4 Style Lessons You Should Learn From the French

Saint James breton top mariniere

The French know a thing or two about fashion | Source: Saintjames-usa.com

The style-conscious guy can learn something about fashion from every country’s aesthetic. Italians are known not only for their nonchalance, but for their trim suits, curved lines, bare ankles, and liberal celebration of color and detail. British style is more buttoned-up, with sharper, more angular lines, a high regard for convention, and frequent nods to utilitarian military and workwear tradition. And the French? The French are renowned for the relaxed sophistication with which they imbue in even everyday ensembles.

Editors and bloggers know that one of the best ways to learn from a country’s menswear aficionados is to get on a plane and observe the guys on the runways and on the street. We’d never discourage you from flying to Paris. But if you hope to learn from that French je ne sais quoi, we have you covered — no trans-Atlantic flight required.

There are some relatively simple style lessons you can take away from the French style. Read on to learn how to look très chic in no time.

1. A simple color palette is the most versatile

Saint James navy blue peacoat

Stick to a few colors | Source: Saintjames-usa.com

While you might think that every stylish guy has an extensive wardrobe, in many cases, the opposite is true. The French champion the idea of a relatively small wardrobe, stocked with only the most versatile pieces. Part of what makes those pieces so versatile is that they often adhere to a classic, minimal color palette. Think navy, gray, black, white, and perhaps only a couple of other colors, like oxblood or dark green.

Adhering to a strict color palette makes getting dressed in the morning much easier, because every top will coordinate with almost every pair of pants, and each of your sweaters and jackets will look good with a wide variety of outfits. And don’t hesitate to pair neutrals, such as a black sweater with a pair of navy chinos, or a pair of cognac shoes with a sleek black suit.

2. The Breton top is a classic you can reinvent

Armor Lux mariniere breton stripe shirt

The Breton top will always be in style | Source: Armorlux.com

In 1858, an official decree made the Breton top the official uniform of the French Navy, specifying that it needed to have 21 white stripes, each twice as wide as the 20 to 21 blue stripes.

In 1889, Tricots Saint James began producing the shirts in wool and cotton, and in the years since, the style has been adopted by artists and style icons from Pablo Picasso to Jean-Paul Gaultier. You can still buy the Breton shirt, also known as the marinière, in the classic style or in modern interpretations — which means you can find one that’s perfect for your own aesthetic.

3. Centuries-old military styles are still staples

Armor Lux navy blue peacoat

The French know peacoats | Source: Armorlux.com

The Breton top isn’t the only long-standing classic that French guys still wear every day. The peacoat in classic navy blue has been worn by European navies since the 1700s. The style looks just as relevant in antique photographs of French sailors as it does on the streets of Paris today.

Because the peacoat is such a classic, you can find one at the mall — check out J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, or Club Monaco. For an ultra-luxe interpretation look to heritage French brands such as Saint James and Armor Lux.

4. Always opt for clean lines

Saint James sweater

Clean lines make you look refined | Source: Saintjames-usa.com

A trademark of French style is the tendency to combine simple pieces and clean lines into refined and sleek outfits. Choose a band collar shirt instead of one with a button-down collar. Opt for a slim, simple pair of jeans, preferably made of dark or raw denim.

And always opt for a simpler ensemble rather than a complex one. Pair a plain white T-shirt with an overcoat, or wear a sweater without a shirt underneath. Go for a relaxed look by pairing trim rigid denim with a slim sportcoat.