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15 Must-Have French Wardrobe Essentials for Effortless Chic

15 Must-Have French Wardrobe Essentials for Effortless Chic

french wardrobe basics

Here are the basic clothing items every French woman has in her wardrobe. If you’re a faithful reader of LC, you probably already know that the secret to French style is a mastery of basics. Indeed, a French wardrobe is a collection of versatile, long-lasting pieces that stand the test of passing fads and seasons. It includes classics like white t-shirts, trench coats, blazers, and ballet flats. But also items that have more recently earned their spot as wardrobe essentials: loafers, striped sweaters, and white sneakers.

Being French, these are the wardrobe essentials I find myself turning to season after season. They can be paired with almost anything in my closet, and it’s safe to say that I’m wearing at least one of the highlighted pieces below daily. So whether you’re rethinking how to approach your style or cleaning out your closet and starting from scratch, in today’s article, I’ve gathered a robust list of the French wardrobe staples that will help you craft the foundation of your new wardrobe. Keep scrolling below to see and shop the French wardrobe basics you’ll love for years to come.

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1. The Plain T-Shirt

A plain tee (whether white, black, grey, camel, or khaki) is definitely a foundational piece of the French wardrobe. It’s the perfect item to create a French effortlessly-chic outfit. Just pair it with jeans and loafers, and add a slightly masculine blazer for a more polished look. I recommend opting for 100% cotton plain T-shirts that will last you more than one season. Brands like Sézane, Madewell, and J.Crew offer good quality t-shirts at affordable prices.

Leonce’s top pick of the best t-shirts:

2. The Button-Down Shirt

Whether slightly oversized, well-fitted, in cotton or silk, white, blue, or striped, a button-down shirt is one of the many French staples that make up a solid wardrobe foundation. The French love this staple for its versatility! For a polished office look with a “chic-decontracté” style, pair it with jeans, chic sneakers, and a designer tote. For a classy night-out outfit, switch your sneakers for a pair of evening heels and wear a black satin blazer.

Leonce’s top pick of the best shirts:

For shirts with a French twist, I recommend the Parisian labels Marie Marot and Figaret.

3. The Striped Top

The Breton striped top, also known as “la marinière”, is probably one of the most classic pieces you can have in your wardrobe. This cotton long-sleeved top with horizontal blue and white stripes, originally worn by seamen in the French Navy, has become a symbol of timeless French fashion. Wear it à la Française by pairing it with jeans, a tailored navy-blue blazer (like this Sandro double-breasted suit jacket), and loafers.

Leonce’s top pick of the best striped tops:

4. The Classic Cardigan

The knitted cardigan has been experiencing a comeback over the past few years and is now an essential piece of the French wardrobe. Whether thrown over a dress in summer or worn underneath a sleek overcoat in fall, the cardigan is a truly year-round staple. It offers endless styling possibilities: not only it can serve as a chic and practical layering piece but it can also be the ideal outerwear option for mild autumns. Made of luxury cashmere, cozy wool, fuzzy mohair, or finer knits, the cardigan is the perfect item to stay warm whilst not sacrificing style.

Leonce’s top pick of the best cardigans:

5. The Tailored Blazer

A tailored blazer is definitely an essential piece of the French wardrobe. Not only does a blazer adds another layer of warmth but it can also make any outfit instantly feel more elevated and put together. It’s basically the one item you can wear with everything: over a classic white tee, a turtleneck, or with a skirt, a dress, a classic pair of jeans, or tailored pants. It can also be worn pared down or dressed up depending on the outfit.

Slightly oversized, blazers with strong shoulders are in fashion. You can add a waist belt (like this beautiful Isabel Marant Lecce leather belt) over your blazer to create a more feminine silhouette. Consider opting for classic colors like navy blue, black, beige, and brown, which can work with any outfit.

Leonce’s top pick of the best blazers:

6. The Timeless Trench Coat

The trench coat is the one item you’ll find in every French woman’s wardrobe. It’s a simple investment French women make early on in their lives as it’s one of the most iconic pieces of clothing of all time. Not only a trench is the perfect outerwear piece for transitioning between seasons but it also goes with just about everything in your closet. On one of those “I-have-nothing-to-wear days”, the trench coat has the ability to make every outfit instantly more elegant and polished.

