France can be intimidating to a lot of us, especially before our first trip when we’re left to base our opinion on other people’s stories. I know this to be true because France intimidated me before I moved here! From the language to the people to the culture, it can all be dizzying for someone who has never been to France.
One question I get regularly is about how to dress in France. I’ve gotten so many emails over the years from people asking if they need to buy anything special to fit in as a tourist. You’re curious about what French people actually wear, so this post is long overdue. Let’s get into how to dress in France (and what to wear in Paris and NOT wear). How do women dress in France? Read on…
How to dress in Paris (what to wear in France)
First up, when reading articles about how to dress in France and Paris fashions, I see a lot of content out there that paints French women and their fashion style with the same brush.
It’s well-meaning advice that answers “How do women dress in France” that’s not necessarily wrong, but it leaves very little room for people who don’t dress the fashion-forward way being described. It can even be stressful for someone who is not very fashionable and thinks they need to be in order to enjoy their France vacation.
I’m here to help and can get you squared way on what to wear in France. Read on…
The French fashion advice I see time and time again about what to wear in Paris is also not super practical for those of us who are going to be walking a lot and doing touristy things.
I’m pointing this out because it’s important to take all how to dress in France fashion advice (even mine!) with a grain of salt. Yes, generally speaking French people tend to dress up a bit more than Americans — especially in big cities like Paris — but no one is going to shame you for your fashion choices as a tourist if you don’t look like the Parisian women around you.
Besides, fashion is deeply personal, so keep your own preferences in mind.
Next, let me repeat something I say this a lot on my blog in varying contexts because it applies here in this post about “how to dress in France” too. Not all French people are the same. They don’t dress the same way and not everyone cares about fashion or looking put together.
French people are also not all secretly judging tourists’ fashion choices and really don’t care what you wear. It’s important to feel good in your own skin. Emily in Paris’ fashions aren’t real life for 99% of people out there and are definitely not for tourists.
Above all, I think it’s important to wear what you like and what you’re most comfortable wearing.
How do women dress in France? Well, French fashion is diverse
It might surprise you that there is a lot of diversity in how people dress — especially outside of big cities. French women dress for their own personal style (or lack there of), region and climate, budget, activity, and a whole lot of other factors.
A point I want to stress is that French people don’t all dress any one way and they’re certainly not all upper middle class fashionistas. French fashion style is so diverse.
For the record, you will see French people in sneakers. In shorts. In baseball caps. In casual clothes. In track suits with dirty sneakers. And believe it or not, I regularly see French people in workout wear hitting up my small-town grocery store after the gym — still in yoga pants and athletic shoes. The times are a-changin’!
There are loads of French people who dress sloppily and couldn’t care less about labels or looking put together or trendy. Just like in the U.S., you’ll find more fashionable looking people — “sharp” as my mom would say — in big cities. Paris is a bit like New York, in that you’ll see more fashionable, style-conscious people than in smaller towns.
The South of France tends to have a bit more of a relaxed style. You’ll see all kinds of beachwear along the coast and people in flip-flops at beachside cafes. This stands in stark contrast to Paris fashions.
But despite what you see in the movies, not all French women are slim fashionistas rocking the latest designer everything. So don’t let that outdated French fashion stereotype stress you out at all.
How to dress like a French woman
What I’ve noticed is that for most people, French style is less about name brands and more about how the overall outfit comes across. You don’t need expensive designer clothes to fit in with locals in France and dress like a French woman. Do some women love designer labels? Of course. But if you’re looking to fit in, just keep some simple overarching French style tips in mind.
First, a lot of French women are more discreet in their style, in terms of colors, cuts, and accessories than the average American. How to dress in France is all about being understated, to an extent.
When in France, think neutral colors, nothing too short, low cut, or flashy. But again, this is speaking generally and you do what feels right to you. There are always exceptions to these French fashion style rules. You’ll find French women who love short colorful dresses, stiletto high heels, with tons of flashy jewelry, and a bright designer handbag. But it’s not the norm and it’s not the way to fit in.
