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5 Elements of French style

Karen Wheeler

Get style inspired via the French countryside with these five elements of sophisticated French style.

Karen Wheeler, author of Tout Sweet


When I swapped my life as a London-based fashion editor for rural France six years ago, I pictured myself drifting around the local market in a flouncy skirt and floppy sun hat, arms full of lavender. The reality was that I spent my first year perched up a ladder with a paintbrush as I set about renovating the small fixer-upper that I’d bought.

But, most imporantly, I’ve learned some style lessons too — that high heels and cobblestones (or worse, gravel driveways) are a ruinous combination, that a Barbour is more useful than a cashmere coat in the French countryside and that French women never, ever admit to working out (though I’m convinced they’re all doing pilates in private).

Inspired by my rustic surroundings, I’ve also acquired some new French style habits. Here are my top five elements of le style francais.

How to dress French

1The Floral dress

Inspired by the wild flowers of the French countryside — particularly the bright yellow sunflowers and red field poppies — I’ve amassed a large collection of floral sundresses since moving to France. My favorite, acquired this year, is a simple cotton tunic dress by the Italian label Marni, featuring a big red hibiscus print. Just looking at it makes me feel cheerful.

2The Breton Striped Shirt

It’s long been considered a fashion classic, but I can confirm that French women really do love this blue and white nautical style top, originally worn by Breton fishermen. Worn with cropped trousers and sandals, it’s an essential vacation piece.

3The Straw basket

In the French countryside, no one cares if you’re carrying the latest Chloe bag. Instead, everyone has a straw basket for ferrying home baguettes or fruit and vegetables from the local market. So, I’ve now got a collection of straw shoppers in different colors. When not in use, I hang them from cupboard doors as part of the decor.

4Luxe lingerie

Since living in France, I’ve developed an addiction for luxe French lingerie — everything ruthlessly matched! My favorite label is Princesse Tam Tam, which does fashionable lingerie in great colors, featuring modern laces.

5Chanel No 19 

My French friends usually have two signature fragrances — one for summer and one for winter. For summer I like Chanel No 19, which features sharp green notes and iris and is much more mysterious than the iconic No 5. I recently met Jacques Polges, the Chanel ‘nose’ who told me that No 19 is the connoisseur choice.

More on Karen’s adventure in France:

Karen Wheeler is an award-winning writer and former fashion editor. She is also the author of Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life In France, a bestselling memoir in which she reveals how she swapped Prada for paint brushes in order to renovate a house south-western France.

Tout Sweet

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