I think it’s apt to say that I’ve experienced French beauty more than I’ve learned anything about it. In other words, the encounters were not simple instances of observation; I think beauty leaves impressions more sublime than that. By interacting with European friends, traveling to Paris, and consuming pop culture, I captured the delicate, enigmatic aura de France, and put together my own ideas about the “classic French aesthetic.”
Léa Seydoux had everything to do with it, probably because she enjoyed a distinct presence in Hollywood around the time my teenage self was discovering buttered popcorn and the appeal of dramatic film. American cinema was pervasive, but she was not of it, I could tell.
It must have been her sparsely made-up face, and no less the frown that came with it. The raw features of women had once seemed inextricably tied to innocence and vulnerability in my mind, but her defiant, bare-faced charisma at once subverted that belief. When she did dabble in cosmetics, the artwork was simple yet mesmerizing: a slight deepening of the eyes in black, gentle kisses of blush around the cheeks, and lips painted in some mysterious, unearthly variation of red.
The revelation did not stop at Seydoux. Popular Instagrammers such as Kiara Amato (@kiara.amt) and Paola Locatelli (@paolalct) sported the same wild and discernibly un-American image, which an outsider such as myself might clumsily dub the Hot Mess, Woke Up Like This, Snow White (for the bright lips), and so on:
Obviously, these elementary conceptions don’t do their beauty much justice. Truth be told, it seems a little ridiculous for me to present a concept within the confines of languages and cultures that are foreign to it.
Well, that was a theatric and makeup-brush-length preface for you. Like the rambling might have suggested, the merit of this article won’t lie in my uninformed and potentially annoying remarks about how fascinating I find French beauty.
So, without further ado, let’s hear it from some French friends of mine instead…
Caitlin Chaisson, @caitlin_chaisson, 17 (half-French, born in France):
Unlike many other cultures, France doesn’t really focus on any specific beauty standards. They tend to prefer a quite natural appearance, and focus more on their clothing and sense of fashion rather than their makeup or hair when it comes to expressing their style. However, I think France is a country that still values a slimmer figure. The French population is known to have a significant amount of underweight people, which is something I noticed when walking around the streets of Paris and my hometown Grenoble.
Since the French population has a preference for a more natural appearance, they value symmetry and proportional facial features. So, for example, unlike other cultures that may value exaggeratedly plump lips or bigger eyes, the French may find that these features may be overbearing or ‘too much’ on one’s face.
I’ve noticed that there definitely is a distinct French “look”. Keeping with the ‘au naturel’ theme, the French use very little to no foundation, and will usually stick to some light concealing and powdering. When it comes to giving the face some color, they will stray away from contouring, but definitely use some blush. The younger generations will add highlighter to their routine. Surprisingly enough, many French women do not fill in their eyebrows, and if they do, it’s very lightly with a brow pencil. They also keep the eyes light, and usually only use mascara. The final and absolutely vital step to a classic French “look” is definitely the lipstick. They usually use colors that pop on their skin tone such as reds, oranges, and burgundies, and keep the lip matte.
French people usually tend to stick to drugstore beauty products (but will go to Sephora and spend absurd amounts of money on perfume). Some products that I’ve seen many of my French family and friends use are: Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser Dark Circles Treatment Concealer, L’Oreal True Match Powder, Kiko Radiant Baked Blush, Benefit Cosmetics High Beam Liquid Face Highlighter, Sephora Collection Retractable Brow Pencil, Kiko Standout Volume Buildable Mascara, and Golden Rose Longstay Liquid Matte Lipstick. The French also really enjoy all-natural products, especially for skincare.
I think my daily beauty routine is definitely a blend of many different cultures’ definitions and trends of beauty. I’m half-French and half-American, and have lived in various countries in East and Central Asia. Therefore, I’ve had both a Western and an Asian influence on my beauty routine. I would definitely say the most French part of my routine is my skincare. French people tend to take great care of their skin, and try including as many all-natural skincare products as they can in their routines, which is something that I also do.
Marianne Renard, @marianne_rnd, 17 (half-French, lives in France):
I think that clothes (what you wear and how you’re dressed) define French people, and that people pay attention to this. But the face, hair, and body are also a large part of the beauty standard.
I don’t think the classic French “look” has any fixed components, but most people draw on eyebrows and apply eyeliner and lipstick. There aren’t any particular French beauty products that come to mind, because French people use and are often inspired by American beauty products.
While I don’t know if my makeup look is French, it’s very simple. I do my eyebrows and apply some eyeliner and mascara. I also often put on matte lipstick, and sometimes eyeshadow.
(Responses have been edited for clarity.)
Cover image features Ilinca Clisson, @ilinca_cliss.