First and foremost, let me mind you of Rule 1, as a tourist you’ll want to dress in a way that’s comfortable for you and your plans. Ultimately, wear things that make you happy. But no 6-inch stiletto heels when you visit Mont St. Michel and the cobblestone streets, OK? Your ankles will thank me. 😉
If you want to dress like the locals in France, there’s a lot of variety here. As a tourist going on a hike, if you want to look like a French one, go to Decathlon and buy anything by the brand Quechua. The French are known for these backpacks and jackets and I love my Quechua windbreaker. Tom’s dad loves his backpack. Anything Quechua will have people pegging you as a French tourist.
As long as you don’t wear white socks up to your knees with dirty old sneakers and Birkenstocks and a big neon fanny pack complete with a t-shirt and baseball cap with an American flag, you won’t stand out. But if that’s your jam when visiting the Eiffel Tower, go for it. Rule 1 is key when wandering the streets of Paris. 😉
But honestly, no one is going to care what you’re wearing as long as you’re clothed and dressed appropriately (don’t go to a Michelin-starred restaurant in your flip-flops and cut off jean shorts, though. There’s a dress code in that case). That may seem obvious, but man oh man, do I have stories…
French people are not going to approach you and tell you that what you’re wearing is what NOT to wear in Paris. Everyone’s too busy to pay attention. Again, that might seem obvious to some of you, but trust me when I say I’ve gotten a bunch of emails over the years asking this.
As a tourist in France, you’re just passing through. It’s OK to be a tourist and look like one, complete with hiking boots, a windbreaker and a backpack. French people are tourists too sometimes. And if anyone judges you, it’s no biggie, ok? You won’t see them again.
Something else to keep in mind when deciding on how to dress in France is that your sightseeing outfit is going to be different than what a French woman is wearing to her office job or someone grabbing a late night meal with friends in her neighborhood or someone going out to a nightclub.
As a tourist, dress for the activity you’ll be doing. Fashion will look different at a nightclub, a dinner party, desk job, sightseeing, etc.
So now that my big intro is out of the way, it’s time to jump into my French fashion advice on how to dress in France…
There are some overarching French style principles you may want to take into account if your goal is to fit in or look more French, no matter if you’re 20 or 70 years old.
Style tips for what to wear in Paris (and France in general):
My disclaimer: There’s nothing wrong with trying to fit in or NOT fit in with the French. Style is personal and it’s OK to wear the things you like. That said, by sticking to my tips below on how to dress in Paris, you’ll show you’ve done your homework on French culture. But you do what feels right for you.
In addition, figuring out how to dress in Paris is often a matter of practicality and safety. Fitting in instead of calling attention to yourself via your style of dress will help deter pickpockets, scammers, and thieves.
1. Less is more
The French are masters at looking chic without being over the top about it. You don’t need to have perfectly coiffed hair, a full face of makeup, and be dressed to the nines to fit in with the French.
Less is more when it comes to personal style and learning how to dress in Paris. A few versatile, high-quality pieces that fit well go a long way. No need to overdo it and look like you’re trying too hard. Effortless is the key word here.
2. Wear neutrals
While you will see French people wearing colors, neutrals are way more common. Or neutrals mixed with a bit of color and not an all-red outfit. Think shades of black, white, brown, gray, and beige instead of bright colors. Floral patterns and other more simple patterns — nothing too busy — are popular for tops and dresses.
3. Don’t be too flashy
This might be my most important fashion tip for how to dress like a French woman. Don’t be too flashy! This goes for the clothes themselves and also your accessories like jewelry and handbags.
Remember what I just said above about how less is more. French fashion style is more classic than trendy. Anything overly attention grabbing would be seen as a bit of a faux pas to some and a definitely a bit out of touch.
Wearing bright red heels, a colorful short dress, a ton of jewelry and heavy makeup with a brightly colored handbag would be a bit flashy for everyday French taste. You really don’t see people dressed like this at the farmers’ market or running errands.
This also means that it’s best to leave your overly revealing outfits at home along with your expensive jewelry. Anything too short/tight/lowcut will get you the wrong kind of attention. Think elegant sexy and not in-your-face sexy. Leave those short shorts behind.
When it comes to jewelry, opt for some affordable pieces from my new fave Quince (full review here and use this link for a $20 off Quince discount code). You can still look put together but not worry about losing a pricey piece. Quince has affordable prices and top quality.
These gold vermeil earrings are gorgeous. Same with the matching ring (just $39 bucks). BaubleBar also has super affordable jewelry perfect for a trip to Paris (like this trendy paperclip bracelet).
