Going Gallic

Women cottoned on to it a while ago, and it’s high time we men did the same: the French have a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to matters of style – a unique and instantly recognisable way of dressing that the entire world tries to emulate. It’s an aesthetic based on principles of pared-back sophistication, a fuss-free approach to style that is difficult to decode.

Interestingly, in all its effortless elegance, the archetypal French male’s wardrobe can be surprisingly small, limited to versatile items in a reduced palette of navy, black, white, grey and a couple of other colours at most – all indisputably classic pieces worn over and over again with confidence.

The other secret to French style is the appropriation of utilitarian garments, derived from military and workwear uniforms, which they put together nonchalantly, not even worrying if the occasion requires something dressier.

Let’s see how it’s done:

The 5 Staples Of French Style
1. The Breton Top

Born in 1858 as part of the Act of France, a navy and white striped knitted shirt was the uniform of the French Navy in Brittany. In 1889, Tricots Saint James (a brand you can still purchase today) began producing the shirt commercially in wool and cotton, and it was soon adopted by local workers due to its practicality.

From utility wear to fashion item; iconic male ambassadors of the Breton top have included Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, James Dean and Jean-Paul Gaultier, who has continued to masterfully reinvent the piece in his collections since the 1980s.

Now, it is considered a timeless essential that should be part of any style-conscious gent’s capsule wardrobe.

Men's Breton Stripe Tops - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

L.b.m. 1911 ss13Boomerang ss15Scotch & Soda Amsterdams Blauw Resort 2015Scotch & soda ss15Debenhams SS14Gucci cruise ss15Zara ss15Jigsaw ss14Louis vuitton pre ss14
  • Topman Selected Homme Navy Stripe JumperTopman Selected Homme Navy Stripe Jumper
  • Shore Leave By Urban Outfitters Breton Stripe Jumper In Navy And EcruShore Leave By Urban Outfitters Breton Stripe Jumper In Navy And Ecru
  • Polo Ralph Lauren T-shirt With Breton Stripe Long SleevesPolo Ralph Lauren T-shirt With Breton Stripe Long Sleeves
  • A.p.c. Breton-stripe Jersey TopA.p.c. Breton-stripe Jersey Top
  • Allsaints Figure Long Sleeved Stripe CrewAllsaints Figure Long Sleeved Stripe Crew
  • Reiss Monty Stripe T-shirtReiss Monty Stripe T-shirt
  • Saint James Guildo R ASaint James Guildo R A
  • Pinto Textured Polo Shirt Navy/whitePinto Textured Polo Shirt Navy/white
  • Saint Laurent Breton-striped Fine-knit Wool TopSaint Laurent Breton-striped Fine-knit Wool Top
2. The Pea Coat

Granted, this is a global classic, worn by the European and American Navy since the early 1700s. However, the navy (it is originally navy blue, although you can now find it in many different colours) wool coat has been a staple on the streets of Paris since it was elevated to high fashion by lauded French designer Yves Saint Laurent in the 1960s.

These days, you can find good pea coats on the high street (GAP does some worthwhile versions, for example) or splurge on high-end versions from the likes of Sandro, Balmain or Saint Laurent, which are beautifully fabricated.

If you want something truly authentic, heritage brands like Saint James and Armor-Lux should be your go-to – both produce some superb takes on the French Navy original.

Men's Pea Coats - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

House of fraser aw14Mango man winter 2014New look aw14phixReiss aw12Mango man November 2012Allsaints aw12Reiss aw14Mango man aw12
  • Selected Wool Pea CoatSelected Wool Pea Coat
  • Scotch & Soda PeacoatScotch & Soda Peacoat
  • J. Crew Dock Peacoat With ThinsulateJ. Crew Dock Peacoat With Thinsulate
  • Sandro Twill Pea CoatSandro Twill Pea Coat
  • Topman Noose And Monkey Black PeacoatTopman Noose And Monkey Black Peacoat
  • Armor Lux Classic Black Reffer JacketArmor Lux Classic Black Reffer Jacket
  • Saint James Pavois Reefer CoatSaint James Pavois Reefer Coat
  • Burberry London Slim-fit Wool-blend PeacoatBurberry London Slim-fit Wool-blend Peacoat
  • Saint Laurent Slim-fit Wool PeacoatSaint Laurent Slim-fit Wool Peacoat
3. The Collarless Shirt

Widely known as a granddad or band collar shirt, this classic workwear piece is typically made from jersey, cotton or linen and comes in a slightly relaxed fit.

