There is more to being French than speaking the language or attempting to wear a beret. (Word of caution on the latter: Just don’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. It’s safe to say that we brash, worldly Americans are obsessed with the French ingénue—her style, her skin, her choice of carbs (ILY, baguettes), and, perhaps most obsessively, her hair.
“French-girl hair” 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 mass—no texture spray required. Though we fully realize we’re this close to exhausting the subject (kidding, we passed that point long ago), we still. Want. More. More tips, more products, more advice—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 Deneuve’s go-to—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.
Keep scrolling to find out the secret to French-girl hair.
Meet the Expert
- Christophe Robin is a world-renowned French hair colorist who has worked with French beauty icons such as Catherine Deneuve.
- Rachel Jucaud is a hospitality and marketing professional and real-life French Girl.
- Caroline de Maigret is a model, music producer, author, and Parisian style icon. She has been photographed in the pages of Elle, Glamour, and Vogue Italia and has walked in several international fashion weeks.
Wash Sparingly But Condition Heavily
The first step in your French girl hair routine is more of what not to do—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 she’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. “Then I just go to work or wherever I’m supposed to be and release my hair before I get there when it’s dry,” she reveals. “This gives me beautiful waves without any effort.”
She tells us she never—we repeat never—leaves her strands bare post-shower. Leave-in conditioner or some sort of light, smoothing product is always involved (she swears by Kérastase’s Nectar Thermique Cream, which “does not feel oily or heavy” in her hair). Robin has a product—his Moisturizing Hair Oil With Lavender ($35)—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—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 wouldn’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 line’s Cleansing Mask With Lemon ($49), which boasts a 20-year-old formula that’s never been changed and was one of the first-ever non-lathering shampoos. “It takes a little effort, but it keeps the hair color intact, nourishing the hair and scalp,” he promises.
Jucaud tells us she swears by René Furterer’s Fioravanti Clarify and Shine Rinse (discontinued): “The line is expensive, but they are very efficient products and natural,” she says.
Dye With Caution
When we asked Robin what he thought was the biggest difference between how French women care for their hair versus how American women do, his answer surprised us: It wasn’t a specific hairstyling technique but rather the act of choosing a hair color itself.
Namely, French women prefer a natural-looking color that suits their complexion and eye color, and they always, always go for the lowest maintenance shades. “They do not want to be trapped in always having to touch up their roots,” Robin says. “In France, a lot of brunettes, when they go lighter, won’t go blonde from the roots but will layer blond only at the ends. They like the kind of blond that forces respect.” (Note to self: Definitely use this description on our next visit to the hair salon.) It seems that recently, American women have caught on to this mindset—hence the rise of balayage, ombré, and tortoiseshell hair. (This editor still gets compliments on her grown-out hair color and has not gone back to the salon in almost a year.)
de Maigret, however, goes one step further, advising you step away from the hair dye (almost) altogether. "Do not dye your hair, or if you do, only in your original color to highlight it or to hide any gray," she says.
Don't Fear the Scissors
“French girls are not scared to cut their hair,” Robin states matter-of-factly. “They’ll do anything to keep their hair quality.” He points to French muses like Inès de la Fressange or Laetitia Casta, but it seems the average French woman follows this mindset, too—Jucaud also says she’s not afraid to cut her hair. “I try to keep my hair as healthy as possible by cutting it just a bit, but often,” she tells us. “When you have healthy hair, any style looks better.”
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 week—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, they’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 days—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 Byrdie 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.