The French take a lot of pride in dressing well — in fact, they practically invented timeless style. Just ask Hugo Jacomet, the ever-stylish guru behind the blog The Parisian Gentleman and a new book by the same name. We caught up with the menswear authority at Toronto’s Leatherfoot Emporium, where he told us the secrets of mastering French style, including how to invest in a bespoke shoe worthy of a stroll along the Riviera.
A word on French style
France lies sandwiched between two sartorial heavyweights — ultra-conservative Britain to the north and flamboyant Italy to the south — and borrows influences from both. “But we have something that nobody has: the haute couture tradition,” says Jacomet. This makes for a level of sophistication and craftsmanship found nowhere else in the world, an elegance he says is key to Parisian style.
A certain attitude
A Parisian gentleman is more than just what he wears — on his body, anyway. The attitude with which French men dress is in marked contrast to North America’s obsession with ease of wear or Italy’s freewheeling sprezzatura. “We in France are ready to die to look good.” says Jacomet. “We are ready to die — we will never sacrifice the style for comfort. Never!”
Master Parisian style
That je ne sais quoi the French guys have? It’s bespoke craftsmanship. Investing in these signature pieces will have you mistaken for a local in France (and a style god everywhere else).
1. A structured suit
Forget the sack suit. A Frenchman will always look for an ultra-structured jacket. Jacomet’s go-to is a suit from the bespoke tailors at Cifonelli, complete with an extremely padded shoulder and extra layers across the body that give it a characteristic silhouette — one Karl Lagerfeld famously said he can spot from 100 metres away. “We like it because immediately you feel invincible,” says Jacomet.
2. The perfect shirt
French heritage brand Charvet invented the modern down collar shirt in the 1850s, back when the word “shirtmaker” wasn’t even in the English vocabulary. Now a point of national pride, Charvet is the first stop for a Frenchman looking to up his game.
3. Bespoke shoes
With names like Berluti, Pierre Corthay and Dimitri Gomez behind it, the French tradition of bespoke shoemaking is legendary. “We have a science of proportion that very few people have,” says Jacomet. The trademark French style, according to Jacomet, isn’t quite as elongated as those favoured by Italians, but not as sturdy as those you’d find on London’s High Street, either. Many also sport a French heel — shorter in length, not in height.
A word on bespoke shoes
Everything old is new again in the digital age — including the art of bespoke shoemaking, whose sudden rise in popularity is responsible for months-long waitlists in bottiers across France and the rest of the sartorial world. But don’t mistake it for a trend. “The demand is not a resurgence, my friend,” says Jacomet. “It’s a renaissance.”
Let the shoemaker take the lead
If you’re interested in commissioning your first pair of bespoke shoes, Jacomet’s first law is to learn to trust your shoemaker. “You are in the hands of people who have an almost secret science,” says Jacomet. They will let you know when you’re on the right track and will help you avoid first-time mistakes — like going overboard.
Your first shoes
Speaking of which, staying humble will mean you’ll never go out of style. “Don’t go for some crazy double monks in red crocodile with orange straps for your first,” laughs Jacomet. Go with something simple that you’ll wear all your life, like a classic Oxford. (Jacomet prefers his with a classic wingtip and only a dash of broguing.)
After that, you can add flourishes as your personal style and relationship with your shoemaker evolve. Jacomet emphasizes that taking it slowly will help you avoid missteps and appreciate the craft even more. “Everything is about time,” he says. “You buy yourself time — this is the ultimate luxury.”
Make them last
Bespoke shoes can last generations, but only if you take the time to keep them in top shape. Jacomet swears by his shoe maintenance ritual. Cleaning methods vary as much as the men wearing the shoes, but the real trick is creating a routine you find enjoyable. “Probably the most relaxing and transcendental moment I have in my life is to shine my shoes alone,” says Jacomet. So pour yourself a Scotch, turn on some music and make polishing your Prozac.