The School run. French Maman style!
How can you achieve a chic look with minimal effort, maximum effect (and, it goes without saying Paris, zero Lycra)? Certainly, it seems that French mums have got it nailed when it comes to looking good on the school run. Alison Whisson has been getting some style tips for Mama Loves Paris…
We all know that school runs can be a particularly testing time for parents; tempers are frayed, kids are slower than we’d like and the clock is always ticking. It can be especially stressful in France where schools often close their gates – dead on time. It’s very common to see red-faced parents sprinting to the finish line, before their children are shut out and they have to ring the doorbell to be let in!
Despite this daily frenzy, which seems to be pretty universal, I’ve noticed that a lot of school mums here in Paris and its suburbs still manage to look good, every day. I’ve wondered if they all have nannies, cleaners or helpful relatives around the corner. Maybe they just spend a lot on designer clothes? This might be true, but not always of course.
According to American writer and expat Pamela Druckerman, in her much-quoted book ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’, culture plays a big part. She writes that many French women try to regain their “sense of self” quite quickly after having children, so it would follow that how they dress is all part of wanting to get back their pre-baby identity. There is also the fact that it is generally expected here that you be properly dressed, even just to run to the boulangerie to pick up the croissants! The thinking behind this is that if the baker and the staff on the counter have been awake since goodness know when, yet are dressed and ready to greet you, then you too can manage a real outfit and bit of make-up.
“I’ve been really inspired by the way French mums do it and I’ve realised they are not just throwing “anything” on.”
One expat I know has also got into this way of thinking, so much so that she is furious with her husband if he takes the rubbish bags down in anything less than real clothes, fearful the French neighbours will see him!
Sarah Clyde, a British mum and designer, who has lived in Paris for nearly 4 years, believes this everyday chic is not impossible to achieve – if you want it.
“I don’t think there is necessarily one French style as such,” she says. “Everyone is different and I think a lot of French women choose clothes that suit them as a person and they are very selective in their purchases. There’s a confidence that comes with that; knowing that you can dress in a hurry and still look and feel good in your choices.”
Sarah has been doing the school run for the past 9 years with two very active boys. Taking a career break and moving to Paris for her husband’s work was the motivation she needed to launch her own fashion brand, le tee Paris, a dream she’s had since her teens. Her simple designs are based on her observations of how French women dress for every day, as well as her own experiences.
“As a working mum with school-age kids, I just don’t have the time each morning to spend ages working out what will go with what. I’ve been really inspired by the way French mums do it and I’ve realised they are not just throwing “anything” on. A lot of thought has gone into their wardrobes – often for practical reasons.”
So what are these reasons? And how can we get some of this school mum chic? Here are Sarah’s top style tips…
Buy a few wardrobe staples that will see you through a season and beyond
Sarah says the key to French chic is simplifying your wardrobe with some good quality basics.
“I think it’s a good idea to invest in a few key items that you really love and that will last the test of time, rather than spending the same amount on a lot of trend-inspired pieces that you may not like as much at the end of the season. It’s easy to mix these wardrobe staples with a few on-trend accessories that you can easily change each year.”
Sarah’s suggestions for wardrobe essentials are:
– A nice pair of jeans and some well-cut trousers
– Shirt dresses (great for going from work to evening)
– Sweatshirt dresses (perfect for everyday casual dressing)
– Real wool jumpers that are comfortable next to your skin
– Good quality and not overly baggy tee-shirts
– Blouses that can be easily dressed up or down
– A well-fitted pencil skirt – think “Suits” and “Mad Men”
Choose subtle patterns and not too many different bright primary colours
You will see a lot of French women (and children) wearing neutral colours and according to Sarah, there’s a good reason for it.
“If you have a lot of different bright prints and very strong colours in your wardrobe, chances are that they won’t all go together so you are limiting what you can throw on in a hurry. I think the French tend to favour a lot of blacks, greys, navy and white – these colours all go nicely together and can be easily mixed with some pretty, but subtle, patterns or brighter accessories.”
Avoid “active wear” unless you really are going to be exercising afterwards
There is nothing wrong with tracksuits and leggings for the school run (we’ve all done it and I still do!) but you will rarely see it at the school gates in Paris. Sarah says it’s just not the done thing.
“I don’t think a lot of French women see activewear as a version of everyday clothing,” she says. “You’ll see less Lycra in Paris, especially, because most parents work full-time so they’ll go straight to the office after school drop-off. For a lot of women, it just makes sense to throw on one outfit in the morning and be done.”
Know what suits you and buy more of it!
Everyone has styles of clothes that flatter them and clothes that feel comfortable to wear all day. Sarah says it’s a case of narrowing it down, “so that you know you have a wardrobe that is only compiled of clothes you look and feel great in”.
She says the French take some time to work out what really suits them and they tend to have these styles as part of their signature look, just with subtle variations on a theme.
“So if you think you look great in straight leg trousers and a classic style shirt, you can follow this through with several versions from winter to summer.”
The French really do love scarves and it’s a great way to add a splash of colour or stamp your own personality on an outfit.
“Scarves can be used throughout the seasons. A big cosy wool one for the winter and a lovely patterned or bright scarf in a nice light fabric for the summer. Just throw a nice scarf over a bright white shirt or blouse and you’re ready to go.”
Of course, what we wear is very much a reflection of our personalities and our different circumstances (how you get to school for example) and at the end of the day, no one is going to run you out of town if you decide to turn up in your sportswear or bright pink tights (OK, you might get a few double takes!). But if you are looking for some style shortcuts and you’re wondering, “How on earth DO they do it?” we hope we’ve got it covered.
You can check out Sarah Clyde’s designs at le tee Paris.
Hope you like the tips.