1 Sep 2013

The Top Ten French Wardrobe Essentials

yves saint laurent le smoking fall 2014

Many of us are in awe of the French woman’s style, however that may be defined.

Let’s just say that most of us agree there is something tres chic about the Parisian woman.

There are a million and one opinions out there about the hows and the whys of that indefinable je ne sais quoi but recently Vogue Paris have cut to the chase and created a very simple list of ten essential items for any self respecting woman who would like to dress in the French way.

This is a simple no-nonsense list that makes sense.

These are pieces of clothing that we can all wear, whatever our age….and isn’t that the important point and the point of difference with French women…. classic with a twist… a little like a martini…shaken and not stirred.

We all want to dress French so here is the how.

Number 1: La Chemise Blanche
How could we live without this basic white shirt…Could we have two?  One in cotton and one in silk, to span the seasons.

Number 2: Le Trench
The classic beige trench coat from Burberry is the investment of a lifetime…. the blue chip of stocks… the one coat never to be without at home or on your travels.

Number 3: Les Ballerines
Ballerina pumps, my everyday walking, stay-at-home.. anywhere goes shoes in black.

These pumps work with pretty much anything that might come out of the wardrobe.

My favourite brand… Repettos... (My little secret with ballet flats is to re-heel and re-sole them after buying with non-slip material.. this makes them safer to wear and ensures that they last longer.)

I would also add an addendum here (sorry Vogue Paris) and include a pair of Converse as an ‘essential’ essential…Dressed down and practical these are one pair of shoes I never leave home without.

Number 4: Le Jean
Le favourite piece of clothing….for me anyway….According to the French stylistas they must be faded and straight…I agree…other than John Travolta I don’t remember anyone looking good in flares. I love the ‘skinnies’ too…Brands.. .time and testing is what jean buying is all about….be in the mood and persevere… and when you find your ‘perfect’ fit…buy two pairs… I am a JBrand fan although Current Elliot is the Vogue Paris brand du jour.

Number 5: Le Cachemire
Grey, soft and long sleeved…classic round or v-neck….Let’s be greedy here and include a black, navy and cream sweater as well. Cashmere is all about feeling the luxury, the warmth and the comfort….Eric Bompard is the French cashmere of choice….Cashmere is everywhere and many brands are excellent, it’s the cut that counts…. and no machine turn ups instead of a proper basque finish.

Number 6:  La Petite Robe Noir
The little black dress really should be number 1…because who can live without it. Not me. Wear it on any continent for any occasion…The LBD is not a dress to stop at one but make sure your first, like all firsts, is memorable and something that makes you smile.

Number 7: Les Escarpins Noir
The drop dead, sexy, high heel classic black heels. Wearing high heels is like therapy… as soon as you put them on you feel stronger and more confident…Remember Cinderella… her glass slipper is testament to that.

As for the aching feet and pinched toes…feeling good about ourselves is not always easy….a little pain for a lot of gain.

Heels, whatever any one will tell you, are more flattering than flats any day of the week. Wear them selectively, for short bursts of time, get in training…but never give in…. they really are our friends. Anything that can make my legs look longer and slimmer and my ankles narrower is a miracle and that has to be counted as true friendship.

One of the ultimate designers of les escarpins noir is Christian Louboutin…like le trench, another blue chip for the portfolio.

Number 8: La Veste de Blazer
The black blazer or ‘le smoking’ jacket made famous by YSL back in the day. Every girly cupboard needs a black blazer.

Wear it open by day or buttoned up by night…with nothing but your pretties underneath… Number 8 + Number 4 + Number 7 = win, win, win…..And the best news…no wasted hours planning the perfect outfit…trying on all those clothes that never worked the first time and still don’t cut it…this is the happy fall back position, the safety valve of fashion.

Number 9: Le Tank Top
The tee-shirt needs no introduction…If many colourful and logo laden favourites are clogging up your drawers make way for the plain veste style tee… no sleeves means the cut of your blazer can do it’s job. Save the olden goldies for the gym.

Number 10: Le Pantalon de Smoking
The holiest of holies when it comes to essentials in the French woman’s wardrobe… the right hand to YSL’s  ‘le smoking’ jacket… the black pants… Like the LBD… never leave home without them.

This is the essentials list according to Vogue Paris. 

I would be tempted to add a few extras but then I guess that’s not the point. If we start here then maybe we are on our way to a little of that elusive bien dans sa peau, keeping it simple, keeping it classic.

Keeping it French, xv.

image yves saint laurent


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Very interesting post Vicki, I was almost afraid to read it as I thought I would never be able to afford them. Then I found I have everything on the list but a wardrobe choco block with so much more that I really don't need as well. Maybe it's time for a good cull, but not easy. x


Oh my… you've got a very lovely and must-have list… for every woman not just the stylist French. ♥

You really got it right!

