Susan Heinrich stands in a glamorous Paris apartment dressed in black trousers and a polka dot one-sleeved blouse.

Creating a French Wardrobe


Timeless style inspired by French women and essential pieces for a French-chic wardrobe all your own

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This story could simply list the seven French wardrobe essentials that I have seen French women wear in Paris, while exuding that “je ne sais quoi”— sipping an apéritif on Boulevard Saint-Germain or popping a warm baguette in their perfect tote at the neighborhood boulangerie. Beyond blazers and button-ups, the essence of creating a French wardrobe is knowing that French women follow certain style principles yet create a style that reflects them.

French Style Principles

Building a French Wardrobe

Each of us is unique — our shape, our complexion, and what we feel good in, differs. French women understand this and find the styles that work best for them. Then they invest in quality French wardrobe pieces that can be worn wear season after season. Here are the key pieces. 

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French Wardrobe Essentials

For those of us who aren’t French, following the style principles that French women follow enables us to wear classic pieces and still create a French style that is uniquely ours. And isn’t that the fun of fashion? Using it to express ourselves in a way that feels creative and authentic to who we are.   

A woman on a bike in a dress in heels looks chic outside of a Tara Jarmon store in Paris

A little more on the five principles of French style:

1. French Women Ignore Trends

French women know that style is not synonymous with the latest trends. The odd trendy piece is fun, but French women think of those as accents to a thoughtfully curated wardrobe of classics.  Rather than think about what’s in right now, think about what’s been in forever.

A French woman stands by a fountain at Versailles in a chic grey dress and sunglasses

2. Less is More

French women wear less makeup, less jewelry, less accessories. Just, less. Think simple and minimal when it comes to jewelry for example — small earrings and a bracelet, or a necklace but no earrings.

The same goes for makeup. French women might wear a bright red lip, always chic, but will rarely wear a lot of eyeshadow. Makeup is meant to accentuate natural beauty rather than cover it in product.

Nails are usually short and you will rarely see a French woman with false nails. They put effort into keeping their own nails well cared for. They often wear clear or neutral polish.

A rack of stylish clothes by Soeur amidst shelves with shoes and bags. Soeur is an affordable French clothing brand from Paris.
French wardrobe pieces in neutral colors, by a favorite Paris designer, Soeur

3. French Women Wear Color and Pattern Sparingly

Unless they participate in Paris fashion week, many French women wear color and pattern as accents, rather than a head-to-toe statement. In cold weather, think a gorgeous silk scarf, or one-tonal item, a blush blouse, a mustard blazer or rust pants. In summer, they may add more color and some pattern, but balance it with neutrals. The exception would be a dress with some pattern, which is nice in summer.

Susan Heinrich sits in a Paris bistro wearing a black top and French tweed trousers
Black with tweed trousers from Soeur
Susan Heinrich sits in a Paris cafe wearing a black short-sleeved v-neck top and flowered skirt with a black belt.
Pairing a colorful skirt with a black top in Paris summer

I love neutrals and they are usually what I pack for Paris, but sometimes I want to wear something with some color or pattern. I think the easiest way to do that is to combine the patterned piece with a neutral, and my favorite French style neutral is black. It’s just as appropriate on a hot summer day as it is for a December holiday soirée. White works equally well, especially in warmer weather. 

In the main photo at the top of this story I combined black wool trousers with a polka dot blouse, while enjoying a glass of wine in my Paris rental apartment. (If you are interested in renting an apartment for your Paris vacation, explore more in  Renting a Paris Holiday Apartment

And just above, I combined black and pattern or color in each photo while enjoying déjeuner (lunch). My tweed trousers are by one of my favorite French brands, Soeur. You can see more of my French favorites in: Affordable French Clothing Brands. 

Susan Heinrich sits on the patio at Les Deux Magots in Paris. She is wearing sunglasses, light trousers, a striped button up shirt and sneakers.

4. Practical Footwear is Paris Chic

Un petit quiz: What’s the one thing as important to French woman as looking chic? If you guessed “feeling comfortable” you are practically French.

You will very rarely see French women wear high heels because Paris is a city for walking and has its fair share of cobblestones. Who can walk in heels? I’ve heard Parisians say when they have friends visit from other fashion-focused cities like London, they have to remind them to leave their 4-inch heels at home. If you visit Paris, don’t be surprised to see French women cycling in all sorts of footwear.

What does that mean for us? There are many lovely flat styles that translate into creating great outfits and being comfortable. get creative with flats with pretty embellishments for example. You can find footware inspiration in Best Shoes for Paris

A woman stands looking out a window in the Rodin Museum in Paris. She is wearing red flowy pants, a black leather jacket, and a black beret.

5. The Golden Rule of French Style

The style secret of French women seems to be that feeling comfortable, literally and figuratively, is at the heart of how they dress. That means feeling good in your clothes as well as in your skin, with items that are well-made, flattering, and comfortable. Practically speaking, this casual-chic style is often achieved by mixing casual affordable pieces with more tailored items. It’s never about things being overly precious or fancy (except maybe when it comes to handbags).

