Design houses in France, such as Chanel and Christian Lacroix, strongly influence American fashion. However, the American aesthetic has also had an impact on French fashion, imparting a more laid-back influence. Each country has a very different take on apparel, stemming from their different approaches to style, etiquette and consumerism.
American fashion is bold and angular, with somewhat masculine touches. Overtly racy, rather than sensual, styles are popular; the trends and tastes of very young people rule. The U.S. aggressively promotes and pursues leisure chic: very expensive designer jeans, t-shirts and sneakers are staples in many wardrobes.
In France, however, the style is almost opposite. For women, femininity rules. A French woman will purchase a few well-made designer pieces and change them up with some chic accessories, eschewing the inexpensive, chain-store clothing common in America.
French clothing has also developed at a more steady pace throughout history, with the eighteenth century one of the most dramatic eras. "It is little wonder that the arts and philosophy of the time glorified women, and that ... the eighteenth century, the Rococo, is replete with what psychologists call 'feminine forms,'" writes Costumer's Manifesto author Tara Maginnis, Ph.D.
In America, fashion has developed differently. According to Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, high-society Colonial American women's gowns came from the local mantua maker, or seamstress, with imported touches from England. Styles were attractive, but not nearly as ornate as those in France.
Differences in Approach to Style
Author Susan Tabak tells North County Times writer Samantha Critchell, "The French look is effortless. They are not slaves to their hair, not their makeup, not their clothes. They play with fashion and have more fun." The American look is more trend driven and aspirational, with women likely to purchase an outfit or style to resemble the concept or hot celebrity of the moment. In France, it's more likely that a shopper will stay within their means, rather than stretch their dollars to obtain a status symbol purse or pair of jeans. Instead, "a Frenchwoman's wardrobe is built around classic silhouettes with chic investment-piece accessories, such as an alligator bag or a Hermes scarf," reports Critchell.
Style in France is imbued with simplicity. Wealth and quality are conveyed by well-made garments and graceful carriage. In America, however, style can be conveyed with chic new sneakers or designer jeans. Unlike the U.S., leisure clothing has a very particular place in French society. Amy Tara Koch, style and beauty editor for iVillage, says, "Parisians pride themselves on elegance and they do think it's gauche to wear sneakers or shorts in the city, even if that's the trend."
Though the French look may seem inscrutable and inapproachable to some Americans, there is actually a lot of appreciation for the U.S. aesthetic. French-born Marie Claire intern Barbara Bing writes, "To us, American women are very sexy. Seriously! You are the country of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Victoria’s Secret!"
There is also respect for American fashion design in France. One example is Philadelphia-born couturier Ralph Rucci, who was invited to show his Chado line at the Paris couture shows several years running. Even with the style barrier, an appreciation of fashion as art is a common trait between both French and American fashion lovers.
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Gigi Starr is a freelance fashion writer. She previously served as the blog editor for a major online fashion blog and has more than a decade of backstage experience in the beauty and high fashion industries. She has worked for businesses like an internationally renowned theatrical touring company and events such as the Mercedes-Benz N.Y.C. Fashion Week.