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle...

Great article Vicki, Merci. Le chemisier blanc, la petite robe noire (merci, madame Chanel), les escarpins noirs, les ballerines… I like Vogue's list but I am surprised they left out "les accessoires." No Parisian woman would be caught in public with a fashionable handbag or a scarf. In fact, these often get more attention than some of the pieces in the outfit ;-) Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle


Hello vicki

Tick, tick and tick – ok got some of those (love the white shirt, the jeans, the jacket and a little black dress anyday)

Now have many of the others on my wish list – thank you a great post I am going to keep this one in my favourites

have a lovely day



(ps I also love the french look of linens, nautical and espadrilles – now that I think is a favourite of mine!)


I absolutely love this article Vicki. Like most women who have visited France, I too am fascinated by the style and allure of French women. I particularly like how you tell your readers to "never given in" with wearing their heels. I am constantly encouraging my clients to persevere and continue wearing their heels. So many of them give up wearing them when they stop working to have children or when they get to a certain age. I understand that comfort is important but wearing a great heel can you make you feel amazing. I, like you, think it's worth a little bit of discomfort. I'll be making sure some of the women I work with have the opportunity to read what you've written. Thank you. Warm regards, Meaghan

Lost in Provence

I LOVED this post, Vicki! And feel that yes, this really is the essence of French dressing. Add red lipstick and you're done! Or no makeup at all if you can get away with it. ;)

That said, I'd be mighty curious to hear your addendums, especially as the Converse are so spot on (I have never been a fan but remember being so shocked seeing women mixing them with Yohji when I first arrived in Paris)…

Encore merci!


Ingrid Mida

This is my wardrobe exactly!! It has taken me a long time to get to figure out the elements of a classic and chic look but it is me… The only thing I would add is a pencil skirt. I adore wearing skirts and they are another wardrobe staple.

Beadboard UpCountry

You hit a home run with this one!!!! I haven't been to France in Sept for years always January when it is freezing cold and I KNOW what to wear then!!!Your timing is perfect……..Thanks Vicki!!!Maryanne xo

hostess of the humble bungalow

I love this list…I feel very French just reading this list!

I do not own a trench. I might need to find one but only if it is proportioned in petite and single breasted.
I am surprised that a Hermes scarf was not on the list…
although it would probably be considered an accessory.


Let's see: I need new jeans, more white blouses and new black heels and then I'm set. I love this list. Have a wonderful week, Vicki!!! Mary


Perfect timing! My things to do TODAY was to clean out my closet and start a new checklist! I am almost right there. Just a couple of musts go gets then finished for the season! What is your favorite scent and perfume?

Vicki, Thank You for your great inspriation ALWAYS. I reread and stared and stared and stared and stared at French Essence for the last two nights….once again. It is my favorite bedtime story and helps me have the sweetest dreams~~~



Excellent post! All of these items are classics and easily purchased by all women for a stylish wardrobe. Ok, maybe a Burberry Trench and Louboutins are not in everyones price range but there are other great affordable substitutes if this is a look you are after.

What I admore about French women is that they spend a fair amount of money on classic pieces once, then they have them forever.

Have a wonderful day!

under spanish moss

Oh YES VICKI! We agree! White clean crisp shirt with pearls (always have on hand), black dress with pearls, jeans straight or whatever with pearls, great bag with pearls…etc. They forgot to add our all time favorite "pearls"!

Great Post!

Renee and Angela


what a fun post to read and so informative…i am going to ask my very parisian doctor her thoughts…i think she would add a scarf as i have never seen her without one around her very svelte neck…wonderful read, thank you, i must have them all but i suppose firstly, i must have some extra money :P..xx


So chic & in vogue always. Love your share.

Would you be so kind to leave a comment on my BLOG ONLY thru the 18th, for the Miracle Makeover fund drive. Charlie, 8 yr. old, & his story are fabulous. Every comment brings us a $1 for the next person that will be sponsored. Help me spread the word.

Have a beautiful week.


Excellent Vicki and as I am a Classic kind of woman it all works for me. Add a few select accessories and you have a wow!

Art by Karena

à la parisienne

I've always loved the little nicknames the French give their clothing (and my French students always loved talking about wearing ~un smoking~). I have yet to buy une veste de smoking, but I do have the best pair of pantalon de smoking, which look killer with my escarpins noirs! You're right, these essentials simply outlast all of the trends and always make me feel chic and well-dressed. As for le trench…khaki/tan is not a good color to wear near my face. I'm still waiting to find the right color trench.