Leonce’s top pick of the best trench coats:

7. The Classic Coat

Whether belted, double-breasted, or tailored, a wool-blend or cashmere classic coat can instantly transform a quite casual look into a more elevated outfit. Seek classic and timeless silhouettes like black wool coats, sleek wool overcoats in camel shades, or navy blue long double-breasted coats, that never date. Throw it over jeans and a cashmere knit with classic loafers and you’re good to go! It’s a piece you will return to year after year.

Leonce’s top pick of the best coats:

8. The Little Black Dress

The little black dress (also known as “la petite robe noire”) 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 dress that should not be too short (knee-length is perfect), too tight, and neither too revealing nor sexy. And French women always choose between a short dress or a dress with a décolletage. The perfect little 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 flats or a pair of evening heels, sheer black tights, and a crossbody bag, and you can’t be chicer.

Leonce’s top pick of the best black dresses:

9. The Straight-Leg Jeans

No French wardrobe is complete without a pair of high-waisted straight-leg jeans. Indeed, it’s the kind of jeans that flatters most body types, can be worn all year long, pared down or dressed up, and can be worn for every occasion while offering maximum comfort. And when it comes to denim, French women definitely know how to make this basic look sophisticated and chic. Seek high-rise straight jeans or “mom jeans” that are not skinny and opt for a blue color that will go with everything and fits every season. Just avoid ribbed jeans.

Leonce’s top pick of the best jeans:

10. The Ballet Flats

Ballet flats are one of those classic styles that hardly ever feel dated. It’s the perfect French shoe style for for transitioning between seasons —and one of my favorite shoes to wear in spring and autumn. This French basic is a bit of a wardrobe icon and a staple that continues to be trendy. And no matter whether you prefer square, rounded, almond, or pointy styles, they’re just the French basic your wardrobe needs.

Leonce’s top pick of the best ballet flats:

11. The Sleek Loafers

Classic loafers (“mocassins” in French) are definitely the timeless mainstay in any French wardrobe. Not only these are the perfect shoes for transitional seasons —and one of the best shoes for autumn, but they are also the ultimate basic that can elevate any look. From classic black leather loafers to contemporary platforms and slip-on designs, you can wear loafers with any ensemble. And that’s probably why French women consistently love wearing loafers: these classics are super versatile and will never go out of style.

Leonce’s top pick of the best loafers:

12. The Chic Sneakers

Since Paris is a city where the locals walk everywhere, sneakers are probably the most stylish and comfortable shoes to wear every day. It’s impossible to not see several pairs of white sneakers topping off chic outfits in the street of Paris. And since sneakers no longer carry the casual, lazy day stigma they did in the past, now, a simple pair of white sneakers can look stylish whatever your look. To complement dress-down pants and make their outfits look smarter, French women opt for sneakers that make their feet look thin, small, and classy.

Leonce’s top pick of the best sneakers:

13. The Classic Silk Scarf

A silk scarf (“un carré de soie”) is the basic that you’ll find in every French woman’s wardrobe. This lightweight scarf typically made of silk can be square or rectangular and is usually worn in the mid-season when the temperatures start to rise. Whether worn in your hair, around your neck, as a belt, or as a bag charm, a silk scarf is 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.

14. The Classic Cross-body

A black leather cross-body bag is one of the most versatile accessories you can have in your wardrobe. Indeed, a structured cross-body bag can be the perfect day bag to fit all of your essentials, a sophisticated evening bag, or your best companion to travel. Consider opting for a bag made of high-quality leather that will last you a lifetime.

Leonce’s top pick of the best cross-body bags:

15. The Carryall Tote

The tote bag is the perfect bag that meets two criteria: function and style. Indeed, not only this bag can hold everything you need for the day but it can also make your work outfit look classic, stylish, and sophisticated. The tote bag is truly a staple accessory every woman should own. Consider investing in a timeless (designer) tote bag that will stay with you for years to come.

Leonce’s top pick of the best tote bags:

Et voilà! I hope this guide to the best French wardrobe basics will help you create a wardrobe full of timeless and classic looks. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.

View Comments (4)
  • Bonjour. What a great site. I have joined countless FB pages about dressing in Paris. They are for Americans who just want permission to dress like they do in America. I live in France most of the year and I love my town of Cannes because I love to be beautifully dressed and Cannes encourages it. Thank you for your wonderful lists and designer names. I was surprised that Anne Fontaine did not make your “white shirt” or “t-shirt” lists. I am just discovering all you have to offer. Merci.

  • Love every piece you have chosen and for me the most important thing is most – if not all are age appropriate for any age……Fantastic – Merci

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