4. Keep it neat
The French tend to look put together, even in simple outfits. This means making sure you’re wearing clean shoes, clothes that are ironed (or atleast not wrinkly) and that fit well (properly tailored!) and nothing overly sloppy looking. Think tailored shorts and nice sandals with a button-up tank instead of denim cutoffs, plastic flip-flops, and an old tee.
5. Elevate your casual style
Generally speaking, especially in bigger cities like Paris, French people’s everyday casual attire for running errands and socializing is bit more dressy than what you’d see in the U.S.
It doesn’t mean everyone everywhere dresses up, but it’s safe to say that dressing up a bit is totally normal in France even if you’re just running errands. When you’re having doubts and not quite sure what to wear in Paris, you can opt for something a bit more dressy and you’ll fit in with everyone else just fine.
Something else to note when learning how to dress like the French is that most people do not wear athletic wear or loungewear out and about unless it’s just a quick errand on the way home from the gym or park. Athleisure is becoming more popular though but throw on joggers with fashionable sneakers and a moto jacket (like my picks below) and not old running shoes and a hoodie.
Next, don’t be afraid to throw on a blazer over your jeans instead of a sweatshirt or wear a more tailored pair of pants. Pull on your leather ankle boots instead of old sneakers.
Women of all ages love the blazer over a button-down shirt look, or even as a way to class up a t-shirt. Believe it or not, striped Breton shirts aren’t just for tourists.
A quick word on sneakers: The French do wear them but athletic shoes are generally reserved for the gym.
For both men and women, go for a pair of Adidas Originals Stan Smith, vegan French brand Veja, or Converse style sneakers instead. This European style of sneaker is also popular. I have a pair in red. Comfortable walking shoes are a must.
6. Add a scarf
How do people dress in France? With a light scarf! When in doubt, no matter the season or your gender, add a scarf of some sort. It’ll keep you warm and double as a fashion accessory. Go neutral or more colorful but just make sure you have one.
Tie or loop it around your neck and voilà, your outfit is complete. A scarf really is a must when learning how to dress in France if you want to fit in. Leave your wooly winter scarf at home in the spring and summer and grab a casual French scarf like this affordable one instead.
A silk scarf and cotton blends are popular and a cashmere option during the winter months is a solid pick too.
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What to pack for Paris
When I’m traveling, I like to pack versatile, unfussy pieces in dark colors that can go from day to night with just a change of shoes. Sweat-wicking fabric is also a plus.
Next, always be prepared for the unpredictable weather. Unless it’s in the middle of summer and you’re in the South of France, layers are a must. Even in May, temps can still be quite cool and you can have some rainy days, so when deciding what to wear in France, be prepared for everything when you plan out your Paris outfits.
We visited the Mont St. Michel in June and the wind was whipping in the 40s F. My scarf and hooded jacket came in handy. So be prepared for the weather even if you think it “should” be warm.
Example of what to pack for Paris in spring weather:
// Quince Italian Leather Quilted Crossbody bag. I have this in the color pictured and the leather is great quality. It’s the perfect size for a small wallet and a few essentials. (Get $20 off w/my Quince discount code link!) Belt bag, aka the modern fanny packs, are also functional and look great worn as a cross-body bag.
// Quince cashmere scarf. I hate when wind blows down my neck and this scarf gets the job done. It goes from winter to early spring beautifully.
// Athleta Everlasting tank. Available in a bunch of colors, this lightweight tank is a perfect layering piece and can be dressed up or down. Think of it as a button-down shirt but in tank form.
// Halogen Long Cardigan. A lightweight cardigan is a springtime must and this one fits the bill. And here’s a shorter option from Lands’ End.
// Cole Haan Trench Coat. A lightweight coat like this one is perfect for whatever the day brings.
// Quince Moto Jacket. If you like shorter options, you can’t go wrong with a leather moto jacket. Consider this my Paris leather jacket pick. It’s versatile and will last for years!
// Veja Esplar sneakers. Super popular French brand with both men and women.
// Nisolo Chelsea Boots. Classic and sustainably made, these leather ankle boots will last you for years to come.
// Athleta Brooklyn Ankle pant. Lightweight with enough stretch to move, these pants will soon became your favorite travel pant and can be dressed up or down.
