Here are the best French wardrobe basics to add to your closet to have a wardrobe full of classic, timeless looks. Being French, I love to write about French fashion! And, if you’re a faithful reader of Leonce Chenal, you probably already know that the secret to French style is a mastery of basics. That is why, today, I wanted to share with you the list of the French basics and staples that are found in every French wardrobe —and on every Parisian street—.
A French wardrobe is a collection of versatile, high-quality basic items, that stand the test of passing fads and seasons. It includes items like a button-down shirt, straight-leg jeans, a Breton shirt or ballet flats, or other classic styles. All of these French wardrobe basics can be worn all year round, regardless of the season. And having a better understanding of what a French wardrobe is, will help you build a wardrobe upon some core basic items —no matter your personal style—.
Whether you’re interested in building a wardrobe full of timeless and trend-proof staples or you want to get started in French fashion, this French fashion guide will help you get the quality basics across all categories of apparel and eliminate clothing from your wardrobe that you don’t wear. So, let’s start with the 12 basic items of the French wardrobe. These wardrobe essentials listed below are the kind of timeless items that work for all women —French or not— and when put together actually ladder up to a rather chic wardrobe.
12 Basics Every French Woman Has In Her Wardrobe
1. Button-Down Shirt
One of the first basics of the French wardrobe is a button-down shirt. Whether oversized, well-fitted, in cotton or silk, white, blue, or striped, a button-down shirt is definitely a French wardrobe staple. French women love its versatility! For a polished office look, pair it with straight-leg/flare jeans, a pair of white sneakers, and a designer tote bag. For a classy night-out outfit, switch your white sneakers for a pair of strappy heels and wear a black satin blazer.
My favorite one is the Sézane Tomboy Shirt that I have in my wardrobe for years. I’m a huge fan of Polo Ralf Lauren‘s shirts as well, I have several Georgia Button-Down Shirts in different colors in my wardrobe. Also, I love this beautiful Ralf Lauren’s Stripe Cotton Button-Up Shirt. For any professional meeting where I need to look smart, I have this Theory well-fitted cotton-blend shirt. And when I want to feel more comfortable in my clothes I love to wear this beautiful relaxed-fit Thomas Mason shirt.
2. White T-Shirt
A white t-shirt is another basic of the French wardrobe. It’s the perfect item to create a very Parisian effortless chic outfit! Just wear it with jeans and a pair of white sneakers. Add a slightly masculine blazer for a chicer look. Make sure to opt for a 100% cotton plain t-shirt to look polished.
Last year I’ve started to invest in good quality basic tee-shirts. I have several Sézane Conrad t-shirts and Ninety Percent Jenna organic cotton-jersey T-shirts, in different colors. If I need to look more polished I wear the Frankie Shop Eva cotton-jersey tank with padded shoulders. Also, I’m in love with these cotton-jersey T-shirts by the French brand Loulou Studio.
3. Breton Striped Shirt (a.k.a. marinière)
The Breton striped shirt is one of the many true French fashion clichés and it’s probably one the most classic pieces you can have in your wardrobe. This cotton long-sleeved shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes, originally worn by seamen in the French Navy, has become a staple in French fashion. 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 the French cliché by wearing it with a beret and a scarf. My favorite marinières are from Sézane: the Colette marinière and the Noan marinière.
To create a French wardrobe, you’ll definitely need to invest in a blazer —if you haven’t already—. Indeed, a blazer is a super versatile basic! You can wear it with everything: a basic tee, a silk camisole, jeans or tailored pants, etc. It instantly gives chic and elegance to any outfit and it can be worn for a day or night outfit, depending on the accessorization. Look for a slightly oversized blazer —you can borrow your husband’s one— and seek neutral colors and high-quality fabric —cotton, wool, linen—.
In my opinion, the best quality blazers are from the Parisian labels Maje and Sandro. I have this Sandro Tuxedo Jacket and this navy blue Double Breasted Blazer in my wardrobe for years! Also, I love Maje Valilou Blazer which is perfect for a smart office look.
5. Trench Coat
A trench coat is the one item you’ll find in every French woman’s wardrobe. It’s a simple investment every French woman makes early on in her life as it’s one of the most iconic pieces of clothing of all time. Not only a trench is the perfect outwear piece for transitioning between seasons but it also goes with just about everything in your closet. Indeed, on one of those I-have-nothing-to-wear days, the trench has the ability to make every outfit instantly more elegant and “polished”.