Feeling good in our clothing, can extend to ourselves; I think that’s the ultimate style lesson we can take from French women. 

French Wardrobe Essentials

Each of the seven wardrobe essentials with some options for shopping for them, if you are interested. 

A woman stands against a white background. She is wearing dark pants and a light-blue French style oxford shirt by the brand, Toteme. She is carrying a small handbag.

Classic Cotton Button-Up Shirt

I recently saw a photo of the French-style icon Inès de La Fressange in Paris looking simple and chic in white pants and a long-sleeved oxford-style shirt in blue. A classic cotton shirt works year-round and will never go out of style. In spring and summer, it looks great with tailored shorts or a skirt, or can be worn open as a swimsuit cover-up. In the fall, add a pretty scarf and a trench coat. In winter it’s nice under a crewneck sweater. White is of course another French classic. Stripes are another, great in spring and summer.

In fact, the perfect blue shirt was the French wardrobe essential I was missing. Of those I tried, my favorite “affordable” option was Boden’s New Relaxed Cotton Shirt. (I don’t recommend this shirt in white however, reviewers said the color was a bit beige) or the more tailored style, Straight Cotton Shirt. The cotton is wonderful quality, very soft and an ideal weight. And Boden is part of the Better Cotton Initiative, a system that supports more sustainable cotton production. 

Other great options for button-ups are the Everlane Relaxed Oxford and AYR’s the Deep End.

If you have the budget for a designer button-up shirt, I love the Toteme Signature Cotton Shirt. (It’s shown in the color Dawn, above). I found it on sale, so decided to splurge. The fit and fabric are gorgeous. Note, that Toteme is Danish and so the sizing is European (32 is a US 2, 36 is a US 6, 40 is US 10, etc.) Toteme also makes a classic White Poplin Shirt.

Susan Heinrich is wearing a camel-colored cardigan from Paris brand, Sezane. She is pictured from the side and also wearing black trousers. The cardigan is button at the back.
Sezane's Classic French Cardigan in Camel

Classic French Cardigan (un gilet)

A well-made cardigan, a gilet in French, will be one of your hardest working French wardrobe basics. It can be layered over a t-shirt or button-up, or worn on its own. Tucked or untucked, I wear them with denim, trousers, skirts and dresses. I am wearing the Sezane: the Gaspard with the buttons at the black. Classic colors are black, grey, ecru and camel (shown here). The brighter colors are also lovely and would make a nice accent in spring or summer, but I prefer neutral colors to build a French wardrobe.  

Susan Heinrich wears a classic trench outside of Le Nemours cafe in Paris.

A Trench Coat

Paris gets rain in all seasons and a classic trench coat is a French wardrobe essential that works with every outfit. I love Everlane’s Cotton Modern Trench, a classic style. It comes in three colors, a classic beige and check out the Beech, show above. Gorgeous. Black is a classic choice, or navy or dark green. A very nice and more affordable option is available at Banana Republic Factory, the Classic Twill Trench.  Banana Republic also has a luxe new version called the Timeless Trench that I just tried on, and it’s gorgeous. I especially love the black. So chic!

Susan Heinrich stands on the steps of the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris wearing jeans a classic black blazer and chic sneakers by Veja.
At the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris

A Tailored Blazer

A well-made blazer is a French style essential that works with so many things — jeans and trousers during the day, and with a dress in the evening. For that reason, they are great for travel (I always take one with me to Paris). I find black and navy the most versatile. Above, I am wearing a black velvet blazer by Tahari, which worked well for fall. I also have a  J.Crew blazer — it has held up well, and I find it to be quite well-priced. They often have sales of 30% off or more.  Boden also has a wonderful selection of blazers and I love their quality; I own several Boden items. See current Boden blazer styles. And Sezane blazers are beautiful. I especially love their double-breasted styles such as the Christie Jacket.  

My “investment” blazers are by Smythe, a Toronto-based brand that is a favorite of Catherine, Princess of Wales. I also love Veronica Beard blazers. Expensive but they look fantastic. I find these run a little small. 

Striped Breton Shirts and Sweaters

Striped shirts, known as the Breton or marinière in France, have become a symbol of  Parisian style and a French wardrobe classic. What began as a part of the French navy uniform, was transformed in 1917 when fashion designer Coco Chanel introduced it as a part of her nautical-themed collection. She was inspired by items that working-class people were wearing and saw the marinière shirt as equally stylish and practical. 

A striped marinière can be worn year-round, depending on the style and fabric. I have a striped tee for spring and summer, a long-sleeved striped marinière for spring and fall, and a striped cotton sweater that I wear in three seasons (shown above) — the Leontine Jumper by Paris-based Sezane.

Susan Heinrich wears trousers and a striped t from her spring capsule wardrobe

These are widely available at many price points. The classic French choice is Saint James ‘ Authentic Breton Stripe Shirt. It also comes in a Breton Men’s (Unisex) that is considered a “Boyfriend” fit for women. 

