I have a confession to make: I’ve never felt fully comfortable with my wardrobe.
Over the years I’ve made several round-trips to Paris. Sometimes I had too many tops and not enough bottoms. Other times, it was the opposite. At least once during each trip, I would be missing a key item needed to complete the outfit I had in mind: sometimes it was a pair of shoes and other times it was a spring jacket.
Here’s the thing about certain basics: You see them everywhere when you don’t need them, but when you do, they’re either not in your size or they’re not in your budget!
I decided to take the French approach to curating my wardrobe about a year ago, and although it’s taken some time and I’m still not finished, I’m very pleased with the results so far!
If you’d like to follow the French wardrobe philosophy, then be sure to read my guide to getting started with the 5-Piece French Wardrobe.
Now, I’ve already written about the French wardrobe essentials in most French women’s closets, and that’s a great place to start building your French wardrobe, but if you’ve already got those essentials down, then it’s time to ensure you’ve got all the other basics.
French Wardrobe Basics
Here is the list I am working off of to ensure my closet is ready for anything life throws at me. This list of French wardrobe basics will cover me in all seasons, year round.
Now, I know that one of the cardinal French style rules is to invest in quality basics, but building a foundational wardrobe from scratch can get quite expensive so it’s okay to save yourself some money and purchase what’s within your budget for these basics. Hopefully as time goes on, we’ll both be able to replace them with the higher quality basics we really want!
- Long sleeve cotton button-up shirts (1 white, 1 blue)
- T-shirts (1 black, 1 white, 1 blue and white striped)
- Silk button-up shirts (1 black, 1 white)
- Silk Camis (1 black, 1 white, silver or off-white)
I got my long-sleeve button up shirts from Gap, though this year I’m planning to invest in the high quality ones from Figaret in Paris. My basic cotton t-shirts are from Gap too and they have held up quite well. The silk button-up shirts I got came from Banana Republic and have a beautiful silk tie around the collar to make into a 70s-style bow.
- Straight-leg Jeans (1 dark wash, 1 light wash)
- High-waisted Pants (1 black, 1 navy, green, or burgundy)
- Jean Mini skirt
- Suede Mini skirt (in burgundy, green, or navy)
- Black mini skirt
- Jean Shorts
- Beige Linen Shorts or White Linen Skirt
I have a bit of a jeans addiction but my favorite jeans all came from Reformation. The cut is phenomenal and the prices are perfect, especially the Liza High Straight jean. I have more jeans from Re/Done (pricey), Levi’s (the classic 501 jeans), and & Other Stories.
My high-waisted pants came from Nathalie Dumeix, a Parisian designer. They were 185 euros each, but it was worth it because you cannot find this style and quality elsewhere! The pants are made in France, too so they should last me a while. I bought a simple straight leg black pant from Banana Republic.
My 2 jean mini skirts came from A.P.C. and Reformation. I found a good deal on solid colored suede mini skirts from H&M last fall, and they have become essential to my wardrobe. My jean shorts came from Levi’s and I’m happy with them except for the sizing which is not at all standard – order two sizes if you’re unsure. Lastly, I have a pair of beige linen shorts from Reformation. I’m currently on the lookout for a cute white linen skirt to round out my skirt wardrobe.
- Short sleeve Midi wrap dress
- Thin strap or short sleeve Mini wrap dress
- 2 evening dresses
- Black silk slip dress
I’m in love with Reformation’s dresses so that’s typically where I pick mine out. The immensely popular Rouje Gabin dress is also on my radar, I’m just hesitant to pay the import fees! 2 evening dresses are a must for your wardrobe basics. Ideally one is for spring/summer, and the other is for fall/winter. I bought a black silk slip dress online from an Australian brand called Chosen. If you’re looking for quality silk at an affordable price, try Australian retailers – I’ve found them to be reasonably priced.
