culture entranced her through her student years.​ She became involved with the - Alliance - in the suburbs of Chicago after she spent an unforgettable year teaching English in a French high school near Bordeaux. She is happy to join the team in Boston and work with the members to provide them with unique opportunities​, ​quality programming​, and a community through French!

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