I also like The Malibu by Kule, made in Portugal of lightweight cotton, and one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in  2022. It comes in a few color combinations: the cream and navy is the classic choice. J. Crew also stocks various affordable styles: Classic Boatneck in Stripe.

A woman stands in a black shirt dress with a brown belt nad brown high boots. The dress is the Lauretta Dress by French clothing brand Sézane.

A Shirtdress

A shirtdress is so versatile. It can be worn day or evening with boots or flats, and you’ll always look put together. It’s universally flattering and comfy; it accents our waist and flows easily over the hips. And for many of us, a little coverage on our arms is also welcome. I noticed on my latest trip to Paris that many French women wear tights in fall with their skirts and dresses. 

This dress, the Lauretta which I own is now sold out but other styles are available at Sezane such as this lovely Alani Shirt Dress. It’s a French wardrobe classic. Here’s another I love this one from COS. They make great basics and the quality is solid for the price: COS Waisted Midi Shirtdress. 

Classic French denim at the Paris boutique, Claudie Pierlot

Classic French Denim

You may already own the perfect pair of jeans to embrace French style, so have a look in your closet. Since French women don’t jump on denim trends they most often wear straight or trouser-style jeans in a medium or dark wash. No ultra skinny, extra faded or ripped jeans. As with everything else, French-style denim is classic style which will allow you to mix it endlessly with a combination of sweaters, shirts, tees and blazers, for years to come.  In summer, you could go with lighter denim, but not with holes or rips.

I like the denim at Everlane; they have a great variety of styles and are well-priced and they have a comprehensive guide to their styles: wide, curvy, straight, relaxed etc. I also really like the denim at Reformation — I own two trouser-style pairs. My current favorite that is similar is the Val 90s Mid Rise Wide Leg in the color Burnside. 

That said, I find it can be a challenge to shop for jeans online. If you are the same, my advice is to go into a store with lots of styles and try them on. I like Madewell a lot. They typically have a wide selection of styles and they are more reasonably priced than “designer denim” and they often have sales. I love a slightly wide-leg and a trouser-style jean because it is easy to dress it up.

A woman's feet pictured in black French-style loafers on a tiled floor with the words: Monoprix Champs Élysées in decorative tile. Visible are her legs with blue denim and a beige trench coat. She is in Paris.

French Loafers

If you had to pick one pair of shoes as a French wardrobe essential, shoes that are chic, comfortable and versatile, I think it’s a classic loafer. I wear them often at home and they are the first pair of shoes I pack for every trip to Paris, and usually the ones I wear the most. 

Pictured above, my loafers are by Monoprix, an affordable French department store. Sam Edelman makes a nice pair , the Loraine, available in many colors.  I like the brand Cole Haan for stylish, affordable shoes and own several pairs. They have a cute penny loafer style, the Lux Pinch Penny LoaferAnother brand that is supposed to be very comfy is the Birdie’s Vesper. I don’t own Birdie’s but reviews are very good. I love the chic simplicity, and they are well-priced. 

If you happen to be shopping for loafers in Paris, the French brand Bobbies has a gorgeous style called the Jill. They come in several colors. 

Susan Heinrich and two women friends sit at a table in a bistro in Paris. There is bread and some other food in the table.
With two friends on my recent trip to Paris in fall of 2022; each of us dressed in our own version of French style

I hope these French wardrobe ideas have inspired you to both work with what you have, and invest in some classic pieces that you will feel good in for years to come. Whether it’s for a dream trip to Paris or because you are tired of  buying mediocre clothes that don’t last, anyone can embrace the French way of dressing, and do it in a way that feels uniquely our own. 

À Bientôt! (See you soon)

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Packing for Paris with French Wardrobe Pieces

A capsule wardrobe for spring starts with a neutral palette of navy and white. Pictured are a flat lay of navy blazer, denim jeans, blue and white scarf, white shirt, navy cotton cardigan sweater, striped sweater and striped mariniere tee shirt.

There’s an added bonus to looking chic in a French-style wardrobe: these pieces are great for travel because they are so versatile. When packing for Paris I start with a neutral palette, such as navy and white, and add perhaps one accent color. That allows me to pack lighter for a trip to France, or anywhere else, because I can mix and match my French wardrobe items to create multiple outfits (known as a capsule wardrobe). 

If you want to learn more, I created both an Autumn Capsule Wardrobe and Spring Capsule Wardrobe, both great for travel.

And if you struggle with packing as I do, this post offers some packing tips that have helped me: Packing Guide for Overpackers.

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About - Midlife Globetrotter

Hey there,

I’m glad you’re here. Can we talk about midlife? I reached my late 40’s, realized my kids were growing up, and adventure began calling in a new way: big travel adventures as well as everyday ones. I want Midlife Globetrotter to be a place where we explore how to add a sense of fun, freedom and meaning to these precious years. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, and all that’s ahead.




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