The 12 French Fashion Essentials (No Berets Included)

french fashion essentials - jean seberg in breathless

I recently entered a season of life focused on lists of French fashion essentials — and I did not always like what I saw. I have seen more trench coats on these lists than on the streets of Paris. I don’t think that many people are walking around Paris in ballet flats, unless they like being as close to dirt as humanly possible. I once spent hours recording all the shoes I saw worn by the super-stylish women walking down my street — and an hour could pass between high heels.

Here, you’ll find my highly researched list of 12 top French fashion essentials, from the straw market bag to oversized white button-downs and androgynous black blazers. The normal French rules apply: Dressing here is much more conservative than in similarly fashionable cities, and success is often awarded to looks that master a specific style of dressing than in purely out-there looks (like those that might win the day in New York, London, or Tokyo). There’s very little here that’s purely sexy, since the dominant vibe of self-aware androgyny, and really judicious sex appeal, is deeply entrenched. I admire how the French dress, and the pieces below are a good place to start.

I also admire how they shop, which is to say how they spend: maybe more than I’d like, but less often. Buy it once, buy it right — and check resellers, thrift shops, and vintage stores for discounts, especially for  in-demand brands like Sézane. Of course, if you’re in France, don’t miss the vide greniers, where you can score excellent deals on less-trendy pieces — think 5€ Petit Bateau tops, designer coats, etc. etc.

Affiliate links below. Above: Jean Seberg in Breathless, in an appropriately sweatshirtified marinière (for something similar and very cute, see the Go Gently Nation one below.)

1. A Straw Market Bag

A straw market bag is a hallmark of French accessories. It’s nearly as much a cliché of French style as a beret — yet unlike a beret, these bags are, indeed, a style staple, and a common sight at Sunday markets and summer beaches.

The price differential here is tremendous. I’ve yet to meet a straw market bag that’ll last for generations — a few seasons of good wear is probably more realistic — and a perfect, iconic tote can be found in France for under $40. That hasn’t stopped luxury brands from creating their own takes — and charging nearly into the four figures for them. Spending more will get you tighter, more durable weaves, an increasing amount of leather trim, and that all-important designer logo — with that last item definitely not a generally desirable element in France, a culture as branding-averse as I’ve ever visited. This is absolutely a case where cheaper is better, within reason.

Do consider whether you want the handles long enough to slip over a shoulder (yay!), rather than a shorter style meant to be held by hand (boo!).

french straw market basket

Love this for the price, with your choice of short or long handles.

BUY IT HERE: Bowl & Pitcher, $43

french fashion essentials - anthropologie french market tote

The leather edging is almost a little too fancy, but I love the chunky stitching.

BUY IT HERE: Anthropologie, $88

french fashion essentials - etsy french straw bag

An inexpensive, made-in-Morocco option.

BUY IT HERE: Etsy, $26

2. Cool Sneakers

This is pure research, friends: I sat on a bench for three hours one warm morning in June and counted up the shoes passersby were wearing. Stan Smiths were the clear favorite, followed by Nikes (specifically, the blazers below). Vejas actually might not have made the top five, but I account that to their priciness and the fact that they’ll a little more niche — but of these three, I only Vejas, and I love them.

white stan smith sneakers

The ultimate Parisian walking shoe.

BUY IT HERE: Zappos, $99

nike blazers high tops

The most popular choice for the (seemingly) under-25 crowd.

BUY IT HERE: Nike, $78

vejas

My choice — though note their level of comfort is up for debate. (Still the most fashionable pick.)

BUY IT HERE: Anthropologie, $135

3. The Slouchy Coat

I was having trouble defining the slouchy coat outside of a “you know it when you see it” context until I found this definition on Vogue, which labeled it “the it-piece of the season” (in 2019). I would argue that especially in France, this style is durable and remains as popular deep into the 2020s as it was five years ago. (For the record, Vogue’s description pegged a slouchy coat as one with “rounded shoulders, baggy sleeves and an overall relaxed fit.”)

sezane rick coat

Yeah, I know this is like a very relaxed trench, but I’m including it here because I love it so much.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $445

french fashion essentials - aritizia slouch coat

This is Aritzia’s hit slouchy coat, the subject of multiple YouTube videos examining its fit.

