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Search term of the day: What do people wear in France?

June 16, 2010

L-A: Time for another installment of “Search Term of the Day!” (I need some jazzy theme music for this).  This is where I look at the search terms that lead people to find Fashionable People, Questionable Things. Sometimes they are weird, sometimes they make complete sense.  Some of the Search Terms of the Day will be re-occuring themes and other times I will just pick something weird that shows up.

Today’s search term wasn’t actually searched for today, but it is one that pops up a lot: What do people wear in France?

First thought is this:

Peut-être non.

Next thought:

That they wear berets and scarves and travel only on bikes with baguettes.

Aussi, peut-être non.

Clearly, I have never been to France (unless you count the petite islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon. And the people of St. Pierre et Miquelon certainly do count themselves as France – but the rest of the world sort of forgets about them/doesn’t know they exist).  But what the readers want, the readers get. So here are some thoughts on what do people wear in France from someone who has actually been to France: Intern Krista!

Don’t take a chance on pants in France

Or, The Intern Finds a Use for 1,100 pictures of Paris

Greetings Fashionable People! My beautiful and wise benefactresses have asked your Official Intern to provide some insight on how to dress for France. Luckily for you, I was just there in the autumn and drank in French style like the 3€ glasses of wine I quaffed at the end of a hard day being Parisienne.

This assignment did not get off to the most auspicious of starts. Image searching turned into two hours of browsing the Galeries Lafayette website and mooning over 1,100 pictures from my trip. While doing that, I found the result a post-wine stroll that involved some hardcore window-shopping, or, as the French say “faire du lèche-vitrine,” (yes, window licking). While window-licking on Ave des Champs-Élysées, I caught some edgy fanciness at Louis Vuitton.

The best part, however, is that every window in every store from LV to The Gap posts prices in its window displays:

Zut alors!

Anyhoodle, back to the task at hand. As my departure date drew near, I began to panic about what to wear. I didn’t want to pack a lot of clothes because of a legendary aversion to checking luggage. I also knew I had no hope of being mistaken for a French person, but did not want to be mistaken for an American. Frankly, my best shot was to blend in and be mistaken for one of the many brands of European the French tolerate, but still think less of. In the end, I went with a wardrobe palette of black and grey separates with a burgundy scarf. Except for the unseasonal warmth and humidity that made my hair larger than expected for October, I thought myself quite fetching.

Unless you’re planning to spend the week with Carine Roitfeld, strive to blend in, not stand out. Through extensive research, ahem, gawking in wine bars, my on-the-ground observation yielded some useful nuggets:

Wear clothes that fit:
The French are genetically blessed with style. It is in our longing for that style that will we never have it. Confused? You should hear my Lost explanation. Everyday clothes are very simple, but unlike North America, they FIT. Very well. A button-down white shirt is like a second skin. Refined, yet effortless. Pants are the right length and skirts hit the most flattering part of the leg. Every garment appears made to fit a person’s body, largely because they’re tailored. No secret, just a cultural difference.

As for going out at night, all bets are off. Glam it up, hope for the best. Don’t trip on a cobblestone street in the Latin Quarter.

Wear clothes that are simple:
French couture is ostentatious, French people are not. Daytime colours are mostly neutral, except for accessories, and season-appropriate. I didn’t notice a lot of busy patterns, nothing more notable than stripes or dots. Certainly no tie-dye or macramé or anything that would be worn at an outdoor music festival. (Sorry, Ally)

For the summer, the most important thing to know is that shorts are considered beachwear by the French and most would never be caught dead in them in everyday life. Wear a cute skirt or dress instead.

Wear a scarf:
Such a cliché, so true. Everyone wears scarves. It was autumn when I was there, so most folks were rocking a knot that one website calls the “twice-Ascot.” I’ve adopted it for year-round wear since it’s rather chilly in my office and a warm neck keeps me generally toasty:

Source [with handy how-to]

Wear actual shoes:
For the love of God, avoid white sneakers at all costs. The French don’t truck around in them like North Americans. Save them for the gym, or better yet, don’t take them at all. You’re presumably on vacation. If you can’t evolve beyond sneakers equalling comfort, opt for something snazzy and European or a lovely pair of Tsubos. If you’re there in the summer, get some nice leather sandals that you can walk in all day. Et les flip flops? Interdits, bien sûr.

Hats are tricky:
Avoid ball caps and berets. Ball caps scream “American” even if you’re not, and you’re not French enough to pull off a beret.

There are lots of don’t lists floating around, so I’ve assumed that readers of this site don’t need to be told not to wear baggy clothes and seizure-inducing patterns in France.

I had one of the best days of my entire life on that trip, I hope you do as well. Bon voyage!

Other resources:
Dress for the weather.

Shop like the French do: Le Printemps, Les Galeries Lafayette, and Le Bon Marche.

Finally, this site was a great reference for my autumn trip and there’s a summer version as well.

L-A: Merci beaucoup Intern Krista!   For all of you who have been searching for what do people wear in France, I hope this has helped.  If it hasn’t, well, I’m not sure what you’re looking for. Maybe you’d like to see what Guest Blogger Ange has to say about 1980s French fashion?

And since this is a post by Intern Krista, it’s only fitting that we mention the field trip that was her brilliant idea: FPQT Promservations 2010!

Yes! Prom season is here and we’re going to the Public Gardens to see what the ladies are wearing to their proms.  If you’d like to join us, save the date for June 24. And if you can’t make that day, you can pretty much hit the Public Gardens any night next week to see the pre-prom action.  After we’ve seen the dresses, we’ll be grabbing a drink, so let us know if you can join and we’ll know if we need to make reservations at whatever bar we decide to hit.

Ally: Guess what? I’m gonna be phoning this one in! I’ve spent both of baby’s nap times working on what I call “work that pays for mama’s pretty shoes” and what my husband calls, “no, bitch, it’s work that pays the mortgage”,  so I’m sort of spent. I can’t believe I used to complain about deadlines before. I had nothing to complain about. Working against the nap time clock is a whole new game of maxing productivity.

The good news is I found a beer in my fridge and so I will be guzzling that shortly. If it helps, I will sing the song, “I see London, I see France, I see Ally’s underpants”. Which…is sort of true as I am wearing the husband’s boxer shorts around the house this evening. Again. Consider it a step up from the decade old leggings I was in earlier.


That’s not really me, but it could be. Mommy’s tired.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Intern Krista permalink
    June 16, 2010 9:13 am

    Can I give L-A 1,000,000 cool points for including that FOTC video?

    • L-A permalink*
      June 16, 2010 9:11 pm

      a couple of cool points go to my husband for reminding me about the video. Not too many though, seeing as how I introduced him to foux de fa fa.

    • June 17, 2010 8:36 am

      yes. only so many points on account of the fact that I do wear shorts in public and in places that aren’t the beach. however, your post made me want to throw them away in favour of crisp white trousers.

  2. June 18, 2010 10:29 am

    You guys are my heroes. Seriously. Keep up the awesome work!

  3. Ivy permalink
    June 20, 2010 4:53 pm

    Was just in Paris on Wednesday. Lots of skinny jeans, thin white tank, scarf, ballet flats.

    • allygarbs permalink*
      June 21, 2010 12:49 pm

      I love how you just toss off, “was just in Paris on Wednesday”. Like, “Yes, I was just at Tim Horton’s this morning”. Golf claps, Ivy. Golf claps. ; )

      • Ivy permalink
        June 25, 2010 5:10 pm

        Hey, better than a head-tilt.

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