It’s been about a year since I got back from my sabbatical in France. Because the world is such a vastly different place now, I’ve been reminiscing about the old days when Notre Dame wasn’t scorched and the pandemic hadn’t disrupted lives everywhere. But the French are stronger, warmer, and more resilient than their reputation. And I have faith that when all this is over, we’ll still have French romance left in the world.
While we wait for that, let’s bring back some joie de vivre with French hair inspo, shall we? One of the best parts of my sabbatical was getting enough hair inspiration for a lifetime. French beauty tips tend to focus a lot on skincare and red lips, but perfectly imperfect coiffure is not far behind. Here’s what I learned about French hair, both through personal experience and experts.
1. Good hair starts with a magnifique cut.
I had always read this from every French style book ever, but really experienced it at my first haircut in France, at an unassuming little studio in Grenoble. I never realized I could walk into an empty salon in a not-super-fashionable city and walk out with the best cut of my life. The key is that they do have a very unique cutting technique where they slice diagonally into your hair, rather than going straight across as we do in America. This creates a cascading, flowing mane, if you can visualize. I noticed the same thing at another studio in Paris.
In Portland, where I now live, I’ve found a French stylist who doesn’t do such dramatic diagonal cutting as the ones I experienced in France. But the basic principles are the same: she also creates a cut that doesn’t have a part, so that you can style it multiple ways. She even cuts my bangs so that they can go multiple directions. Everything about a French cut has to do with movement, the kind of hair that swings and falls over the shoulder and begs to be played with. Tip: If you can’t find an actual French-trained stylist in your area, as for a cut without a part while diagonally thinning out the layers.
2. No heat styling.
Good hair in America means heat styling. In New York, plenty of women get professional blow-outs once a week. Shiny, polished, bouncy hair is a sign of attractiveness, confidence, and even professional competence. In France, I didn’t see anyone who looked like they spent a lot of time with a hairdryer. Makeup artist and influencer Violette confirms that “French women want amazing texture with their hair… We like to shampoo our hair, air dry, then wait a day. When you wash your hair the first day, you don’t know what to do with it. The second day, it looks much better.”
So what can one do if a little bounce, wave, or texture is desired? Honestly, the kind of things that you did in middle school before your mom let you play with a curling iron. Model Camille Rowe suggests wearing a hat while putting on makeup, to shape and press down the top of the hair while keeping the volume below the ears. Or, try putting your hair in a bun or going to bed with damp hair, braided or not. Personally, I’ve found that the placement of strategic layers in a French cut allows my mostly straight hair to assume a wavy look. I haven’t touched a curling iron in quite some time!
3. Splurge on shampoo, conditioner, and hair mask.
According to my very scientific “research,” every French girl says that she doesn’t wash her hair every day. Now, this feels pretty odd to me as France has very hard water. In every one of my stays, I felt a severe need to thoroughly shampoo and condition, and do a lemon-juice rinse every few days to keep my hair from getting gritty. But one thing that might help French beauties is that they swear by high-performance, luxurious shampoo, conditioner, leave-in treatment, and hair mask. (Yes, effortless is just the effect, not the process.) Pro tip: The whole air-drying technique relies heavily on finding the right leave-in treatment that give you softness, definition, and texture. Don’t skip it!
Leonor Greyl is a cult-favorite brand (legendary actress Isabelle Adjani is a fan) that focuses on organic and natural ingredients.
I’m a yuuuge fan of Oribe, which technically isn’t a French brand…. But their signature scent, Côte d’Azur, created by a French parfumeur, more than makes up for it. Plus, your hair just looks *so* good afterwards. Cruelty-free, parabens-free.
4. Be playful.
As unfussy and classic as French women are, they can also be surprisingly playful with their looks. In terms of hair, an unexpected accessory can keep your look just a little off-balance and fresh. You can totally be a grown woman in a beret if you just own it. Don’t apologize for having a little sense of glamour… I love these little satin turbans by Indira Paris. Have you ever *seen* something more parisienne?!
I mean, now I know that turbans can be so poétique.
What about you? Do you belong to the American school of hair or the French school?
Photo: Leonor Gril, Oribe, Indira Paris