When most people think of Parisian style, they probably picture a woman wearing slim dark jeans paired with a striped top and navy blazer. All three items are perennial wardrobe classics, but a sexy dress is also a must, especially come spring, when Parisiennes start to venture outside in their floral frocks, to meet friends for a glass of rosé en terrasse. In Paris, a dress not only symbolises a new season; for Parisiennes, it has long represented a kind of liberté — a lightening up both sartorially and emotionally,
‘A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to take it off you,’ proclaimed Parisian author Françoise Sagan, whose breakout 1954 book Bonjour Tristesse shook the moral foundations of bourgeois France.
Dresses have a reputation for being fussy or prissy. But think about it: they’re actually the most practical clothing option around; one second and you’re dressed — literally. But you’re so easily undressed, too. And therein, as Mlle Sagan knew, lies their subtle sexy charm.
The dress à la Parisienne also owes much inspiration to Brigitte Bardot, as much a social disrupter as Sagan. Bardot burst onto the French culture scene around the same time, starring in 1956’s Et Dieu … Créa La Femme, with her wild, flowing hair and button-through dresses that would become her signature style.
Sagan and Bardot were both from well-to-do families in the bourgeois epicentre that is Passy, yet symbolised a new generation of women who wanted to free themselves of the stifling etiquette, as well as the suits and pearls, of their mothers.
It was a time when society was becoming less stitched up, just as the corsetry of haute couture was coming undone. Prêt-à-Porter was coming to the fore, thanks in large part to Chloé, which happened to be one of BB’s favourite labels.
Founder Gaby Aghion, a wealthy Egyptian who had emigrated to Paris high society, launched the label after tiring of being a lady who lunched. She herself dressed in haute couture (along with some couture copies whipped up by her local dressmaker) but sensed that fashion change was in the air.
After an initial offering of six pretty cotton-poplin dresses in 1952, Chloé came to define the modern Parisienne with her wardrobe that worked from day to night, from smart office-friendly shirtdresses to light and frothy frocks perfect for dancing the night away.
Chloé still makes some of the city’s best dresses for dancing, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to designer, you’ll find your perfect party frock at one of these brands (which mostly have stores across Paris):
- Sézane, 1 Rue Saint-Fiacre 75002
- Mesdemoiselles, 21 Rue Saint-Sulpice 75006
- Soeur, 11 Rue de Sévigné 75004
- Claudie Pierlot, 49 Rue Étienne Marcel 75001
- Ba&sh, 59bis Rue Bonaparte 75006
- Iro, 53 Rue Vieille du Temple 75004
- Les Petites, 43 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois 75004
- Maje, 12 Place des Victoires 75002
- Sandro, 10 Rue du Cherche Midi 75006
- Sessun, 55bis Rue des Saints-Pères 75006