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How to dress like a French woman this winter

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French Vogue editor Emmanuelle Alt at Paris Fashion Week in the autumn The effortlessly chic French Vogue editor, Emmanuelle Alt. Photograph: Pierre Suu/GC Images

As a born and bred Parisienne, I’ve always been struck by the way British women so passionately follow dress codes. How cocktail dresses are for cocktails, tracksuits are for working out and nightdresses are for sleeping. French women are precisely the opposite. Evening dresses make great beachwear, smart pyjamas are better worn as a tux and exercise is a mere excuse to show off your latest Isabel Marant trainers. Refusing to abide by a uniform is seen as subtle, daily resistance: trends are only there to be reshuffled and reappropriated.

Just look at Caroline de Maigret, Lou Doillon or Charlotte Gainsbourg: they all master the art of effortless mix and match. As for the winter season, it’s a no brainer for us: in a country that values intellectual elegance over sexiness (and where, let’s face it, macho culture makes it impossible to show cleavage on the street), we tend to be rather covered up all year round. Christmas chic is merely a continuation of your usual style, give or take a scarf or two. And the good news is, anyone can do it, even if they’ve never set foot on Gallic turf. Here is how.

Going skiing

Going skiing

We hate the idea of wearing a piece of clothing because it’s practical, which makes winter dressing tricky. We hate skiwear, yet we love to ski! The aim is to make whatever you put on look like a stylistic choice before anything else. I remember travelling to the north pole wearing a Claudie Pierlot bomber jacket, a matching beanie hat and Ray-Bans. I think my Inuit guide is still laughing at me. On the slopes, you can subtly accessorise: say, a Marie Marot beanie hat, with its trademark metallic plate that bears a literary pun. This way, you can tell the whole resort that although you can barely stand on two skis, your knowledge of existentialism is impeccable.

For après-ski, never be caught dead wearing a fleece. Instead, opt for baggy 501 jeans under which you can secretly wear thick tights. Pair those with an oversized sheepskin jacket and a customised scarf by fantastic indie label Heart Heart Heart. And conceptual sunglasses. Also, tanning is tacky; avoid it at all costs. Your skin will thank you in a decade.

New Year’s Eve

Perrin Paris glove clutch

It’s OK to have fun, just as long as it doesn’t show too much. Partying, like party clothes, is extremely understated. We like to signify “fun” by choosing a single, decadent element. For example, this could be the time to pull out those lamé apple green Pierre Hardy heels you bought on sale and haven’t touched since. Of course, if you do so, never pair them with a dress: too obvious, bien sûr. Instead, try skinny, high-waisted black jeans, a slouchy blazer and a hint of cleavage. You can throw in a hint of luxury, too. I personally love my glove clutch by Perrin Paris for its slight S&M connotation (also, it is wide enough to hold a pair of ballet flats for when I wait for a taxi for an hour in the freezing cold).

Going to work in the snow

Adieu flats

When it comes to snow, Paris is like London; snow instantaneously turns into black puree. This is where the similarities end, though, because over here, French women forget entirely about heels and opt for solid male classics – I especially like Adieu brogues, and their textured rubber soles that stop you from breaking your neck when you run down metro stairs. You can allow yourself to wear trainers once in a while, but only if they are impeccably white (for which I recommend Crepe protector).

No matter how cold it is, never touch a Michelin Man-style puffer jacket. Here is what I do instead: I wear a full, mid-season outfit, say a shirt, a jumper and a denim jacket. I top the whole thing with a big man’s coat (AMI’s small size works perfectly for a medium-sized woman). Alternatively, if you’re broke, you can buy a giant, vintage man’s woolen trench coat that you keep shut with a leather belt. And tell everyone it is Céline.

Shopping for Christmas presents

Christmas shopping Christmas shopping. Photograph: instagram

This is the time to try out Frenchcore, or Gallic normcore: both low-key and shamelessly decadent. Wear Stan Smith trainers, men’s trousers, a thin, cashmere or merino jumper and envelop yourself in the biggest faux-fur coat you can find. Also, the mega-warmth of the jacket (which you can easily take off) helps you adapt to the constant change of temperature between the streets and the boutiques. Remember to take canvas tote bags (preferably with a pretentious cultural statement) with you – plastic bags are a no-no.

I especially love designer Etienne Deroeux for his easy-to-wear, masculin-féminin basics (pictured), perfect for running around like a vache folle.

Christmas avec the family

Jacquemus Jacquemus

Christmas is the time you find out half the Parisiennes around you actually come from a village the size of my pocket. In my case, it meant travelling to an Austrian hamlet called Kleegraben to visit my elderly grandmother. In any case, it is a time when you have to look chic but not trendy to the point of terrifying all your relatives. You have to look respectable enough to avoid any questions regarding your love life, sexual orientation or nightlife habits. Tell yourself you are in a nouvelle vague film: I like to wear a long, buttoned-up white shirt, a big cashmere jumper and flat boots. And tell myself I am Anna Karina. No visible makeup, minimal jewelry and a low ponytail is mandatory – for which you compensate with really great Bardot bang. Le Moine Tricote is a favorite of mine – discreetly conceptual knitwear pieces that will get parental and selfie approval.

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