There is more to being French than speaking the language or attempting to wear a beret. (Word of caution on the latter: Just donâ€™t.) You must possess the ability to somehow make jeans and a simple striped tee look so cool it hurts, the power to show up at an event barefaced and still turn heads. Itâ€™s safe to say that we brash, worldly Americans are obsessed with the French ingÃ©nueâ€”her style, her skin, her choice of carbs (ILY, baguettes), and, perhaps most obsessively, her hair.
â€œFrench-girl hairâ€ has become an idea in and of itself, describing an artfully rumpled head of hair that appears to have magically air-dried to a soft, wavy massâ€”no texture spray required. Though we fully realize weâ€™re this close to exhausting the subject (kidding, we passed that point long ago), we still. Want. More. More tips, more products, more adviceâ€”anything to help us get a little closer to understanding that textured head of hair that is, as one wise movie character once put it, full of secrets.
On this never-ending quest, we interviewed two experts to help us better understand the French way of hair care. One is world-renowned French colorist Christophe Robin, who rose to prominence after becoming actress Catherine Deneuveâ€™s go-toâ€”and has since worked with every chic French actress and model under the sun. Another is a real-life French girl named Rachel Jucaud, who willingly endured our beseeching questions and gave us a glimpse into her everyday hair routine.
We also pored through every page of Caroline de Maigret's charming book, How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are ($16) (penned with Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, and Sophie Mas), with the hope of finding even more answers as to how French women look so, well, chic all the time. And of course, we had to share our favorite excerpts with you.
Meet the Expert
Wash Sparingly But Condition Heavily
The first step in your French girl hair routine is more of what not to doâ€”and that's washing your hair every day. "It's not worth washing your hair every day, as it's usually on the following day that your hair gains a certain weight that in turn gives it the right volume when tied up in a bun," de Maigret advises.
When you do are ready to suds up, what you leave in your hair might just be more important than what you wash out of it. Jucaud tells us her secret routine when sheâ€™s short on time: wash her hair, apply leave-in conditioner, rough-dry her roots with her fingers, then wrap her strands loosely in a bun. â€œThen I just go to work or wherever Iâ€™m supposed to be and release my hair before I get there when itâ€™s dry,â€ she reveals. â€œThis gives me beautiful waves without any effort.â€
She tells us she neverâ€”we repeat neverâ€”leaves her strands bare post-shower. Leave-in conditioner or some sort of light, smoothing product is always involved (she swears by KÃ©rastaseâ€™s Nectar Thermique Cream, which â€œdoes not feel oily or heavyâ€ in her hair). Robin has a productâ€”his Moisturizing Hair Oil With Lavender ($35)â€”that he says helps your strands avoid breakage, maintains the color, and keeps the natural lipidic film that protects your hair; it can also be used as an overnight leave-in treatment.
And Jucaud's rough-dry/air-dry routine is pretty de rigueur for a French routine â€”two things you likely won't find on a French woman's vanity are a dryer or a flat iron, according to de Maigret. "Do not dry your hair with a hair dryer (in fact, you might as well throw your hair dryer away), but instead use two much more environmentally friendly resources: fresh air in summer and a towel in the winter," she says. Need some help? Here's how to air-dry your hair like a pro.
Be Gentle With Your Strands
Think of your hair like your favorite cashmere sweater. You wouldnâ€™t just throw it in the wash every time after wearing it, right? In the same way, French women tend to choose gentler, natural-based products free of silicones and sulfates to cleanse and treat their hair. Robin says his clients like his lineâ€™s Cleansing Mask With Lemon ($49), which boasts a 20-year-old formula thatâ€™s never been changed and was one of the first-ever non-lathering shampoos. â€œIt takes a little effort, but it keeps the hair color intact, nourishing the hair and scalp,â€ he promises.
Jucaud tells us she swears by RenÃ© Furtererâ€™s Fioravanti Clarify and Shine Rinse (discontinued): â€œThe line is expensive, but they are very efficient products and natural,â€ she says.
Don't Fear the Scissors
â€œFrench girls are not scared to cut their hair,â€ Robin states matter-of-factly. â€œTheyâ€™ll do anything to keep their hair quality.â€ He points to French muses like InÃ¨s de la Fressange or Laetitia Casta, but it seems the average French woman follows this mindset, tooâ€”Jucaud also says sheâ€™s not afraid to cut her hair. â€œI try to keep my hair as healthy as possible by cutting it just a bit, but often,â€ she tells us. â€œWhen you have healthy hair, any style looks better.â€
And chopping ones locks isn't just for hair health: According to Robin, the final step to being truly French is the addition of long fringe.
Carve Out Hair Time During Le Week-end
When we mentioned to Robin that French women seem to spend less time on their hair than American women do, he pointed out an interesting point. French women prep their hair during the weekend so they can spend less time on it during the weekâ€”which makes perfect sense to us.
On a typical Saturday or Sunday, his clients will sleep with an overnight oil treatment, rinse it out in the morning (with a non-lathering shampoo, of course), then apply another mask. Afterward, theyâ€™ll rinse everything out, spritz their strands with a hair tonic or light leave-in treatment, then bask in their healthy, happy strands for the next few daysâ€”three to four, to be exact. So treat your hair during the weekend so you can be super lazy during the week. Genius.
Hair accessories are making a comeback in the U.S., but this is one trend to which de Maigret says non. She states plainly: "There's no point in accessorizing your hair." We at ishonest know the power of a cute bun cuff or claw clip, though, so even though they might not be a thing in France, we say, "Do you."
Never Forget the Power of Scent
According to de Maigret, "a touch of perfume on your hair, behind your ear, or on the nape of your neck never did anyone any harm." We imagine the particular perfume would be Chanel, no less. Speaking of fragrance, here are five cult French fragrances that are perfect for springtime.
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