How to Actually Dress Like a Parisian

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There is a very specific idea of what a French woman has hanging in her closet. So much, that you can probably list the oft-cited items without me even telling you – it is that entrenched in the fashion world’s perception of French style.

It’s borderline silly, if you ask me. Is there any other city that has such a specific way of dressing pinned to its female inhabitants?

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of this notion is that the vast majority of Parisian women don’t own all or even any of these items. In fact, if you do happen to see a woman sauntering by the Seine in a Breton striped top, beret, trench coat, or little black dress, I would bet that she’s a tourist hoping to “blend in” rather than an actual local.

So what is actually found in the (often minuscule) closet of a real Parisienne? A huge variety of things, to tell you the truth. Just like everywhere else in the world, women in France all have their own unique style and don’t subscribe exclusively to the stereotypical “French style” that’s so frequently cited and over-analyzed in fashion magazines.

That said, while living here, I have seen certain items make a frequent reappearance on a large number of women of various ages and fashion.

And so, a list of things that the average Parisian woman actually does tend to wear day-to-day.

White Sneakers

A friend of mine from Lyon once told me that he could tell which French people were Parisian based on whether or not they wear wearing a pair of white sneakers. I thought he was exaggerating – until I moved to Paris.

White sneakers are, undeniably, the footwear of choice for many a local to the French capital. From Adidas, to Stan Smith, to Converse, you’ll see a selection of brands, with one thing in common: the colour (or lack therefore of).

While the white sneaker trend is also popular in North America, a difference I gleamed is that while North Americans frequently obsess over keeping their sneakers pristine, Parisians aren’t bothered if theirs are dirty or scuffed.

Oversized Army Jackets

Digging for treasures at friperies around the city is a popular pastime for Parisians. An item frequently found at these second hand shops – and which are often picked up by locals – are old army jackets, which usually come from a European army surplus.

Whether it says armée française or comes from the Netherlands, it’s typically olive green and slightly oversized, and worn over everything from fancy dresses to jeans.

Denim Jackets

Like the army jackets, denim jackets are another popular item in a Parisian’s closet that are frequently sourced from vintage shops. It’s not surprising why: Perfectly worn-in denim jackets from brands like Levi’s and Lee can be found in large numbers in second hand stores around the likes of the Marais.

Skinny Jeans

While boyfriend fit, straight leg, and mom jeans are the hot denim styles of the moment, in Paris many women are staying committed to skinny jeans. While I tend to see light wash pairs more often, dark wash and black are also popular. Their most frequent accompaniment during the colder months? A loose sweater or blouse and a pair of high-heeled booties.

Black Jumpsuits

During holiday parties and nights out in the wintertime, it wasn’t sparkly frocks or little black dresses that I saw most often – it was black jumpsuits. Usually sleeveless and with a low cut neckline and paired with high heels and simple jewelry.

Not only are jumpsuits elegant, but they are versatile – something that I see being a common theme among a lot of the pieces I see most frequently worn here. Parisian apartments are infamously tiny, and so women tend to be choosy with what they hang up in them. Simple pieces like a black jumpsuit are classics that can be worn from office to after-work drinks, from wintertime to summer nights.

Longchamp Le Pliage Bag

Here is something that’s not often said about Paris: It rains here. A lot. Sometimes in torrential proportions. As such, Longchamp’s Le Pliage bag is incredibly popular, thanks to being water resistant, stylish, and available in a wide variety of colours and sizes. A bigger bag is perfect for shopping and work, while smaller sizes are great for an everyday purse.

What’s more, they’re very reasonably priced. Unlike what popular culture may suggest, the average Parisian isn’t carrying a Chanel bag day-in and day-out (if she has one at all). Designer items are appreciated here, but the majority of women shop French brands like Longchamp and Lancaster, which are still chic and well-made but not priced in the thousands.

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