What to Wear in France in the Summer

by Christine Cantera on March 3, 2009

by Christine Cantera | March 3rd, 2009  

French fashion is a tricky business. As in any country, the styles you see on the streets of Paris are not the same kinds you’d see in a student-friendly town like Montpellier, a small fishing town in Brittany, or in a cultural melting pot like Marseilles.

That being said, I believe I can help you look your best while traveling throughout France this summer. I’ll give some general tips, and then break it down for you by category.

French Fashion Fact: There Is No Singular “French Look”

Sit outdoors at a café on any given day, and you’ll see a veritable parade of styles walk by. But still, you can see a difference. What is it that makes the French seem just a cut above us mere mortals when it comes to fashion? Here are some hints.

Please note that this is not the final word; like snowflakes on a winter’s day, everyone has their own unique style. You’ll see exceptions to these hints at every turn. But after living in France for six years, I’ve seen a thing or two.

  • First of all, they live there; you’re not going to see French locals carting around backpacks and large bottles of water. That’s a big difference that maybe can’t be helped, but there it is.
  • Their clothes fit them correctly. Pants are hemmed to the correct length. Shirts match the person’s silhouette; no one is swimming in a baggy shirt.
  • They have great haircuts.
  • Their look matches. Sneakers are worn with workout gear, shoes with all other clothes. They have different jackets for all occasions, from wintertime to rainy days to a chilly summer night.
  • Both men and women accessorize well – sunglasses, watches, purses in general are the best they can find (even if they bought it at a discount).
  • They put their look together and then forget about it. They don’t fuss and fidget with their clothing while out and about. It’s simply a part of them.

Well. Now that the mystery’s solved – ha! – let’s get down to business: What do you pack for a trip to France this summer?

Here are some general tips for blending in during your next trip to France:

  • Unsure what to wear to a restaurant? Try to walk past it during lunch or even dinner the night before, and see what others are wearing.
  • No fanny packs. Seriously, you guys. There are a million ways to carry your stuff that look better than a fanny pack.
  • Find a decent, attractive bag to carry your big hulking D-SLR camera in. That goes for you too, men. If not for fashion, then to avoid being mugged.
  • Take the time and spend the money to find a comfortable pair of shoes that look nice. Leave the white sneakers at home. Please.
  • Find a comfortable, nice outfit for traveling. Watching you guys come off a plane or train is like witnessing a 4AM fire drill at a college dorm.
  • Shoulders and legs should ALWAYS be covered whenever visiting ANY house of worship in France for ANY reason. Do whatever it takes to respect this unspoken rule, no matter how hot it is.

>>Wondering what to do in France in the summer? Check out my France in July and my France in August posts.

Your Biggest Fashion Question Answered: Can I Wear Flip-Flops In France In The Summer?

The short answer? Yes. The French do. But here are some really, really important things to note before you throw those raggedy, cheap plastic atrocities into your suitcase.

  • The flip-flops that French people wear, by and large, are not your standard-issue disposable Old Navy kind. They’re very nice. Follow their lead, and you can wear them day and night.
  • Women, opt for some bling, a heel, or more complicated straps for your flip-flops or sandals.
  • Men, invest in a really nice pair of simple, brown or black leather flip-flops. I once saw a Frenchman wearing these with linen pants and a crisp white t-shirt at a brasserie in Paris in 1997. That’s how much of an impression he made on me.
  • Get a pedicure. That goes for men, too, so no eye-rolling. And carry some tissues or wipes with you throughout the day to clean up your feet before heading in to eat somewhere.

Fashion Tips For Young Women Visiting France In The Summer

Here are some tips I’ve compiled from a list of fashion don’ts I’ve seen recently:

  • You know that cute sundress you want to wear to dinner? Don’t wear it with your cheapo flip-flops. Get a decent sandal or adorable flats.
  • If you’re going to pack those sexy heels, own them. Confidence is 90% of what make French women so fabulous.
  • American girls have this habit of wearing a really beautiful/sexy/expensive top with some jeans they pulled out of the bottom of a backpack. Either wear pants or a skirt, or bring fitted jeans and wear them with heels. See my “everything matches” hint above.
  • Heading to the beach? Cover up on your way there unless your hotel is across the street from the shoreline.
  • Make your ponytail look nice, like you meant to wear your hair that way, not like you’ve just finished doing laundry.
  • When in doubt, find a long, light cotton scarf and wear it all the time. French girls do this with practically any outfit, no matter how warm it is, and it just pulls the whole look together.

Fashion Tips For Older Women Visiting France In The Summer

Ladies, you’ve almost got it down. But there are some final tips you might want to consider before heading out.

  • Older French women do not hide their attractiveness. They are the Helen Mirren to your Joy Behar.
  • Less equals more. Don’t wear every piece of jewelry you own in an attempt to dress up an outfit. French women do not over-accessorize with jewelry.
  • The shoes thing goes double for you – invest in the most comfortable, most attractive shoes you can find. Nothing ruins your outfit more than your go-to sneakers.
  • Go with light, natural fabrics – first of all, synthetics will overheat you in four seconds flat. Secondly, older French women tend to be of a generation that bought nice things and tended to them well. They have not bought into the disposable clothing trend of Americans.
  • Otherwise, y’all look fine – have fun!

Fashion Tips For Young Men Visiting France In The Summer

Guys, you’ve got it rough. The differences are so great between you and your French counterparts, I don’t even know where to begin. And, chances are you could give a rat’s ass. But French girls will be watching you, so listen up if you want to make an impression.

