Followers to this page know how much I love French style. But Italian style is making a big splash (and I’ve loved Italy ever since watching Roman Holiday.) So, what exactly is “French” style and what is “Italian” style and are they really that different? Let’s break it down.
When you think of France you usually think of Paris, simply because it is an international fashion capital where new styles and trends originate. Parisian climate is generally cooler year round. That requires being a little bit more covered up, or prepared to cover up, even on the warm days when nights can be cool to chilly.
Because French women – and Europeans in general – tend to have smaller closets, French women have to be very practical and thoughtful about how they shop. Their pieces need to serve multiple purposes and they want them to last for a long time. That’s likely why the French fashion aesthetic most often leans in toward high-quality Classic style basics.
Simplicity but not Simple
Although the ensembles may look simple they are very carefully planned. It’s a style that suggests self-confident simplicity. Even the slouchiest, least “put together” looking outfit has intention behind it.
Still, French women celebrate their womanhood in many other ways (as I have mentioned before about Tish Jett’s Wonderful book, Forever Chic.)
You’ll find it in their rigorous adherence to a beauty maintenance routine, in the perfume they wear, in the gentility of their public demeanor. They believe their clothing should simply let the woman within shine instead of upstaging who she is. It’s a non-threatening femininity.
Even where there is some exaggeration, they let one piece do the talking – the piece itself or the color. When they accessorize it’s usually with one stand out piece, such as a scarf or shawl, a statement sweater, a simple and refined pair of gold or silver earrings or necklace, or a noticeable but not overwhelming element – a bag or shoes – that is never overdone.
Also, their prints are usually fairly tame or classic. In general, you won’t see a lot of wild patterns, pattern mixing or multi-colored prints in their clothing.
For the less traditionally Classic style French women, especially young women, there is also something more girly and even can be a little prim.
But all French women, young or old, are willing to show a bit of skin, even in prim styles. They just never overdo it. Their key words could be “understated elegance.” Yes, on the “street style” pages you’ll find wildly experimental fashions that defy a lot of these concepts and generalizations. Like images from the runway, those are fantasies. And I try to report from the real world! (BTW regarding the red beret on that last girl, although they were only recently considered cliche, they are back!)
Italy: Warm, sultry, sunny, days. Earthy landscapes punctuated by a few bold, bright, eye-popping colors of fashion. You definitely get a sense of it in the costumes and masks seen at the annual Carnival of Venice.
Maybe it’s the warmer weather that inspires the more outward Italian personality. Maybe it’s the country’s history of spectacle that inspires more Drama. Whatever the reasons, Italian women are more willing to strut their stuff. The image that we think of as archetypal Italian fashion is: “I am Woman!” That is their essence.
Basics with a twist
Even when wearing very simple, elegant basics, there is an element of quiet intensity in an Italian woman’s style. It might show up in an all-black outfit: turtleneck, pants and overcoat, or a tailored suit with one very obvious designer bag or possibly a bold and brightly colored accessory. Instead of letting the clothes simply be a backdrop for the woman wearing them, they become an artistic statement about the woman that chose them.
One Italian woman I knew, who was raised in Florence, wore beautifully styled elegant outfits that often included some form of whimsy, something very unexpected but that always worked: a bold color or print, and always, always fabulous handbags and shoes. Oh – and yes, a few pieces of Italian real gold jewelry, including a fabulous heart charm bracelet.
I often asked about her shoes. One was a trendy but very elegant pair of sneakers. Another was a delightful pair of yellow suede low-heeled booties. (I didn’t need to ask about her handbags as they were logo-ed and very pricey.) The sneakers were inexpensive Karl Lagerfeld’s (about $125 on Amazon) and the booties were from Target.” (These on Amazon.)
More is More
Italians, of course, also understand the value of having high quality basic pieces too. But often it’s simply how they wear those that is different than how the French women do. In Italy you will more likely see some element of “more.” Longer earrings, higher heels, longer hems, unexpected colors.
Often you’ll see it in their accessories, particularly shoes and bags, as Italy is known for fabulous leather goods. That’s also where you will also see some wonderful color pops in their outfits.
A Leading “Edge”
But they are more willing to also embrace a slightly edgier, sexier, more sensual look. Also, they aren’t afraid to show their curves. If they do wear something revealing, it’s likely to be in one area of the body at a time, not all over: shoulders, slit in a skirt, deeper v-neckline, legs. In general, it’s just a somewhat more dramatic and more costume-y expression.
For my money, they both have their place in understanding how to dress well. And just like you, I am constantly learning. So two of my new “girl crushes” that I tend to binge watch (when I get a rare, spare time slot!) are:
Frederique addresses women who are mostly over 50, and Alyssa (below) tends to speak to a younger crowd. But you can learn something from both of them. (And fingers crossed: I hope to interview Frederique soon!!)
BTW – if you are an Italophile or plan to travel to Italy anytime soon, it’s worth checking out Italian author and historian Laura Morelli’s Made in Italy: A Shopper’s Guide to Italy’s Best Artisanal Traditions, from Murano Glass to Ceramics, Jewelry, Leather Goods, and More.
Au Revoir and Ciao!
NOTE: PLEASE stay tuned this month, as I have a truly remarkable event coming up that I have been deeply honored to be a part of and to share with you. I promise, you won’t want to miss learning about this.
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