And if I’ve had a few different styles over the years, but my two favorites are the Scott trench from Sézane and the Modern Trench Coat from Everlane. I have the Burberry Kensington Mid Heritage Trench Coat on my wishlist as well.
6. The Little Black Dress
The little black dress (also known as “la petite robe noire” in French) is the one basic that French women wear for any special occasion such as a chic dinner, a night out, a cocktail party, or even a romantic date. The perfect little black dress is the one that is not too short —knee-length is perfect—, not too tight and not too revealing or sexy. You should always choose between a short dress or a dress with a decolleté. The perfect black dress is basically the one that you can wear in any special circumstances and with which you are most comfortable. Just pair it with a pair of ballet flats and a black leather crossbody bag and you can’t be chicer.
7. Straight-Leg Jeans
French women prefer straight-leg jeans to skinny jeans. Indeed, not only straight-leg denim is super comfortable to wear but it’s also the perfect shape of jeans that suit all body types. Seek high-rise straight jeans or “mom jeans” and opt for dark blue, light, and even white denim for a chic spring/summer look. Just avoid wearing ribbed jeans.
8. Ballet Flats
Ballet flats are one of those classic styles that hardly ever feel dated. It’s the perfect French shoe style for transitioning between seasons —one of my favorite shoes to wear in Spring—. This French basic is a bit of a wardrobe icon and a staple that continues to be trendy. There are two iconic pairs of ballet flats: the Chanel ballerinas and the Repetto Cendrillon ballerinas—the Cendrillon ballet flats is an iconic shoe style from the Maison Repetto, originally made for Brigitte Bardot—. No matter if you prefer square, rounded, almond, or pointy styles, they’re just the French basic your wardrobe needs.
9. White Sneakers
Since Paris is a city where the locals walk everywhere, outfits always strike a balance of stylish and cool with comfortable and stylish. And it’s far more common to see Parisians wearing flat shoes like sneakers and trainers than high heels.
It’s impossible to not see several pairs of white sneakers like the Veja Esplar Sneakers, Addidas Stan Smith Lace-Up Sneakers, or Sezane Jack Sneakers topping off chic outfits in the street of Paris. Sneakers no longer carry the casual, lazy day stigma they did in the past. For more, read my previous post on the 10 sneakers French women swear by.
10. Silk Scarf
A silk scarf (“un foulard” in French) is the basic that you’ll find in every French woman’s wardrobe. This lightweight scarf typically made of silk (or similar materials) can be square or rectangle and is usually worn in mid-season when the temperatures start to rise. A silk scarf is essentially worn for style and fashion as it does not protect much from the cold. It’s a great way to add French chic to any of your outfits as it can be both an accessory as well as a statement piece. In France, the most popular silk scarf is the Hermès “carré de soie” which is a bright-colored patterned scarf made of high-quality silk.
Knotting a “carré de soie” around your neck becomes a statement in and of itself! For more, you can read my guide on how to tie (“nouer”) a scarf like a French.
11. Black Crossbody Bag
A black crossbody bag is a French wardrobe basic to have in your closet. It’s one of the easiest ways to accessories any outfit. I’ll recommend opting for a black high-quality leather crossbody bag —black will go with every outfit—.
I like to invest in black leather bags that will last me a lifetime. If you have the budget, you can opt for the Chanel 2.55 bag, the Caviar Quilted Jumbo Double Flap Black, or the Saint Laurent Le Carré leather bag. I love the Sézane Quilted Victor Bag as well. For more, you can read my previous article on the best affordable French handbag brands to shop for.
12. Gold Medallion Necklace
French women love their medallion pendant necklaces —also known as “coin” or cameo necklaces—. You can wear it solo for a subtle flash of gold or layered with delicate gold necklaces to make more of a statement. This beautiful Sezane Sara chain 9 carat gold with this delicate gold medal will add a cool vintage element to any look. For more, see the best French jewelry brands French women swear by and learn about the 10 jewelry pieces French women own.
Do you have every French wardrobe basics in your closet? I would love to have your thoughts! Please add your comment below.
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