  • You know what I said above about looking like a 4AM college dorm fire drill? That’s all you, hon. Leave the beer promotion t-shirts, frat wear and wrinkled cargo shorts at home.
  • All your clothes are freaking enormous. Bring stuff that fits you correctly. You’re competing with French boys in stovepipe jeans and skin-tight tees.
  • Suck it up and bring a decent pair of shoes. Unless you plan on eating at McDonald’s every day, those flip-flops aren’t going to do you any favors at dinnertime.
  • Flip-flops and sandals – guys, I feel you on this one. Your choices seem to be either Hippie Jesus sandals, reverse-engineered hybrid jobs or shower shoes. Please, take some time to find a decent summer shoe.
  • When in doubt, go preppy. Well-fitting Bermuda shorts from the L.L. Bean catalog never killed anyone.
  • No baseball cap. Bring a comb instead.

Fashion Tips For Older Men Visiting France In The Summer

Like your female companions, you’re almost there. Here are a few hints to help you look suave during your stay.

  • No white sneakers, Pops! You’ve got it easiest when it comes to footwear, so take advantage of it. Find a comfortable pair of neutral-colored shoes that go with anything. Boom, you’re done.
  • Unless you’re willing to get a pedicure, leave the open-toes sandals for going directly from your hotel room to the beach.
  • I know you think those loud print shirts are your vacation fashion statement, but listen to your wife and leave them at home.
  • I know you’re a huge fan of your local sports team; again, leave the jerseys and paraphernalia at home.
  • The safari hat is a good look – while on safari. Wear sunglasses instead.
  • Purchase several pairs of ankle-length athletic socks for your shoes, if you’re a sock wearer. Wear dress socks only when dressing in full-length pants for dinner.
  • If you’ve got a neutral-color linen jacket, bring it and wear the hell out of it. You’ll look like a million bucks.

What Kids Should Wear When Visiting France In The Summer

Mom and Dad, you do a pretty excellent job of making your tykes look adorable on vacation. Pretty much anything goes for the little ones; but there are some pretty bad-ass French toddlers around, so if you wanted an excuse for your tot to wear that baby-sized Ramones t-shirt, then go for it.

So, what do you say? Are you ready to pack your bags with stylish frocks and come on over? Then get started by checking out flight prices to France using our handy widget below!

{ 11 comments }

Jennifer Sage May 26, 2010 at 10:34 am
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Formidable! Even though my clients going to France are on bicycle tours, they still often spend time in Paris before or after the cycling part of their trip, and they still go to nice restaurants while in les provinces. So I am going to send this link to all my clients! Merci beaucoup for bringing up this important message and not being afraid to tell traveling Americans they often look like frumpy slobs or college kids in dorms! The thing I hate the MOST is those white sneakers everywhere. Il faut un peu de savoir faire! (Although I can tell you stories of some of the fashion Faux Pas I’ve seen – & photographed – on the French…but it’s usually outside of the big cities).
Jennifer
Viva Travels Bicycle Tours

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Christine May 26, 2010 at 11:33 am
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Thanks for the kind words, Jennifer – yes, sometimes the French have some whoppers, and I do see many Americans pull off a great look while visiting. But more often than not, the shoes and the too-big clothing give them away every time.

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Cold is the Sea May 26, 2010 at 11:52 am
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Great article Christine! Not that I’m coming to France anytime soon, but I loved the article and it’s something to aspire to. (I violate most of the rules for my demographic on a regular basis…God forbid I should start dressing like an adult…)

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Christine May 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm
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Ha! You’ll notice the distinct lack of anything remotely self-referential in this article. Most French people think I’m some sort of Italian refugee from a poor country town. LOL

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nyc/caribbean ragazza May 28, 2010 at 6:19 am
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Fantastic (and very useful) article. I think your advice could help our fellow Americans who are traveling to Italy as well.

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Tim U May 28, 2010 at 7:53 pm
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That’s one of the best “what to wear” articles I’ve read. Lots of really good practical advice. Basically nice shoes and a jacket and leave your loud t-shirts and baseball cap at home. It’s not too difficult but so many travellers can’t get it right.

When I lived in France I could tell an Australian (they never tuck their shirt in) or American (white sneakers) from miles away (and you don’t need to wear a shirt with Michigan or Arizona splashed across it, we’ll work out where you are from soon enough). Yet those same people actually dress quite well in Melbourne or Boston and that shouldn’t change when they’re abroad just because they can only fit a limited wardrobe in their backpack.

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Christine May 29, 2010 at 2:57 am
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I think that most people work in jobs where they don’t get to choose what they wear every day, or in which they have to wear things they find uncomfortable. Therefore, vacation is seen as a way to just wear whatever the hell you want, no pantyhose or neckties or “good” shoes. You know? At least that’s what I feel like it’s about.

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dana dewes May 29, 2010 at 3:33 am
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So funny and informative.

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peg May 29, 2010 at 6:28 am
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Really good info. Very visual. I may just follow your instructions when just going to the KMart even in America.

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Parigi June 25, 2010 at 4:21 pm
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Bravo from this Paris local.
Btw, what’s with the ubiguitous water bottle? Did someone spread the rumor that France has a bad drought?

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Corene July 7, 2010 at 8:28 pm
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I’m impressed you left the door open for flip-flops. I hate those plastic shower shoes with a fiery passion from hell. Nothing’s worse than seeing a woman walk around Wall Street or the Financial District of San Francisco while wearing flip-flops. WTF?!

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