Visitors travel to France from all over the world to get a taste of the French Joie de Vivre, to trace the footsteps of famous artists and writers, and explore the country’s diverse landscape of mountains, rolling hills and seemingly endless coastline. It’s true. France is a dreamy destination – so long as you come prepared and know what to wear in France for all seasons.
While France enjoys a mild climate, the weather varies from region to region which often catches visitors by surprise. Northern France experiences cooler and wetter weather, while the South basks in a Mediterranean climate. In Central and Eastern France, winters tend to be cold, particularly in the mountains, and the summers range from warm to stifling. Rain can be expected in any region, at any time.
Needless to say, this mixed and unpredictable weather can make travelling to France a little tough to pack for. And that’s before you’ve even considered the French fashion rules.
So, to help you prepare I’ve put together the ultimate French-style guide, filled with insider tips and practical items to help you build the perfect outfit for any season.
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What do the locals wear in France?
Whatever the French are doing, they’re doing it stylishly. It’s almost like the locals have an innate ability to dress in a way that is practical yet undeniably chic. But, how does one emulate this gallic sophistication, without simply donning a beret? If you aspire to exude an aura of French chic, there are a few simple rules you’ll need to follow…
- Keep it simple. The first rule of french-inspired looks is to keep it elegant and simple. French women don’t like to look overly done up, with few embellishments, minimal makeup and naturally-style hair.
- A neutral palette. The French, especially Parisians, tend to avoid outrageous bursts of colour. Styles and shapes will vary but for the most part, they tend to stick to neutral hues like white, grey, black, beige and navy.
- Quality over quantity. A French woman’s wardrobe is not filled to the brim with fast fashion. Instead, she turns to classic brands for timeless pieces chosen for their high-quality fabrics and perfect cuts. Flashy logos and labels sewn inside garments are considered gauche. The French don’t care who made it, or if a brand is considered “trendy,” as long as it looks and feels good on them.
- The art of accessorising. Carefully selected accessories take french fashion from day to night, and from season to season. Cashmere scarves, leather belts, understated jewellery and a pair of big shades can all turn a simple outfit into a chic statement.
- Outwear. Statement trench coats, suede numbers, faux fur and fitted blazers. French girls know how to rock outwear, in any season.
- Wardrobe staples. A loose-fitting, white blouse, a cashmere cardi, a striped tee, cropped skinny jeans, a black blazer and a little black dress are just a few style essentials that you will find in every French woman’s wardrobe. Away from the big cities, the dress is more relaxed and practical, yet the basic fashion principles still apply.
What NOT to wear in France
French fashion is largely down to the things the locals don’t do that makes them so stylish. Here’s a few of the fashion faux pas the French would never make...
- Sky-high heels. As pretty as they may be, there’s nothing less attractive, and more uncomfortable, than hobbling around in too-high heels. Mules or comfy sandals are the way to go if you want to achieve that laissez-faire look.
- Workout clothes. There’s a higher standard of style in France. Jogging bottoms and baggy sweaters have no place on the streets of Paris – even if you’re just popping to the shop.
- Flip flops. And you can forget about wearing flip flops through the streets of Paris, or anywhere in France unless you’re beachside.
- Sparkling or “showy” clothes. Leave the sparkling, sequinned or too-short numbers at home. If your day-to-day wardrobe is bright and bold, you should stay true to your style; but to look truly French, something black should find its way into your suitcase.
- OTT accessories. French women live by the mantra that less is more. If you’re going all out on accessories, keep the outfit underneath simple and clean.
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What to wear in France during the summer
Long, hot summer days, outdoor activities, open-air markets and warm waters perfect for swimming, make the summer months a great time to visit France. July and August are the warmest months of the year, with daytime temperatures ranging from 20°C to 27°C degrees and lows averaging at 13°C. No matter what corner of the country you’re visiting, you can expect occasional summer showers, especially if you’re travelling to the north or west of France. In Paris and Southern France, summer storms are short-lived so they’re unlikely to interrupt your sightseeing or beach days, but it’s still wise to pack a trusty brolly and a sweater for cooler evenings.