BUY IT HERE: Aritzia, $375

french fashion essentials - zara slouchy coat

This option from Zara is nearly a blanket coat. But extremely slouchy!

BUY IT HERE: Zara, $109

4. Wide-Legged Pants

I’ve been a skinny jeans devotee for as long as I can remember, even though this is truly an unpopular style in France — even more so than here at home, where it’s at this point synonymous with out-of-date style. I aspire to the sort of wide-legged pants you’ll see below, which range from the quite fashion-y to the somewhat office-y.

Of all my French fashion essentials, this is the one I’m least likely to wear, but I can appreciate the line.

sezane wide legged pants

These are super flowy, thanks to the fact that they’re 91% viscose.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $175

madewell harlow pants

A more office-ready fit (for anybody who’s still working in an office). Note the pleats, which you may love (or hate).

BUY IT HERE: Madewell, $118

everlane Organic Wide-Leg Pant

This is another part that’s leaning more into American lifestyles than French, but they’re easy to wear and lovely of silhouette.

BUY IT HERE: Everlane, $74

5. A Very Specific Kind of Jeans

French denim is so its own thing: high-waisted, and straight-legged, rather than truly relaxed or boyfriend-y — it really runs right down that line between sort of desexualized but never sloppy. Also: never embellished, never ripped, never bedazzled — just classic denim, usually in medium to dark rinses, and often more cropped and/or tailored than you’d expect from a pair of American jeans. Anecdotally (though not surprisingly) I’ve found French denim to be stiffer/less jegging-y than US brands, since comfort there is not such a priority.

everlane way high jeans

A very high waist from Everlane, available in organic cotton and with three lengths ranging from 25.5″ to 29.5″.

BUY IT HERE: Everlane, $89

reformation straight leg jeans

A lower, below-the-belly-button rise, with a very generous straight leg.

BUY IT HERE: Reformation, $168

sezane iconique droit trousers

My top pick from Sézane, with a very high waist and slightly cropped (7/8) length.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $125

6. The Mariniere

The classic, inspired by the central garment worn by sailors in the French navy. (Many of them were seafaring men from Brittany, which is why this is also known as a Breton top.) Of all the selections here, this is the one I’ve seen most often at vide greniers and the like — I think every French person has a Petit Bateau top somewhere in their closet. You can decide whether you like the classic shape (quite fitted) and colors (always navy and white) or want to mix it up with slightly outré colors (you know, white and navy) or more relaxed shapes, like the Go Gently Nation sweatshirt below.

sezane mariniere

An ever-so-slightly-modernized take on the classic Breton top, with a relaxed fit and four-button openings at the side you can leave open or button up.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $105

petit bateau mariniere

The definitive marinière.

BUY IT HERE: Le Petit Bateau, $139

french fashion essentials - go gently striped sweatshirt

Obviously this is a sweatshirt rather than a classically shaped marinière, but it feels fun, modern and easy.

BUY IT HERE: Go Gently Nation, $84

7. Androgynous Black Blazer

Wear it with nothing underneath, obviously! A slightly (possibly) less itchy option than the slouchy cardigan below!

Here, I’ve prioritized relaxed but dramatic shapes and full (not overly fitted) cuts.

french fashion essentials - gina jacket sezane

Somewhere between a jacket and a blazer, best worn with nothing beneath.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $250

reformation blazer

A relaxed, lightweight blazer — love it with that cropped tee underneath and some lowish-cut jeans.

BUY IT HERE: Reformation, $278

french fashion essentials -  oversized dad blazer

This one looks even more relaxed — pair it with skinnier jeans when you decide to leave France.

