The first weekend each October is host to France’s Classic race meeting, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. This takes place at Longchamp, just outside Paris, the home of ‘haute couture’ and where the women have a worldwide reputation for looking effortlessly chic.

How did they earn this reputation? By focusing on what suits them rather than becoming followers of the latest fashion trends of the season, they are able to build up a staple wardrobe of quality clothes which they can update each season by changing their accessories.

Here are a few ideas of the staple dresses to wear if you're planning to take part in the Parisian style stakes:


The shift dress has a simple straight silhouette which suits the more boyish frame or apple-shaped women who carry most of their weight around their waist. 

Main picture: French women go for a quality capsule wardrobe and so make sure most items will mix and match. The shift dress is a great staple piece because of its versatility – it can be worn on its own or over a jumper, blouse or t-shirt, which can be in a tonal colour or a more contrasting shade for the more fashionable colour blocking trend.  

This camel fitted shift dress from Elegance is a blend of 60% new wool and 40% angora. Price £249.00. Here worn with a black polo neck top in 100% silk jersey, £119, and black leather bag, £249. All from

Give a nod to the French look with this black M&S wool mini beret headband.

Priced £18 from

Instead of a cumbersome coat, team your shift dress with a cape. A cape is a good alternative to a coat for the transitional months, plus its simple tailoring complements the simple shift dress. 

This Laura Ashley camel cape has a stylish black trim. Fabric: 75% wool, 25% polyester. Price £105.

The shift dress first became popular in the 1920s with the flapper girls and then made a colourful revival in the 1960s. This was mainly due to Lilly Pulitzer who started to wear brightly coloured and patterned shift dresses to hide the juice stains when working at her juice stand in Florida.

Customers loved her dresses and, being the entrepreneur, she had some made and started to sell them alongside her stand. Plus it helped having a friend like Jackie Kennedy who also loved the style – and Lilly’s dresses began to bloom.

The typical French chic look is neutral colours with little pattern. However the simple style of the shift dress does allow more flexibility on colour and design. This Stephanie Shift dress uses a mix of blues and for the French chic look wear with neutral accessories whilst keeping jewellery simple and to a minimum. 

The approx length is 37 inches from shoulder to hem. Price is $168,

Something the French are able to carry off is mixing masculine cuts with feminine styles. So keep jackets loosely fitted to complement the style of the shift dress, such as this masculine straight cut grey boyfriend jacket from Ellos at

Price £45. Length 72cm. Fabric: 74% polyester, 23% viscose and 3% elastane. Also available in fawn for those with a warmer complexion.

Team with Dune’s feminine Judder teal blue satin pointed toe courts. Price £80,

Most shift dresses have high necks so may make the larger bust look boxy. One solution is to wear a mid-length necklace (but not so long that it is dangling over your bust) or scarf to create a V shape and break up the area.


Again a simple silhouette but more fitted so the waist is accentuated and the neckline is usually lower. This style is ideal for the curvier figure and the fuller bust.

Although French chic usually means wearing a neutral colour palette of black, creams, beiges, navy and browns, red is one bright colour that pops up quite often. 

It's mainly used as an accent colour, but who could resist this classic style lipstick red ‘Jane’ dress by Cut low at the front with fluted panelling at the back to flatter the curvier figure. 

Fabric: 100% lightweight wool with a pure silk lining. Price £710.

Image courtesy of Julia Boggio

Red always works well with black and white, so add a staple black fitted jacket and black shoes then make a statement with a few monochrome accessories. 

For example, this monochrome glass stone necklace from fits the bill nicely! This necklace has three large marbled pendants amid smaller cubed beads, crushed glass beads and round beads. Chain length 22”. Price £50.

For the soft touch there is the Hobbs Aubree bag, a zebra print faux ponyskin leather bag. Large enough for all your Paris racing essentials, it can be carried the ladylike way with the two top handles or when you need both hands free to egg on your horse, there’s a detachable shoulder strap. Price £249, 



French Chic for the Races – It's a Wrap



Karen Grace studied Personal Styling at the London College of Fashion and is a registered affiliate member of the Federation of Image Professionals International. You can read more of Karen's fashion advice at:

For personal shopping and styling services you can reach her via frumpy to funky on and 07787 800 390.



Allison is the Publisher of Eclipse Magazine. She loves going to the Races and is learning to bet (despite being officially the worst bettor in the History of the Universe), there's a lot more to learn...

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