The Death of the French Girl in Fashion

Her eulogy has been written. Fashion is moving on. Change is already in the air: the French girl is on her way out.

As Carine Roitfeld, ex-editor of French Vogue, infamously once said “I think you are born chic. You cannot be chic. It is something you cannot learn”. This epitomises the archetypal image everyone has of the ‘French girl’ in their heads, but what exactly is a ‘French girl’? Many aspire to the certain je ne sais quoi lifestyle perpetuated by the French in the world of fashion, but it always remains aloof and unattainable for those not fortunate enough to be born into it. Roitfeld implies that the ‘French girl’ is innate and impossible to emulate, it just comes naturally. This so-called ‘French girl’ is a skinny, chain-smoking, sophisticated woman, frequenting cafés and eternally laidback.

However, others feel that the French girl is outdated, the ‘international girl’ has arisen and is claiming her place. The international girl isn’t skinny, she’s in shape. You’ll find her in the gym. She doesn’t smoke, because she sensibly heeds the warning that smoking kills. Rather, she is the epitome of a strong, independent woman that appears more often than not, as an accomplished woman taking the modern world.

It is not just the wider community, but French women themselves are fighting against this rather passé notion. Released this November was a book entitled ‘Je ne suis pas Parisienne’ written by Alicia Pfeiffer. The basic premise is that French women do not want to be pigeonholed into this particular stereotype. Pfeiffer is fighting against a ‘one size fits all’ design and she talks about the other ‘types’ of women that exist in France (although still to me it seems wrong that she categorises other women whilst fighting against the idea of being this ‘aspirational’ Parisienne).

Yet still, the more modern ‘international girl’ is another label applied to women. In fact, labelling is just a tool to systematically instil self-hatred in women, and self-hatred sells. Victoria's Secret is just one example of an enterprise profiting off of an audience that wants to look like a small minority of women. After hiring their first transgender model this year, and including a plus-size model in their campaigns, their notorious catwalk has at long-last been cancelled. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction.  However, even their plus-size model, Ali Tate-Cutler, wears a size below the average in the UK (she wears a size 14, the average is 16).

Furthermore, often these more ‘relatable’ models have also had plastic surgery and/or can dedicate the time to the gym that most people cannot, simply because a regular 9/5 job doesn’t allow for it. Take the Kardashians as a prime example. The sheer amount of speculation based on how they have obtained their physiques has fuelled journalism for years, and will likely continue to do so. Many of the clan have admitted to fillers and Botox, however, still claim that most of their appearance is owing to lifestyle. Whilst, it is fully within someone’s right to alter their body how they wish, it does set unrealistic goals for the more vulnerable, the young teenage girls who perhaps aren’t as clued up to the fact that the famous women they see in the media have actually paid a lot to look the way they do and aren’t representative of the average woman. It isn’t surprising that the Mental Health Foundation conducted a survey this year and found that ‘1 in 5 UK adults said images on social media had caused them to worry about their body image’. A worrying statistic, that illustrates how society is trained to focus on ideals and constructs that are really nothing more than make-believe.

Nevertheless, the Fashion world requires labels in order to market ideals to women, that they either identify or wish to identify with. Consumer culture is fed by images of nonchalant women being effortlessly stylish, and yes, this does increase the pressure to reach perfection, or rather what is seen as perfection in the fashion sphere. Not only are these images present in magazines, but in literature too. ‘How to be Parisian’, a short fashion and lifestyle guide published in 2014, was sold in Urban Outfitters only a few years ago. The company is well known for its popularity with younger, more urban audiences which raises the question that whether, by selling this book, Urban Outfitters was promoting French women as the only way to be that season. More likely, they were just selling the same dream to consumers, the age-old myth of the alluring French woman.

The myth is just that. A myth. Paris is not representative of the whole of France. The Parisienne is furthermore, not representative of all women in Paris. Over 10% of the city’s population is born overseas. The cultural makeup is changing. Diversifying. Fashion needs to adapt and account for this because the modern woman is not best reflected by this image.

Inevitably the “born chic” will continue to be envied by some, but not emulated, as the fashion world moves on. Labels will continue to exist but for now, it’s au revoir Parisienne woman.