- Tops. Summer basics like oversized tanks or tees are great options for the beach or outdoor pursuits, but if you’re spending time in the city, blouses, off-the-shoulder tops and ruffles will keep you cool and comfortable. For anyone who wants to do French chic right, you can’t go wrong with a classic Breton top; they’re one of the most versatile basics on the rails.
- Bottoms. Team your tee or smart top with a pair of light wash jeans, breezy wide-leg trousers, a slip skirt or a pair of tailored shorts. Denim cut-offs will forever be a French-girl summertime staple – just keep them classy.
- Dresses. A relaxed summer dress will take you from a picnic in the park to a summer soirée in the city, while a midi skirt makes for an easy brunch-to-beach transition. Florals, bold patterns and pastels are all a la mode.
- Swimsuit. Vintage one-pieces or simple bikinis in classic colours or patterns, like red, black, white, blue or striped, are popular beach trends in France. You won’t be surprised to hear that the French typically avoid anything too flashy or skimpy. Throw a kimono on to keep the chill off when the sun goes down.
- Shoes. A good pair of holiday shoes should be both cute and comfortable. Espadrilles and leather pumps are perfect for touring the city, while a pair of pretty sandals will carry you from the beach to the bar and everywhere in between.
- Accessories. Finish your summer look with a stylish sun hat and a pair of trusty ray bans. If you’re itinerary includes both city and seaside, you’ll need a beach bag and a crossbody bag.
What to wear in France during autumn
France is dreamy in any season, but it’s at its best during early fall. City parks and gardens show their autumn colours; vineyard bask in a golden glow as the grapes are gathered for harvest, and the cooler temperatures are ideal for exploring the cities and countryside. Come in September or early October and you can still soak up the last sunshine in the south where temperatures hover around 16°C-18°C.
However, the weather in autumn swings freely between sunny spells and chilly downpours, which can make it difficult to get dressed in the morning. A common strategy is to pack layers for every eventuality. Here are a few items that will aid you during those in-between-weather moments.
- Tops. Light layers, like fine knits and long-sleeve tops, worn over smart tees and loose blouses, allow you to adjust to the climate accordingly.
- Dresses. With the right under-layering, your dresses don’t need to be limited to the summer months only. Layer a blouse or turtleneck under your dress to create the ultimate autumn look. On cooler days simply sling on a long, cosy cardigan and a pair of leather ankle boots.
- Bottoms. Transition your classic cut jeans or wide-leg trousers from summer to autumn with a tailored blazer and a button-down – the perfect ensemble for sightseeing or sipping a glass of French fizz on a rooftop terrace. Occasionally, France basks in temperatures of up to 26°C in autumn, so it’s wise to pack a pair of shorts – just in case.
- Shoes. Waterproof tennis shoes, classic ballet flats and leather booties still reign supreme when it comes to keeping your feet cool, comfy and dry in autumn.
- Jacket. Your winter coat might feel OTT in early autumn. Instead, layer up with a leather jacket or a denim jacket – the perfect trans-seasonal items that look as good with jeans as they do over a dress.
- Raincoat. A trench or a lightweight mac is a wise wardrobe investment, regardless of which region of France you’re travelling to.
- Accessories. The silk scarf is a classic French fashion accessory, while a leather cross-body bag will keep your belongings dry without screaming “I’m a tourist.”
What to wear in France during winter
While its balmy summers may be alluring, France shows off a different kind of beauty during the winter months. Iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Champ Elysees are adorned with twinkling lights; the snow-capped mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees draw visitors with their cosy chalets, chocolate-box towns and world-class ski; and Normandy’s charming chateaus welcome guests with winter spa treatments, hearty food and cosy open fires. Winter in France is dreamy. But it can be harsh and unforgiving, so it pays to be prepared.