- Beige cashmere sweater
- Navy wool sweater
- Beige or off-white wool cardigan or button-up sweater
- Trench coat
- Plaid blazer
- Black Smoking Jacket
- Wool Wrap Coat (in beige, navy or black)
My beige cashmere sweater from Nordstrom has served me well so many times! It has started to pill, but that’s nothing a fabric shaver can’t fix. On the darker side, my COS navy wool sweater has come in handy just as often.
Outerwear is where I’m struggling the most with curating my French wardrobe basics. I’m currently looking for a beige or off-white wool cardigan to wear in the spring. I’d like for it to be button-up so I can open and close it as needed. I have my eye on the classic Burberry Kensington Trench Coat, but I’m debating whether I should go for the less expensive but high quality A.P.C. version. I’ve yet to find a plaid blazer for fall that I love. The black smoking jacket is another item on my to-find list; I’d just love to find a classic vintage YSL Smoking Jacket at a thrift shop in Paris.
Lastly, the wool wrap coat I should have gotten this past fall. COS made a beautiful wool wrap coat in navy and black and I was waiting for it to go on sale in either color but it never did! So by the time March rolled around, I figured there’s no sense in paying full price now and I might as well wait to buy a new one in-season this fall. My next splurge might even be a gorgeous beige Max Mara wrap coat – but they can cost several thousand dollars which I’m not sure I’m ready to spend.
- Black flats
- Neutral flats (or red or navy)
- Brown leather strappy sandals
- Low-heel espadrilles (1 navy, 1 ivory)
- White sneaker
- Brown suede boots
- Gold strappy sandal heels
- Black ankle-strap heels
- Black patent leather boots
My black flats are essential to my wardrobe. Because I wear them so often, I usually buy a cheap pair at H&M every season. You could arguably swap out the Neutral flats for a red flat or a navy flat depending on your wardrobe and use the beige low-heel espadrille as a neutral-toned shoe if you needed to. I’m thinking about doing this and investing in a red Repetto flat – pricey but because I won’t be wearing them as often, they’ll last longer. Brown leather strappy sandals are great for vacation trips – K.Jacques is the brand of choice for French girls. Rounding out the summer shoe basics is the low-heel espadrille. I have the Castañer Carina espadrille in both ivory and navy and wear them very often!
Veja white sneakers are all the rage in France, since they were seen on actress Marion Cotillard. I have yet to invest in a pair of Vejas but they are on my list. You could obviously go with a simple pair of Supergas or Keds, too.
Brown suede boots are my go-to fall shoe and I have the Isabel Marant Garett Boot which are heeled, but walkable. Sadly they are no longer for sale, but you can shop a similar pair at Shopbop, La Redoute, or Barneys.
For special occasions, there are three ideal shoe basics. The first is a gold strappy sandal for dressing up in spring or summer. The second is a black ankle strap heel. I purchased mine from Jonak in Paris. Lastly, for winter I have a pair of black patent leather lace-up boots, perfect for holiday parties! The best place to shop Jonak styles in the USA is through La Redoute.
- Leather Handbag (Brown or red)
- Basket Bag
- Straw Tote Bag
- Black Tote Bag
- Leather Belts (1 black, 1 brown)
- Printed Silk Scarf
- Thin Gold Jewelry
- 2 Sunglasses (Tortoiseshell, Black)
The basic handbags I own serve to complement the majority of my outfits. I have a warm brown leather bucket bag from Staud that I use often. I also have a rich red A.P.C. leather crossbody bag, which adds a nice pop of color to my neutral outfits.
My straw tote bag with brown leather handles was purchased in France (you can find them easily at most markets). My black tote bag is from Longchamp.
I’m still looking for a cute minaudière in either silver or gold for evenings out. I have two very simple leather belts in brown and black, each with gold/brass buckles. One is from Sandro and the other is from a market in the south of France.
I have one beautiful printed silk scarf from Frankie in Paris. I have a simple gold necklace that I wear often, though I’d like to replace it. I also own a pair of black cat-eye sunglasses as well as tortoiseshell ones!
That was a long list of basics, but I hope it will help you start putting together your dream wardrobe!