Here is the truth about French fashion clichés. If you love French-girl style, you probably want to know if French women actually wear berets, Breton stripped-shirts, silk scarves, and other French fashion clichés. If there are a few French wardrobe staples that French women and Parisians wear in real life, others have earned a reputation as “cliché”. Indeed, while many websites suggest buying certain pieces that are French-girl favorites, there are often many clichés involved.
As you know, I’m a French girl and I lived for a long time in Paris, so I can easily recognize French fashion pieces that are true clichés versus French wardrobe staples that French women really wear on a day-to-day basis. After completing some research, I’ve compiled a list of items that I wanted to discuss. So, if you want the truth (from an insider) about what French women actually wear, I’m breaking down 10 of the most well-known clichés of French style.
10 Of The Most Well-Known Clichés Of French Fashion
1. The Beret
If you ask anyone what they think of when they hear “French fashion”, they’ll reference a beret. I think this is probably the biggest cliché regarding French girl style. The truth is most of the French girls I know (and I’m seeing in the streets of Paris) do not wear a beret. And I’m sure that most of the French people do not actually know how to wear properly this type of hat. In my opinion, it’s just a stereotype that’s not really true. If you’re looking for a hat to wear this fall/winter, opt for a wool fedora instead; it’s très chic and not cliché at all.
2. The Silk Scarf
I’m sure you’ve seen many French girls on Pinterest wearing a silky scarf around their necks, on their bags, and in their hair. In my opinion, this French fashion cliché is both true and false. It’s probably true that a lot of French women have in their closet a silky scarf. However, French women do not wear those scarves on a day-to-day basis. And they usually reserve them for special occasions and very chic outfits. Personally, I love to wear my Carré de soie from Hermès with a black dress and a pair of loafers but I never wear this scarf on a daily basis.
3. The Striped Shirt or Marinière
In 1917, Coco Channel made the marinière an icon of French couture when she introduced the design in her nautical collection. Today, I’m sure that probably most of the French girls own a few marinières (and at least one from Sezane). In my opinion, the striped shirt is a true French fashion cliché and it’s the most classic piece of clothing you can get. If you want to wear it à la Française, combine your favorite striped shirt with a pair of jeans, a blazer, and a pair of white sneakers. Just avoid wearing your marinière with a beret and a red scarf.
4. Ballerina Flats
French girls wearing ballerina flats is a French fashion cliché that has been popularized by Brigitte Bardot in the ’60s. Today, even if most of the French girls probably own a pair of ballerina flats (Chanel or Repetto), the French do not actually wear them all the time. In my opinion, even if a pair of ballerinas are chic with a short dress, or skirt, I really prefer wearing other French-girl style shoes like loafers, slingbacks, low block heels, and even white sneakers.
5. The Birkin Basket Bag
I think there is a difference between wearing a market basket bag to go shopping versus wearing a Birkin basket bag (wicker basket) as an everyday handbag. If most of the time, French girls wear a market basket bag (straw bag) to go shopping, for a picnic, days at the beach, or simply as an everyday handbag during spring/summer, I’ve never seen an actual French girl wearing a wicker basket in the streets of Paris (except maybe Jane Birkin in the ’70s ^^). In France, wicker baskets are usually used in the kitchen as a storage home decor to tidy flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
6. Red Lips
I’m sure you might all picture the French girl-aesthetic: tousled hair, flawless skin with natural makeup, simple but always chic Parisian style, and a red lip! And if it’s true that French women wear red lipsticks, they do not wear it on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, most of the French prefer to wear red lips for special occasions like girls’ night out, a date, or any chic events. And, even if some Parisians like to wear red lipstick every day, they’ll go for a more natural light pink lip color.
7. The Vintage Cardigan
You’ve might have seen many Parisian girls on Pinterest wearing vintage cardigans with very bright colors. I think it’s a bit cliché, as the French usually prefer neutral tones and more classic shapes of cardigans. In my opinion, those vintage cardigan styles can make us look very dowdy (“mémère” in French). If you love to wear cardigans in fall/winter and you want to have a more modern and very chic look, opt for a fine-knit cardigan like this one from & Other Stories or a long one like this one from Mango.
8. The Trench Coat
The trench coat is truly a French-girl staple! And in my opinion, this French fashion cliché is accurate as most French women have this type of coat in their closet. It’s the perfect coat for the unpredictable Parisian weather. And it’s the perfect coat for the transitional autumn period between light jackets to heavy-duty coats. A high-quality trench coat will keep you warm all seasons and will add chic to any of your outfits. Opt for a beige, navy blue, or light grey color and this season the longer the more fashionable.
9. The Floral Wrap Dress
Floral wrap dresses have been very popular on Pinterest lately and are usually associated with French girl-style. If it’s true that French women wear this style of dresses during spring/summer, I don’t think they wear them on a daily basis. Indeed, French women usually wear those dresses in summer on holidays or on weekends. However, as a French woman myself, I would never wear those floral wrap dresses at work or for business meetings. As adorable as they look, those dresses can make you look either dowdy or gamine. See my favorite dresses to wear in summer.
10. The Chanel Bag
If all French women own a classic black leather handbag, they certainly cannot all afford the famous Chanel bag. This bag is probably the dream bag of most Parisians as it can make any outfit very chic and elegant. If you can afford it, I really recommend investing in a Chanel bag that is classic, timeless, and versatile. Also, there are cheaper options out there: most common handbags seeing in the streets of Paris are from Polène, Sezane, Lancel, Longchamp, or Gerard Darel.
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Bonjour and welcome to Leonce Chenal! The French online magazine written by a French woman that aims to help you live your French life, wherever you are. I’m Leonce, I'm French and I'm a Parisian expat currently living in the city center of Amsterdam. I created Leonce Chenal back in 2018 when I was living in London and missing my home country way too much. What started as an online space to share my favorite skincare products has since evolved into a destination for French fashion, interiors, and beauty. If you have any question or if you just want to say bonjour, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org <3