I Just Moved to Paris, and These Are the 12 French Fashion Basics That My Closet Was Desperately Missing

I Just Moved to Paris, and These Are the 12 French Fashion Basics That My Closet Was Desperately Missing

I landed in Paris in December with a suitcase filled with pots and pans, sheets and bath products, and very, very little clothing. Having been a professional travel writer for nearly two decades, I’m used to packing light, but the few essentials that I had brought with me were minimal, even for my standards. I was moving to Paris, and I wasn’t under any assumption that my California yoga pants lifestyle would fly in the city of fashion, and I also knew that my closet situation wouldn’t be anything like my former American walk-in. 

I have no grand desires of being mistaken for a French woman while living here, but the chance to update my very dated (i.e., very “I just had two kids and work from home”) wardrobe with some easy-to-pack, French-inspired capsule wardrobe staples wasn’t something that I planned to pass up. So, as I explored my new city, I kept an eye out for easy-to-copy styles.

Versatility is vital for Parisians, who are masters at repurposing basics in fresh ways, and it’s something that has guided my fashion choices for decades as I need to be able to throw together a suitcase bound for far off destinations in a matter of hours if/when the assignment arrives. When I’m planning a trip, I’d rather spend my time thinking about what I’m going to do once I’m on the ground rather than what I’m going to wear while I’m there, and these 12 French-inspired staples are my new favorite finds for an effortlessly fashionable travel wardrobe no matter where I’m wearing them. From a sleek pair of black boots for less than $40 at Amazon to a classic pair of jeans that are comfy enough for a long flight, these are the French looks that I’m throwing in my suitcase — and wearing as I’m strolling my local marché. 

Chunpin Women’s Short-Sleeve Bodysuit 


I’ve seen Sézane’s Coline bodysuit worn by so many people in so many different ways that it was my first purchase after arriving in Paris. It’s so popular that it’s nearly out of stock, which is why I’m including this copycat version from Amazon for now. Wear this short-sleeve bodysuit plain with some high-waisted straight leg jeans for a classic day look or pair it with a leather mini skirt for, yes, another classic French day look. 

Rouje Women’s Paris Marias Jeans


You can’t go wrong with straight leg jeans, and right now, everyone is wearing them in gray. I love the versatility of gray denim, mainly because sometimes light washes seem too casual and dark jeans often seem too — well, dark — and Parisians agree. This version from Rouje hits just above the ankle, which is perfect for a low boot or a block heel. Over at Amazon, you can get a similar pair from Levi’s on sale starting at $40. 

Sézane Women’s Scott Trench Coat


A camel trench is a vital element of the unofficial French uniform, second only to the sleeping-bag-like puffers that blanket everyone during icy weather in the winter. This specific trench from Sézane is the best way to nail the look with its button-tabbed shoulders and cuffs and sleek slit on the back. Skip any wool versions and go straight for a waterproof material like this one, since it’s the better bridge between the seasons. Similarly, Amazon shoppers are flocking towards the SaphiRose Women’s Waterproof Trench Coat for the upcoming rainy season — and it only costs $46.

H&M Women’s Shoulder Pad Sweater


Wearing stripes in Paris is pretty much on the same playing field as wearing a beret through the city. Do I do it anyway? You better believe it, and so do some actual French women — the stripes that is, never a beret. It’s hard to find something so classic that so effortlessly pairs with gray jeans, black trousers, leather skirts, etc. This is the striped sweater I fell in love with once I moved here (although I removed the shoulder pads, like the elder millennial that I am) because I love the slightly cropped cut and flattering neckline, but Petite Bateau is where to score the French-approved version.

Soda Women’s Pilot Chelsea Ankle Boots


I can count on my fingers the number of times that I’ve seen women wearing heels through this city. Living in Paris involves a lot of walking, and Parisians are smart about their footwear. Most would choose these leather boots from beloved French brand ba&sh, but this comfy find from Amazon-favorite brand Soda offers a similar look for so much less. And, they’re available in 20 different colors. 

Ugg Women’s Ronney Cropped Puffer


Everyone talks about how Parisians don’t like to show off their brands (i.e., even if a Parisian buys a Louis Vuitton bag, it likely won’t be laden in logos; “quiet luxury” is the key), but you can’t step on the Metro without running right into a JOTT logo. This European brand stands for Just Over the Top, and it is everywhere in Paris — and coming soon to America! Until then, we have this version from Ugg that does the trick nicely. 

Lo & Sons Waverley 2 Crossbody

Lo & Sons

For the most part, the only oversized bags that I’ve seen women carry around Paris are tote bags for going to and from the market. If they’re wearing a purse, you can almost guarantee it will be a crossbody bag. French brand Polène and UK-based Métier have a popular presence around town, but nothing competes with the versatility of my Lo & Sons Waverley 2. It can be worn four ways, which makes it super handy for commuting around Paris. Although I mainly wear it as a crossbody to match my French neighbors, I love the security and ease of wearing it as a belt bag while shopping.

Topshop Women’s Slit Hem Faux Leather Mini Skirt

Nordstrom Rack

Leather is back in a big way in Paris, and if you’re in the city, you’d want to pick up this Capucine leather skirt available only at Galeries Lafayette. For everyone else, there’s Nordstrom Rack, where you can find leather skirts galore at budget-friendly prices — starting with the Topshop Slit Hem Faux Leather Mini Skirt for $20. People are wearing these skirts with oversized sweaters tucked in at the front or pairing them with bodysuits beneath sheer black tops, and, this time of year, they’re always finishing the look with black tights and boots.

Veja Campo Sneakers


Although I have yet to slip into my first pair from Veja, there’s no denying that this cool-kid brand is everywhere. I see them in line at my boulangerie in the morning, while walking the upscale sidewalks of the Champs-Élysées, while riding the Metro, and I even noticed my son’s principal sporting a pair as she strutted through the play yard and scolded kids in her chic pants suit. I’ve been holding out with my super comfy Stan Smiths, but it’s likely only a matter of time before I’m looking for a pants suit to go with my new pair of Vs. 

L’Oreal Paris Infallible Pro Gloss Plump Lip Gloss 


Like me, you might have thought that most women in Paris were painting their lips crimson. If so, also like me, you would be among the rouge-lipped tourists. Parisians pride themselves on their skincare, and therefore do not typically wear much makeup. A glossy lip is the exception, but only in nude shades, like this flush-colored lip plumper from L’Oreal Paris that’s enriched with moisturizing hyaluronic acid to banish dry, chapped lips. Dewy skin and a glossy lip with a slicked back ponytail, and you’re well on your way to getting asked for directions from an out-of-towner.  

ba&sh Women’s Bilissi Belt 


The “old money” trend is alive and thriving in Paris, and, while I’m not sure that I’ll be getting on board with Dior brooches just yet, I am all about the statement buckle on this responsibly sourced leather belt. I love most pieces from this French brand, but specifically this belt, which can take a simple black outfit to a level of sophistication. For anyone not looking to drop over $100 for a belt, try this $16 Amazon version that comes in a stylish set of two. 

Ameline 14-Karat Gold Chunky Hoop Earrings


According to my French friends, the one piece of jewelry that nearly every French woman owns is a pair of gold hoop earrings. They can be small, big, oval, or thin, but wearing a pair is the easiest way to add a touch of elegance to a casual outfit. Judging by current trends spotted on the Metro, the chunkier the better. My favorite look has been these chunky gold hoops paired with a black turtleneck and my hair pulled back in a low ponytail, and also dangling over bare shoulders with hair tucked behind the ears and flowing long behind a black off-the-shoulder top. 

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