// Madewell Curvy Vintage Fit jeans. For the jeans lovers out ther, if you haven’t checked out Madewell jeans, they’re worth a look!
What to wear in France in the spring:
If you’re curious about how to dress like a French woman, you’ll want to keep some general style categories in mind as you’re putting together your Paris packing list. The brand isn’t super important. Think classic, versatile pieces in neutral colors.
Light coat or jacket. Every tourist needs a spring jacket — whether you’re trying to emulate Parisian fashion or not. A trench coat is a good pick or if you’re into a shorter option, a moto jacket works well. If you’re going to be quite active and going hiking and that sort of thing, go with a windbreaker/light jacket like this one. I’d recommend bringing two jackets — one that’s more stylish like the trench or moto and one that’s more functional for daytime hikes.
Light pants. While you can never go wrong with jeans, I like to be able to move a bit more and go with a lighter option nine times out of 10. Athleta is one of my favorite brands not only for activewear but for travel clothes. In addition to the Brooklyn Ankle pant above, the Venice joggers are amazing. I have them in two colors along with these as well.
I’m not a fan of skinny jeans or jeans in general if I have a lot of walking to do or will be super active — especially in warmer months. They don’t breathe well and can chafe in all the wrong places. If you love jeans, black jeans would be my pick. Or better yet, go with some of my active pant picks from Athleta above. Black pants for the win — they won’t show sweat or stains as easily.
Up top, I like a tank top and then either a long sleeve top like a cardigan you can easily take off or a sweatshirt, depending on the temps.
If you’re more at ease in a dress, knee-length and below the knee midi dresses in floral patterns are really popular — both with sneakers and sandals. Maxi dresses are also popular, so feel free to pop one into your luggage.
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Shoes. Comfortable shoes are a must, especially on days where you’re walking everywhere. Ballet flats look cute but I’d save them for a short stroll in your neighborhood when you’re only going out for a drink or coffee, not a day where you have a lot of walking to do.
These were my sneakers/tennis shoes picks from above:
Adidas Originals Stan Smith, vegan French brand Veja, or Converse style sneakers instead. This European style of sneaker is also popular.
I love these zip-up Ugg high-top sneakers and have them in black. Second pair actually (just without the shearling). LOVE.
To elevate your look, why not try some boots. You can’t go wrong with a style like the Nisolo Chelsea boot. I have them in brandy.
Regardless of what shoes you choose, make sure they’re broken in ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than blisters from new shoes.
Scarf. My cashmere scarf from Quince is 10 out of 10. Here’s a lighter scarf option. Everyone has a scarf pretty much all year round so rock whatever style you like best. You’ll fit right in.
Hat/visor. If you try to stay out of the sun like me, something to protect your face is a must. I have this visor.
Umbrella. You never know when it might rain. My Totes travel umbrella has never steered me wrong.
Bag. I’ve been a fan of Pacsafe’s anti-theft products for years. Their bags have special tech like RFID blocking and slash proof straps that’ll safeguard your belongings. I’ve had my Pacsafe backpack for five years and it’s still going strong.
For a classic purse, you can never go wrong with the classic French brand Longchamp. Their zip-closed Le Pliage bag comes in a variety of sizes and colors and is perfect for your France trip any time of year.
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Recap of what not to wear in Paris (if you want to fit in)
–Overly flashy jewelry. Leave it home.
–Plastic flip-flops that you’d see at the beach (unless you’re at the beach)
–A very brightly colored outfit
–Super revealing clothing
–Athletic shoes and athletic wear meant for the gym
Hope you enjoyed my article on how to dress in Paris and France in general! What French fashion tips do you have to add?
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Kathy Shelton says
Diane, I always enjoy your posts. They’re fun and informative. And, in response to your post on fashion….
My favorite light rain jacket in the states is bright pink. I get lots of compliments when I wear it. But, after more than a few visits to Paris and the rest of France, I never bring it along when I travel. Just too bright. Plus, I’m not a kid. I’m in my 60s. The ultimate compliment in France is being spoken to in French by a stranger, as if I’m a local. I don’t think that would never happen in my bright pink raincoat!
Thank you so much, Kathy! I appreciate that and am so glad you find my content helpful and fun. 😉 I can’t say I see too many bright pink rain jackets but I’m sure they exist and if you love it, definitely wear it!!