The phrase "je ne sais quoi" is often used to describe something that's, rather unhelpfully, indescribable. I've lived and studied in France, so can speak it a little beyond GCSE level but I'm still a little hazy on the meaning. Directly translated it means "I don't know what." But it's actually much more abstract than that, and it's hard to interpret if you're not French. Even more so when you're talking about fashion.
My personal take is that this phrase is used to describe French women's ability to assemble an outfit in the most put-together-but-doesn't-look-like-you've-tried-too-hard way. It's why a black T-shirt, jeans and heels look so effortless on our Gallic neighbours but can look merely boring on others. So just how do we give our own wardrobes the chic x-factor? Is there something about unlocking the idea behind "je ne sais quoi" which will finally enable us to dress commes les femmes françaises?
Not being a native speaker, I spoke to a few French women on what they think it means and how they interpret it for their own looks. Whether it's key pieces they feel good in or if it's more about an attitude and how you wear it, there are plenty of tips to steal tout suite. Ready to discover their secrets? Keep scrolling, mes chères.
"I think that the French je ne sais quoi is more about the attitude. But more tangibly it's about the details, whether that's beautiful jewellery, beautiful basics or just beautiful materials." — Anne-Laure Mais of Adenorah, blogger
"Je ne sais quoi means a lot of things to me but also kind of nothing. Ultimately I think it kind of explains the way French girls can seem to be 'careless' about their hair or makeup (which is a total lie!). For me, my leather jacket I've had for years is the piece in my wardrobe that best represents the idea. It's now completely moulded to me. Someone even tried to steal it off me last year!" — Adeline Rapon, jeweller and blogger
"It refers to the effortlessness that's specific to French women. It's our mantra—we will never be overdressed, even at a wedding. In my wardrobe, my je ne sais quoi piece is a heart-shaped faux-fur scarf." — Lydia Bahia, founder of faux fur brand La Seine et Moi
Meet the girls who have je ne sais quoi by the bucketload…
Style Notes: Unpack Anne-Laure's outfit and it's simply trousers and a jumper, but her je ne sais quoi is tracking down elevated basics. A pink knit worn with leopard denim? An unlikely pairing but it just works.
Style Notes: A checked blazer, a white tee, indigo jeans and black courts—items most women already have hanging in their wardrobes. However, take away fussy accessories and this look is as chic as they come.