- Tops. A few thin layers can help build a cosy winter outfit that can be peeled back inside cosy cafes or restaurants. Consider thin long-sleeved tops, blouses or turtlenecks to wear underneath your slouchy blazer or winter jacket.
- Bottoms. Versatile, warm and always on-trend, a good pair of black or dark skinny jeans will get you just about anywhere. But remember, the French are all about clothes with a clean-cut, and the same is true when it comes to jeans – so avoid scruffy or saggy denim.
- Shoes. Navigating stairs and slippery cobblestones demands shoes with some structure and a sturdy sole. Ankle booties or leather sneakers will serve both fashion and function in France during autumn or winter.
- Outwear. A warm winter coat is a necessity regardless of where you're travelling in France.
- Accessories. You might have heard that French women avoid wearing too many winter accessories, and instead keep it simple with a statement scarf or a pair of leather gloves. But, this is not the way to go if you want to explore France in comfort, without catching a cold. Wrap up with a cosy knitted scarf, a bobble hat, leather gloves or faux fur extras. And don’t forget your brolly!
What to wear in France during the spring
Like autumn, spring is one of the loveliest times of the year in France when the chestnut groves blossom and the countryside begins to colour. Come late March, the city shakes off its winter torpor and the locals are eager to head outdoors to soak up the soft spring temperatures, which comfortably range between 12°C to 17°C degrees.
Despite warmer days, you’ll want to pack a few layers for cooler evenings and capricious spring showers, especially if you’re travelling in March. As autumn and winter, the key to navigating the tricky in-between-season dressing is to layer your look.
- Tops. The arrival of spring means that you can leave your chunky turtlenecks and thick woolly jumpers at home, and instead opt for airy knits and lightweight jackets. Throw a light wool sweater over a nice tee or pair a cute blouse with a slouchy blazer.
- Bottom. The rain might have subdued, but unless you’re visiting France late spring, it’s not quite time to whip out the mini skirts or denim shorts. A classic spring combo is a pair of simple jeans and a cardi. Midi-skirts paired with booties and a sweater serves as a cool and comfortable day-to-night ensemble.
- Shoes. Shoes are often the trickiest part of dressing for transition weather. It can be confusing to know whether to pack sandals or booties when the forecast promises both rain and shine. Low-heeled, open-toe booties, loafers, mules and classic ballet flats are all great inter-seasonal shoe staples.
- Outerwear. A denim jacket or lightweight blazer is perfect for breezy evenings, but if rain is forecasted, you’ll want a raincoat at the ready. A longline trench will keep the chill creeping up your back, yet it’s lightweight enough to keep you cool when the sun shines.
- Swimwear. Because you never know when you’ll stumble across a gorgeous hotel pool, spa resort or balmy beach. Also, swimsuits take up very little room in your case.
- Accessories. Straw totes and basket bags are classic spring accessories for the French girl living in the south of France. If you’re spending your days sightseeing in the big city, keep it simple and safe with a leather crossbody bag – just make sure it’s big enough to fit your waller, phone, sunglasses and scarlet lippie.
What to wear on a night out in France
- Street-side Bars & Brasseries: A loose cami, straight leg jeans and midi heels is a popular evening ensemble amongst french women. If you’re travelling outside the summer months, simply throw a blazer or leather jacket over your shoulders. Sandals or ankle booties are both smart and stylish. But if you’re looking for something a little more elevated, wedges or block heels will dress up your outfit and keep you steady on the cobblestoned streets.
- Fancy Dinner Plans: Little Black Dresses, otherwise known as “LBDs,” have long been a staple of French Fashion. Team it with a simple pair of heels and a matching clutch for a classy, timeless look. Smart jeans and a tank top would also work.
- Concerts and Caberts: Although there is not a “set” dress code at concert halls and theatre venues in France, the unspoken standard is smart-casual. However, this doesn’t mean you need to pack your finery. Anything from a simple dress and blazer, skirt or slacks or even clean-cut jeans and a blouse are absolutely fine.