Thank you for sharing this list!



And Pearls…….. a simple strand and simple dots on your lobes. Perfect with the little black dress, the white shirt and jeans, the basic t-shirt and dress pants; it is 'the' classic accessory.
Treat yourself to real pearls or even better send generous hints to 'him'.


Absolutely. These few things will actually take you around the world (not counting underwear). I love the photo up top; truly one of the most elegant, timeless, perfect outfits a girl could wear. I went shoe shopping earlier today in one of our supersized mall stores (like Macy's) & Tish I hated everything there except the new Ann Klein styles. xx's

helen tilston

Dearest Vicki

Your timing is so perfect for this post. Like many of your readers commented, I, too have most of the pieces mentioned and definitely heels, I will be "carried out in heels" and while on that subject, I will wear the LBD and black jacket and the white silk blouse…Sorry I got carried away there. He He He

Helen xxx

Renée Finberg

great tips… and so true.
i do however have the most gorgeous black satin
{i love black satin shoes}
for the first few moments i feel stronger and more fabulous,
and then i just want to sit down
or die.

love this post – brilliant xxx


I love these essentials. As I get older and more " happy" with my wardrobe I I am slowly understanding the basics and making less mistakes.

*Chic Provence*

vicki I always love lists…and this one is delish! have them all, except for that trench. I just don't agree. I think it looks awful on many, myself included! I've tried, maybe just haven't found the perfect one…

what a great fun post, gets me thinking about the closet with the season almost upon us!

xoxo Kit


Loved every moment of this post, but, oh my poor tootsies. I am sad to say that my high heels are all gathering dust, as the pain is just too bad for me to enjoy the occasion. And as for ballet flats – can't wear them either! Too flat! The Converse is also too flat! Woe is me. No hope of elegance in the region of my feet.

Mary Jo at TrustYourStyle

Thank you Vicki, this is truly the best list of 10 that I have read in a long time. Everything is perfection on this list and all things that I collect and covet when a good new version comes along. Beautifully written post!

xo Mary Jo


I think this article is fab and couldn't agree more. Although I do find the style in Paris rather bland and boring…

Carole Buschmann

Wow! I adored your recommendations! They were fun to read and review if they fit into my western Rocky Mountain life. Some yes some maybe not. But still fine. HOw about the botte de cowboy?

Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart

Great analysis. However, to looke truly French, you cannot forget scarves scarves scarves,at least one lightweight cashmere and one large chiffon or cotton voile(yes, even in winter) and a great convenient basic bag, black if you must stick to one and a caramelish/brown if you can have 2. I also agree that a plain pencil skirt in black or gray is a must have. And by the way there are great raincoats other than Burberries, and great flats other than Repetto. (as there are other great desserts than macarons… but I am digressing.)


Great post! My favorite is la petite robe noire. So simple yet eternally chic. I'm also surprised it wasn't number one, afterall we owe it to Madamoiselle Chanel.

Prêt à Porter P

There’s a reason we keep seeing the same items on essential lists—you can’t deny the endurance of the classics. I have about 375907587 black blazers, most of which are le smokings. I love trench coats/long (not heavy wool) coats—despite living in a tropical climate having. I actually don’t like ballerinas, so when I saw a style I liked I bought as many colors as I could afford. Technically I own a LBD, but it’s more of a novelty thing I bought knowing full well that I had no intention of actually wearing it. It’s very rare when I do. I rely more on the Long Black Skirt. Again I have 47945794 of those. I got rid of my black pumps, and other excess heels—I don’t get the opportunity to wear them much so out they went. But I could buy black boots forever. I like the look of a white shirt, but then I get protective of them and stop wearing them. I wish I knew the trick to keep them looking new.


Since I descovered this point quite some time ago I keep coming back to it. It is one of my absolute favourite posts EVER!!!


Hello Vicki,

How thrilled I was to stumble across this piece and then discover many of these are my own go-to garments. This reads like a check list of my own wardrobe. I was raised to appreciate and invest in quality basics and then to accessorize on the cheap with the trendy bits. But I don’t think we can overlook the lasting power of a classic, eternally coveted handbag. I feel it transforms the most basic ‘uniform’ and takes it to the next level, especially with the perfect pair of sunglasses. Oh, how good it is to be a girl!

Love this post!!


But you absolutely never see a french woman over the age of 25 in jeans. Never, at least not on the streets of Paris. Once in a while in the south, where I live.

Seattle French girl is right – it’s really all about the scarf. French women don’t change their wardrobes very often, so the new scarf is the often most interesting new thing they have on. When you get it right, you don’t have to change it every 20 minutes.

