All the girls in Paris are wearing mini skirts. Everywhere you look: legs, with summer tans in various states of fade. It’s quite a shift from the skinny jeans, structured blazers and high-heeled Isabel Marant ankle boot combos that have become a uniform for a generation of French women. But change is afoot. The cool-girl Parisienne has loosened up.

At first, I found this a little unnerving. When I moved from London to Paris in September, I brought with me a capsule of sharp-shouldered trenchcoats, sleek black blazers, white cotton shirts, cashmere pullovers and slim-legged denim — in other words, the basic building blocks of what’s become “French girl style”.

Successive national lockdowns had reinforced the merits of my boyish, uncomplicated wardrobe staples so I had a clear-out, sold my silver glitter Margiela party boots on Vestiaire Collective, and decided to double down on the classics. If I was moving to Paris, I reasoned, I may as well dress the part. (And no, I don’t want to hear any more Emily in Paris gags. You will never catch me in lime-green tweed, even if it comes with Chanel buttons.)

But then I took a stroll down the Rue de Rivoli, pausing briefly to observe an American student get slammed off her bicycle by a trottinette électrique gone rogue (she was fine; her Bottega Veneta sunglasses were not) and began counting the mini skirts. Worn with ankle socks and penny loafers or heavy-duty black boots, no less, and often in leather. Then came a procession of leather shorts. Then cargo pants. Some crop tops. Some tie dye. Lots of bright blue. Yellow. Pink. And a series of very baggy jeans. Not a skinny fit or a tailored blazer to be seen.

Eugénie Trochu in yellow pullover, short skirt, socks and block heel outside Miu Miu during Paris Fashion Week
Eugénie Trochu in yellow pullover, short skirt, socks and block heel outside Miu Miu during Paris Fashion Week © Getty Images
Didi Stone pairs a college jacket with blue jeans and heels outside L’Oréal
Didi Stone pairs a college jacket with blue jeans and heels outside L’Oréal © Getty Images

I WhatsApped my friend Eugénie Trochu, the newly installed head of editorial content at Vogue Paris. What’s up with French girl style? She sent a voice note back. “Especially since the pandemic, I have the feeling that Parisian style has evolved. When you are in the streets here, you don’t see any Jane Birkin, Inès de La Fressange or Brigitte Bardot clones. You see girls from everywhere wearing colours and power clothes and statement shoes. I think the French girl is not afraid any more to shine. She used sometimes to hide behind the effortless mood but I think it’s over.”

Trochu includes herself in this cadre. “When I started working in fashion 10 years ago, I was trying to reproduce the fashion cliché of La Parisienne, wearing skinny jeans with a cute flower blouse and messy hair. I was not ‘me’ at all.” Her recent move from an apartment in the chichi 6th arrondissement to the more gritty 10th arrondissement has engendered a feeling of liberation. “I have adopted a more daring sense of style, more cosmopolite.” She’s also wearing a lot of mini skirts, mostly “vintage, Courrèges and Zara”.

Time to go shopping, I thought to myself, and headed to Le Bon Marché. Rather than the power playlists that dominate London department stores and make everyone feel 80 years old, the Left Bank institution was playing classical music, the volume low. I drifted towards a selection of second-hand denim, curated by Imparfaite, a vintage clothing website with a brilliant Levi’s 501 calculator that many fashion editors swear by. I tried on an €89 pair that were snug at the waist, but with just the right amount of 1980s-esque roominess in the leg, purchased them, and left feeling new-gen French.

Vintage is back in a big way in Paris. Collector Square is a popular preloved bag and jewellery platform with 350,000 active members where Parisians head for second-hand Chanel bags and Cartier watches. You have to be quick: an Hermès Kelly mini 20cm bag sold for €17,980 in a few seconds after going online recently.

Alexandra Golovanoff in beige pullover, split midi dress and high boots outside Miu Miu
Alexandra Golovanoff in beige pullover, split midi dress and high boots outside Miu Miu © Getty Images
A guest outside Louis Vuitton’s Paris Fashion Week show wears an accordion dress with oversized raincoat and cut-out shoes
A guest outside Louis Vuitton’s Paris Fashion Week show wears an accordion dress with oversized raincoat and cut-out shoes © Getty Images

Last month, Printemps unveiled a new 1,300 sq m floor dedicated to “circularity”: alongside upcycled brands and repair stations, there is an attic’s worth of vintage and pre-owned exemplars, curated by Marie Blanchet of Mon Vintage. A black velvet Yves Saint Laurent haute couture cocktail dress from the AW83 collection tugged on my heartstrings during a browse one Sunday morning (though the price, at €4,500, made me balk).

