The summer of 2019 marked a pivotal change in my life. After a difficult year, including the loss of an integral family member, my husband and I decided to uproot our lives and move to Paris, France, for the entire summer. It was a decision based on a whim, followed by research, and one that felt necessary as we navigated life going forward. From job loss to life loss, Paris was the safehaven we didn’t know we needed. It was adventure and risk, a boldness we had not taken in our marriage before, let alone with our three kids in tow. But we followed through on a dream we imagined in our earlier years and decided to take the plunge with a few suitcases, a few kids, and a loose plan as to what we intended to do on our long-term stay.
We anticipated a lot of what we would experience in France — a love of the culture, the architecture, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the endless baguettes, croissants, and pigeons. But something I personally didn’t expect to experience was a love for the French person. The French are an education in class and ease, beauty and charm, and they have a way about them that I found aspirational. More than anything, during our six-week stay, I found myself admiring their style. I diligently observed what they wore throughout the day — from work to leisure, weekend wear and more. French women have a dress code that is both chic and practical.
So, while I sipped my cafe au lait, I people watched and welcomed the distraction of the French and their clothing choices. There was something in the essence of their dress code that felt comforting — simple yet classic, beautiful yet practical. I craved the consistency of their wears, especially at a time in my life that felt very inconsistent. It was then that I made it my mission to compile the must-have clothing staples Parisian women wore and turn them into my own basic uniform. I needed simplicity and ease, with a side of Parisian flair and I was determined to find it on my travels. Here are some French clothing staples that are easily adaptable for your own home closet.
Stripes are a way of life in France, and a mainstay piece in any wardrobe. Dating back to the 19th century, the Brenton stripe shirt was the actual uniform for the French Navy. And since, stripes have become a classic option, worn under blazers, with denim, draped over shoulders or tied around waists, stripes are becoming a neutral when it comes to getting dressed.
How to add to your closet: Stripes are an easy item to add into your clothing rotation, with many stores selling options in varying price ranges, stripe shirts can carry your wardrobe through all seasons. Hoping to look particularly French? Check out Saint James, the mecca of all stripe stores, with their distinct blue tag on the arm of their shirts, these famous stripe stores are found throughout France. Heavier knit, with an incredible quality (and slightly higher price tag), Saint James’ shirts will be loved forever.
While in France, I assumed that the fashion-forward would only wear heels, à la The Devil Wears Prada, but I couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, some of the chicest women wore simple, yet elegant ballet flats throughout the streets of Paris. This classic shoe adds something versatile to any wardrobe due to its practicality, as well as its ability to work with multiple outfit choices. Whether worn with denim or a midi dress, ballet flats are a great staple to add to any capsule wardrobe.
How to add it to your closet: While ballet flats come in a range of prices, from Chanel to Target, finding a price range that is comfortable for your budget is important. Colors like black or tan are neutral pieces that can be worn with many other items in your closet, but adding color can be fun as well. Want to take the French girl route? Check out the brand Repetto for some upscale ballet flats made in France.
Designed to be a more casual jacket, but tailored to be feminine as well, the blazer is one of those clothing items that will remain in your closet for years to come. While in France, I watched women wear their blazers over dresses, with straight legged denim, black denim, and more. The blazer seemed to replace the use of a jacket or sweater, and draped over shoulders, the women wearing them looked put together with the use of just this one clothing item.
How to add it to your closet: The blazer is having a moment right now, but you’ll also find that this item has longevity when it comes to your closet. When purchasing, make sure to find a blazer that fits well and has elevated details (buttons, pockets, clean lines), regardless of price point. Want to wear a blazer like the French? Make sure to choose a quality material, such as wool and a design such as houndstooth, which are both classic and easy to style.
Practical, yet sophisticated — another clothing item that will stay the wardrobe course is the trenchcoat. Even in the pouring rain, I noticed Parisiennes carrying a sense of confidence while wearing their timeless trenchcoats, unbothered by the surrounding elements. Worn from season to season, the trenchcoat is a purchase that will be utilized frequently in any minimal wardrobe.
How to add it to your closet: Trenchcoats are universally flattering and can be found at many different price points. Search your favorite store for their version or check out local vintage shops to find a preloved Burberry that will last forever. Want to make it French? Sezanne’s trenchcoat option is beautifully made from sustainable cotton.
The French love a well-made anything, from croissants to purses, finding beauty in everyday items is something the people in this country do very well. And when it comes to accessories, women in Paris tend to carry or wear quality pieces and invest in these items. Although, cost up front may be significant, being able to use these items over time will justify a purchase on accessories that will last forever.
How to add it to your closet: Think quality over quantity when it comes to purchasing a new purse or jewelry. Although trends can come and go, having one, timeless piece will carry your wardrobe from season to season. Not all quality has to be expensive either, places like Madewell or J.Crew offer well-made leather and suede bags at decent price points. Want to hold a baguette in your bag? Check out the French brand Longchamp for beautifully made leather and nylon purses.
Oui, oui — Parisiennes are known for their chic and timeless style, but adapting these styles for your own closet can be quite facile, as the French say. Investing in quality pieces, wearing neutral colors, and tailoring your clothes to fit well will keep your closet timeless and sustainable for years to come. In my study of the French wardrobe, I ultimately came to discover that it’s not what you wear that matters as much as how you wear it — with confidence. And my time in France gave me just that, a confidence in myself when I needed it the most.