Converse are popular with young women now, so it will be interesting to see if they drop them as they get into their late 20’s.


My 13 yr old daughter loves Converse. I haven’t worn them since I was around her age. I’ve been thinking about getting a pair for a while now. Wonder how my Emily will react to that!


Oh my, I truly love French Essence! And this post! I think I have found my essence here, what it is to be me and how to achieve my style with ease. Your advice is invaluable and beautiful to read and view. I am excited to follow you.


i love this list. the simplicity and minimalism is everything that you need in a wardrobe, basics that can be used again and again and will last you the years. thank you vogue paris. love your blog. xx


I love your blog, first time I’ve visited. Luckily I have one of everything on the list, my husband will be happy to hear this!


_the top ten french wardrobe essentials. | French Essence_ was a beneficial post.
If merely there were alot more weblogs such as this amazing one
on the actual net. At any rate, thank you
for your personal time, Lila


I am going to Paris for the first time this June with my 16 year old daughter, Emily. We are designing our wardrobe using your lovely list of essentials (except the trench). We both adore classic, vintage pieces and we both wear Converse.


Great list Vicki! I just came across your list in a google search. I’m curious, when re-soling your flats, do you just take them to a shoe place? This is such a genius idea! I wear my flats so often the bottoms often give out after a season or two.


I would add a note about emphasis on the texture of fabrics. It’s more than just cashmere, to have a elegant and luxurious look one has to pay attention to fabric. Your garment can be cut beautifully but if it’s in the wrong fabric it looks…wrong. So run away from polyester. If you really love the item make sure the polyester content is at least under 40%, otherwise you will land up perspiring in a fabric that will cling onto the sweat smell, no matter the weather! It will totally counteract your perfume- not chic! But just because you should run away from polyester, it does not mean you have to live in silk. Viscose is heaven sent because it’s so soft and reasonably priced. And you’d be surprised what you can find in cotton. Modal blends are lovely too, but my new favourite is Cupro blends- unbelievable softness.
On converse, it really has become a transient item. I bought my first pair of converse after 26 and the pairs I have now are really useful. I have neutrals that finish off a casual ensemble and are essential to music concerts and festivals. I can wear them with jeans or wear my grey hi-tops with a cream-coloured lace dress and denim shirt to mix what would be reserved for high tea or a cocktail event with an everyday basic and make it irreverently chic. They are quite essential for casual chic because sneaker options are either real trainers, too skater-punk or ridiculously expensive when designed interestingly. Of course, they have to be clean to be chic.

Anita Rivera

I am all there; I am taking notes on this because I need a new wardrobe, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Ines who you featured a while back. Hey, I’m a high school and middle school FRENCH teacher now, I want to dress the part!

Thank you Vicki for your endless inspiration à la française! BISOUS, Anita


I agree with every item on that list. Style, whether it’s French fashion, African tribal, American Western Cowboy, or any other – transcends place and time. But there is definitely a sweet spot for French essentials. :)

The Enchanted Home

Well this explains it! My mother is French and I have and love everything on this list…so guess I am doing something right afterall:) I LOVE this post Vicki and bookmarking it…a good classical guide to beautiful sensible and chic dressing. Something ALL women should have!! Thanks..and hope you are enjoying your holiday.

miss b

Great post and a very comprehensive list. I love my ballet flats but I have had black heels (one kind or another) in my wardobe for as long as I can remember. As soon as I put heels on, I instantly feel more glamorous! There’s a similar kind of list in ‘Paris Street Style – A Guide to Effortless Chic’ which, funnily enough, I’ve just reviewed on my blog!


I love your ideas and your generous sharing! The only thing is….I need more than a list to look “put together”! Please share more photos on “how to”. Some of us are still clumsy with this sort of thing. You can wear the items on the list, but it may be more “how” you wear them! Thanks so much for your continuing inspiration!

Nella@ Acorn Lane

Dear Vicki….thank you for reiterating what I have always believed to be the guidelines of good taste and unyielding style when it comes to choosing your wardrobe….sometimes I come under gentle criticism from friends because I don’t dress “trendy”…I have had the same fashion philosophy since I was 20….N.


I really enjoyed reading this post. I’m glad that I’ve been living on the right track of french chic.


Hi Vicki, I would love to see some pictures of more mature women dressing fashionably , wearing the wardrobe essentials. Have a fabulous time. I can’t wait to see your pictures!


I shall be looking hard for those beautiful women… although usually in Paris I find it’s the older ones who look the most wonderful… :)

Kaye Barker

I hope good stylish flats will work for us over 65 older ladies who have had to give up heels! Want to be “up” on style. Thanks for the list?


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