BUY IT HERE: Dylan, $125

8. Oversized White Button Down

“Oversized” is a key element in French fashion essentials — proportion and fit are everything, and at least in my experience, they take some practice in perfecting. Of the selects below, the Sézane top (in the middle), with the straight-leg jeans, is the easiest to replicate: voluminous on top, tighter on the bottom. Balance!

oversized white shirt - soeur

A little more outré than the usual picks from Soeur.

BUY IT HERE: Soeur, $240

sezane oversized white button down

An absolute classic, in organic cotton with mother-of-pearl buttons.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $125

french fashion essentials - target white oversized shirt

A less expensive take on the same shape as the picks above, in poplin cotton.

BUY IT HERE: Target, $25

9. Slouchy, Sexy Cardigan

Your typical grandpa’s cardigan, with something extremely minimal beneath. I like to keep these a little on the long side, so you can choose where you’re showing some skin and where you’re not.

french fashion essentials - basile cardigan

I love that this one is long enough to dip below most jeans, so it’s easy to be judicious about what’s on view and what’s not.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $170

rita row organic cotton cardigan

A lovely shape through the chest and just the right length.

BUY IT HERE: Rita Row, $189

sltuesday slouchy cardigan

A slightly cropped option, with lots of room through the arms.

BUY IT HERE: SLtuesday, 54€

10. The Vanessa Bruno Cabas Tote

You could argue that the Vanessa Bruno Cabas tote bag has had its day — in the 2010s? the ’90s? the 1890s? the beginning of time? — but it’s still omnipresent. (Fast fact: This design launched in 1998.) It’s the French equivalent of the LL Bean tote bag: perfectly proportioned, and an endurable summer classic (though the Vanessa Bruno tote is notably more expensive than LL Bean). Available in a substantial range of materials (linen, raffia, denim, canvas, leather, etc.) and colors. Made in France.

These aren’t cheap but they’re also widely available on your reseller of choice (including Poshmark).

vanessa bruno linen tote bag in black

BUY IT HERE: 24S, $350

french fashion essentials - vanessa bruno cabas tote linen

BUY IT HERE: Shopbop, $350

vanessa bruno cabas fluoro

BUY IT HERE: Vanessa Bruno, $335

11. Perfect White V-Neck Tee

My personal favorite French fashion essential of all time is a white linen tee from Soeur, which I absolutely murdered over a single summer and wore to death. There’s nothing better for your summer Euro vacation than a slubby, nubby tee worn into transparency. Just get the right cut: I personally prefer something boxy, so there’s no need to tuck, with a generous v-neck, and relaxed (but not sloppy) short sleeves.

cos linen tee

The perfect slubby linen tee.

BUY IT HERE: COS, $45

le bon shoppe organic tee

This is organic cotton, rather than linen, for anyone who wants to avoid the latter.

BUY IT HERE: Le Bon Shoppe, $64

faherty linen tee

A generous V-neck with relaxed sleeves and a curved waistline for easy tucking.

BUY IT HERE: Faherty, $88

12. Flirty Warm-Weather Tops

Just a little camisole, made to wear with wide-legged pants, a tailored denim skirt with patch pockets, and almost literally anything else. The prices below reflect the truism that the more delicate the knit, the more you’ll pay.

french fashion essentials - sezane francisco top

A beautiful, delicate knit in wear-everywhere black.

BUY IT HERE: Sézane, $100

french fashion essentials - aubrey sweater top

Basically the same as above, in a slightly chunkier knit — this possibly make it less of a French fashion essential than an American one, but I like it for the price.

BUY IT HERE: Saltwater Luxe, $59

jacquemus cable knit top

I’m obsessed with the square shape of this top’s neckline, though I know it can be less flattering than those above.

BUY IT HERE: Jacquemus, $181

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Hi, I'm Diana. I've written about travel for The Wall Street Journal, Buzzfeed, The Cut, Travel + Leisure, Outside, and lots of other places. This is my blog.