More tempting was a neat little Balenciaga coat from the pre-fall 2008 collection for €1,100; the hang tag provided photographic evidence that it was once worn by the actor and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. (Gainsbourg is god in Paris, a living radiographie du casual chic, or blueprint for easy-chic style, as Vogue Paris once put it.)

I resisted, but several days later experienced a bizarre and unexpected urge to buy a leather aviator jacket. I hadn’t seen one in the wild for years — not since Acne Studios’ hit Velocite style cornered the market in 2015. But I noticed a woman in Pigalle crossing the road wearing a brown shearling style, and now it’s all I can think about.

A little bit 1970s, a little bit 1990s — fashion-wise, there appears to be a spirit of wildness in the air. Though the country is still in the grip of Covid-19, with proof of vaccination required in most places and mask-wearing indoors and on public transport mandatory, the French are cheerfully adhering to these small inconveniences. The bars and restaurants are full, and the streets are thronging. A mood of frivolity prevails.

Perhaps it’s all the cycling. Last year, mayor Anne Hidalgo oversaw the inception of more than 100 miles of new cycle paths in her bid to make Paris a sustainable, cycling-friendly hub. Parisians have responded: today, a million people in a city of 10m are biking daily. Many of them take little heed of red lights, or helmets, or Lycra. Instead, they’re cycling in bright green trouser suits and platform heels, in hot pants and leather clogs, in jeans and strawberry-printed Crocs.

This week, I joined them. In a black oversized Bottega Veneta silk shirt worn as a mini dress, I hopped on a Vélib’, the cheap bike-rental service, and pedalled across town, trenchcoat flaring out behind me. Freewheeling liberté — it feels pretty good.

Where to go for the Paris look

The wide-leg jean

Skinnies are out; wide-leg jeans, preferably in a high-waisted fit and a mid-to-dark blue wash, are in. Editors and influencers swear by vintage platform Imparfaite’s Levi’s 501 calculator. Input your measurements on its website, and it will track down your perfect fit from a pool of 1,700 vintage dealers. Or head to Lemaire, whose extra-long styles can be left to pool at the ankle or be turned up, or Balenciaga for louche fits.

The micro mini skirt

Plugging the Space Age look since 1961, Courrèges is enjoying a renaissance on the Paris streets thanks in large part to its vinyl micro-mini skirts. Wear with a co-ordinating vinyl cropped jacket and flat boots or a chunky roll-neck sweater (Alexandra Golovanoff cashmere is a favourite with Left Bank types, while Uniqlo’s +J lambswool style is on everyone’s wish lists, available from November 17).

The chunky chain necklace

After years of delicate diamond-pavé mini hoop earrings and fine gold charm necklaces, statement jewellery has hit Paris. Paco Rabanne’s XL Link necklaces have a cult following, worn over fine-knit sweaters and underneath shirts, while playful oversized earrings from Hermès are enjoying the spotlight alongside its new line of colourful nail polishes.

Cowboy and lug-soled boots

The Parisienne has developed a proclivity for the American West: cowboy boots, or les santiags, are kicking up dust citywide. Polo Ralph Lauren and Paris-based, Spain-made, label Shiloh are the front-runners, worn with everything from baggy trousers to leggings. As for the new-gen crew? The stompier the boot, the better: old-school Dr Martens, tractor-soled Legres and marshmallow-heeled Nodaleto platform lace-ups are favourites.

The aviator jacket

The cropped biker jacket is back, with the aviator in its slipstream. When it comes to the latter, the French are reaching for vintage shearling-lined styles, paired with wide-leg jeans and white blouses to Seventies-tinged effect (see Acne Studios for similar, or Loewe for a more modern update). As for bikers, Nicolas Ghesquière-era designs from Balenciaga guarantee maximum kudos: Paris-based vintage dealer Resee is currently stocking a 2002 exemplar. Meanwhile, Mon Vintage at Printemps has numerous other Ghesquière-for-Balenciaga hits.

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