Wear it with slim, slightly cropped/turned up jeans or chinos during the day and slip it underneath a blazer at night to nail that sense of relaxed refinement which the French pull off so well.

Men's Collarless/Granddad Collar Shirts - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

Zara ss15Zara ss15Zara summer 2014Reiss aw12H&M SS14Zara ss15Reiss ss14Mango man summer 2013Mango man summer 2014
  • New Look Dark Red Grandad Collar Long Sleeve Oxford ShirtNew Look Dark Red Grandad Collar Long Sleeve Oxford Shirt
  • Asos Denim Shirt In Long Sleeve With Collarless Neck DetailAsos Denim Shirt In Long Sleeve With Collarless Neck Detail
  • New Look Khaki Grandad Collar Long Sleeve ShirtNew Look Khaki Grandad Collar Long Sleeve Shirt
  • Asos Shirt In Long Sleeve With Grandad CollarAsos Shirt In Long Sleeve With Grandad Collar
  • Suit Mandarin Grandad Shirt In Light BlueSuit Mandarin Grandad Shirt In Light Blue
  • 2xh Brothers Shirt With Grandad Collar2xh Brothers Shirt With Grandad Collar
  • M&s Collection New Pure Cotton Grandad Collar Long Sleeve ShirtM&s Collection New Pure Cotton Grandad Collar Long Sleeve Shirt
  • A.p.c. Pin-dot Woven-cotton Grandad-collar ShirtA.p.c. Pin-dot Woven-cotton Grandad-collar Shirt
  • River Island Blue Oxford Long Sleeve Grandad ShirtRiver Island Blue Oxford Long Sleeve Grandad Shirt
4. Scarves, Foulards, Cravats

These are key to a classic look that Frenchmen pull off just as well as Englishmen, albeit more casually. You’ll want to take your cues from Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s French Riviera romantic thriller To Catch a Thief (1955), in which hero/anti-hero John Robie dresses for the surroundings in resort wear smartly accessorised with scarves tied closely around the neck.

Alternatively, you could wear a long lightweight scarf draped across your shoulders, a large diamond-shaped foulard tied at the back or even a gavroche (45 x 45cm) twisted and knotted tightly.

To ensure you pull it off like the French, stick to patterns and colours that don’t match/clash with the rest of your look. Head to Hermès for the best investment in this department or find inexpensive alternatives on the high street and in vintage stores.

Men's Lightweight Scarves and Neckerchiefs Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

Bagozza ss15The kooples ss15Zara june 2012H&m aw11El burgues aw14Boglioli SS15Louis vuitton pre ss14Mango man ss15El burgues ss15
  • Saint Laurent Paisley-print Cotton And Silk-blend ScarfSaint Laurent Paisley-print Cotton And Silk-blend Scarf
  • Gucci Striped Cotton-jersey ScarfGucci Striped Cotton-jersey Scarf
  • He By Mango Geometric-print Linen ScarfHe By Mango Geometric-print Linen Scarf
  • Paul Smith Accessories Medallion Printed Striped ScarfPaul Smith Accessories Medallion Printed Striped Scarf
  • Etro Linen Paisley ScarfEtro Linen Paisley Scarf
  • The Kooples Sport Echarpe Check ScarfThe Kooples Sport Echarpe Check Scarf
  • Slowear Cotton-silk Spotted BandanaSlowear Cotton-silk Spotted Bandana
  • Saint Laurent Printed Cotton BandanaSaint Laurent Printed Cotton Bandana
  • 45 Rpm Floral Bandana45 Rpm Floral Bandana
5. Simple, Slim-Fit Denim

Jeans may be an American invention, but in Paris – where it’s the simple, unfussy pieces that make it to high fashion – they’re even worn in the evening, often combined with a T-shirt and blazer.

