When it comes to French fashion, several timeless accessories and clothing items will forever define the country's style aesthetic. The beauty of these France-born wardrobe essentials is that they are just as on-trend now as they were when they first rose to fashion prominence. While you can certainly combine them all to make an undeniably French fashion statement, I’d recommend pairing one or two pieces together at a time. Ahead, discover seven French clothing staples and inspiration on how to style them.
The Classic Trench
Whether it’s in a classic khaki, basic black, or more modern denim, few fashion staples are as practical (or as French) as a trench coat. Dating back to early twentieth-century Britain, the trench is named for its protective use during World War I. Ideal for mid-season wear and skies that often forecast afternoon rain showers, the trench is both chic and weatherproof. Worn cinched at the waist or tied at the back and left unbuttoned, the trench coat flatters all body types and can be worn with formal or more casual looks. When it comes to footwear, a trench pairs perfectly with boots, flats, or sneakers.
Clichés aside, the beret is a staple in any French woman’s wardrobe. This timeless wool hat was first worn by the working class and soon afterward adopted by artists and writers—including Pablo Picasso, Edith Piaf, and Ernest Hemingway. The beret comes in various colors—from classic black to bright red—making it the perfect accent piece for almost any look. Even simple errands are made more stylish when donning your beret with a winter coat, jeans, and sneakers. When in need of a little color to brighten gray skies, opt for a beret in mustard yellow, cherry red, or royal blue.
The Layered Jewelry
When it comes to jewelry, French women prefer to accessorize with only a few subtle pieces. Options range from delicate gold or silver earrings, rings, and necklaces, rather than larger statement pieces or costume jewelry. Layering necklaces of varying lengths has become a significant trend in recent years. Combining vintage pieces inherited from a great-aunt with more modern chains looks equally stylish and sophisticated, while also telling a story. As for rings, those too can be layered in style. Add thin gold bands to a ring with a gemstone, maybe even one that’s inherited, and the hands will speak for themselves!
The Accent Scarf
One of the most famous French accessories is the scarf. While Ludwig van Beethoven made the scarf a fashion statement in 1810, the iconic French luxury house Hermès is responsible for creating the first luxury silk scarves in 1937. Thus began the scarf craze. Now available in an array of prints from dozens of French brands, the silk scarf is most commonly tied around the neck, as most French women can expertly advise. A scarf provides the ideal accent and touch of color for the often muted French wardrobe in which gray, black, and blue hues dominate. More recently, scarves have also been worn around the waist in place of a belt. In the 1930s, Hermès designed the smaller Twilly scarf, famously wrapped around a bag's handle, and now also worn around the wrist as a bracelet. The possibilities of wear and options of scarves are endless.
The Ballet Flats
The ballerina flats we know today were inspired by ballet slippers, which date back to mid-18th century France. Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova first wore ballet flats after purchasing them from Italian cobbler-turned shoemaker Salvatore Capezio (the visionary behind dancewear company Capezio). It wasn’t until actress and trained ballet dancer Bridget Bardot asked Rose Repetto (of the famed Repetto shoe brand) to design her a pair of more comfortable ballet slippers that the style took to the streets of Paris and the world. Repetto’s Cendrillon ballerinas, named for Bridget Bardot, remain an essential French accessory. Fashion icons including Audrey Hepburn, Princess Diana, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis adopted the look while top fashion designers created their own versions of the ballerina shoe. These days, the ballerina flat is paired with anything from worn jeans to little black dresses, proving one of the most comfortable shoes for walking on cobbled streets.
The official uniform of the French Navy since 1858, the blue and white striped shirt was strategically designed to spot sailors should they fall overboard. Years later, this maritime style became a staple of the French wardrobe, thanks to fashion icon Coco Chanel who wore this unisex top during seaside holidays in the 1920s. This horizontally striped top, often called the marinière, was a favorite of designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who often included it in his collections. These days, the Breton jersey has taken on many iterations and looks both sporty and chic no matter how far you might be from the French coast.
In France, jeans have historically been called “serge de Nimes” (a type of fabric from Nimes). While denim is no longer produced in France, it continues to rank highly in French fashion. A well-fitting pair of jeans will remain a staple and flatter the figure for many years to come. Whether it’s a high-waisted pair of denim with a flare, a more straight-leg style, or a skinny fit, comfort is key. Paired with heels or ballerinas for an evening apéro, or with sneakers for a more casual look, the options are unlimited. A pair of classic blue jeans are always stylish, especially when worn with a khaki trench and a black beret. And don’t forget a scarf.