Local brands like A.P.C., the epitome of low-key luxe, are built upon the principle of extreme simplicity applied to jeans. Like true devotees, Parisians rarely wash their denim, letting their jeans gradually mould to their shape and evolve into a truly personal wardrobe staple.

There are very few restrictions to where they can be worn, with some Frenchmen even known to switch out the trousers of a dinner suit in place of quality denim.

Men's Slim, Solid, Dark Denim Jeans - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

Jigsaw ss14Allsaints ss13Allsaints aw12Selected home jeans 2014Banana republic pre autumn 2014New look aw14Selected homme aw14Tom ford ss15Avva aw14
  • Topman Navy Coated Stretch Slim Fit JeansTopman Navy Coated Stretch Slim Fit Jeans
  • Levis 520 Extreme Taper Fit Navy Lagoon JeansTopman Levis 520 Extreme Taper Fit Navy Lagoon Jeans
  • Nudie Jeans Thin Finn Slim Fit Jeans Dry TwillNudie Jeans Thin Finn Slim Fit Jeans Dry Twill
  • The Kooples Slim-fit Stretch-denim JeansThe Kooples Slim-fit Stretch-denim Jeans
  • Sandro Tapered Slim Mid-rise JeansSandro Tapered Slim Mid-rise Jeans
  • Frame Denim Lhomme Cotswolds Slim-fit Denim JeansFrame Denim Lhomme Cotswolds Slim-fit Denim Jeans
  • River Island Dark Wash Dylan Slim JeansRiver Island Dark Wash Dylan Slim Jeans
  • Autograph New Slim Leg Stretch JeansAutograph New Slim Leg Stretch Jeans
  • New Look Blue Coated Slim JeansNew Look Blue Coated Slim Jeans
The 6 French Style Commandments
1. Lose The Collar

Replacing a long-sleeved button-down shirt with a T-shirt, Breton top or fine knit jumper instantly gives your look a Parisian inflection.

Combining these casual pieces with a sharply cut blazer and pair of trousers will see you through a night out in on point style.

T-Shirt, Blazer and Trousers Outfit For MenImage: Jigsaw SS14

2. Swap Tailored Trousers For Jeans

This time, keep the shirt and suit jacket, but sub in a simple pair of raw, dark denim or solid indigo jeans – this will help you achieve the laid-back yet refined aesthetic you’ll find in the French capital’s most stylish restaurants and cocktail bars.

Shirt, Dark Jeans and Blazer Outfit For MenImage: Sarar SS14

3. Embrace Your Inner Enfant Terrible

An edgier alternative to your stuffily formal blazer, a black leather jacket gives your look an air of rock-inspired irreverence.

Keep the aesthetic consistent with a pair of Chelsea boots.

Jeans, Leather Jacket and Chelsea Boots Outfit For MenImage: Tiger Of Sweden AW14

4. Wear Black-On-Black

This classic look dates back to the 1930s and 1940s, when French stars like Yves Montand and Jean Gabin sported black shirts and roll necks.

Team these key pieces with black tailored trousers and shoes for a smart and sophisticated aesthetic.

Men's All-Black OutfitImage: Sandro AW14

5. Try Navy And Black Too

Taking the traditional black-on-black look and subtly twisting it was another one of designer Yves Saint Laurent’s discoveries.

The key is to alter the texture of each piece to create a definitive contrast between these two dark hues.

Men's Navy and Black OutfitImage: Louis Vuitton AW13

6. Learn The New ‘Attention To Detail’

In matters of French style, paying attention to detail might well mean ditching a few of the finishing touches.

This is a difficult technique to master but start simple by wearing a jumper without a T-shirt underneath, going sockless, beltless or leaving out layers (an overcoat with just a T-shirt, for example) – all of which, when well executed, say you’re far too cool to care.

Men's Attention To Detail Lookbook

Zara AW12Austin Reed SS14AllSaints AW13Suitsupply SS15
Final Word

Et voilà: a few timeless style tricks straight from France that anyone can benefit from. Whether you see yourself trying them or not, we want to hear your thoughts – très chic or terrible?

In the meantime, neatly summarising this brief overview of French style, here’s a quote from tastemaker Jean Cocteau: “Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.”