10 Essentials That Build a French Capsule Wardrobe, According to a Parisian Woman

Do as the French do

PureWow editors select every item that appears on this page, and the company may earn compensation through affiliate links within the story. All prices are accurate upon date of publish. You can learn more about the affiliate process here.

french capsule wardrobe collage
Dasha Burobina for PureWow

Croissants, French onion soup, the Birkin bag…these are a few of my French favorite things! I’ve been fascinated with French fashion for over a decade, so I’ve embarked on a bit of a journey to uncover all the French style findings I can get my hands on, including where to shop the best French clothing brands. Between the French makeup bag essentials and the fashion rules French women live by, it can seem overwhelming at times to digest. With so many French wardrobe staples at my fingertips, I chatted with a French style expert to get the scoop on the essentials. Below, you’ll find ten essentials to build the French capsule wardrobe of your dreams. 

Meet the Expert

Pauline Argenson is the deputy head of events at the Consulate of France, residing in New York City. Previously, Argenson was a marketing, events and VIP influencer relations consultant and resident ‘French It-Girl’ for The Kooples, a luxury French fashion brand.

Want to know which buzzy products are *really* worth buying? Sign up for our shopping newsletter to uncover our favorite finds.

french capsule wardrobe A Blazer
Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

1. A Blazer

A workhorse in and of itself, the classic blazer is a piece the French won’t break up with. While Americans have been on an oversize blazer kick for quite some time now, our Parisian friends prefer a more bespoke silhouette that’s refined and well-fitted. “A well-tailored blazer adds a touch of sophistication and effortlessly elevates any outfit,” says Argenson. “It's like having a secret weapon for those unexpected invitations—throw it on and voila, instant chic!”

french capsule wardrobe Classic Sunglasses
Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

2. Classic Sunglasses

No French-inspired outfit is complete without a pair of sunglasses—specifically, classic shapes like oval or Wayfarer in muted hues like black and tortoise. The rounded edges of the oval shape are graceful, soft and won’t compete with or call attention away from the rest of your outfit, and same with the soft lines of the Wayfarer. Per Argenson’s advice, it’s best to avoid anything too flashy, and “Keep your [accessories] simple and let your personal style shine through. It's all about striking that perfect balance between comfort and flair.”

french capsule wardrobe Long Trench Coats
Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

3. Long Trench Coats

The long trench coat is “a timeless piece that exudes Parisian chic,” Argenson tells me. Both Parisians and trench coats have that certain je nais se quois “It” factor, the exact reason that makes their look never go out of style. They’re elongating, weather-resistant and perfect for any season. Argenson adds, “Think of Audrey Hepburn dashing through the rain, always looking fabulous.” While there are many renditions of and modern twists on the traditional garb (from leather to wool to silk), if you want to wear it like the French, I recommend opting for traditional trench coats made from 100 percent cotton gabardine, as these are known to be lightweight, waterproof and breathable.  

french capsule wardrobe Loafers
Daniel Zuchnik / Getty Images

4. Loafers

Of these comfortable and stylish kicks, Argenson says, “Picture yourself strolling through the cobblestone streets of Paris, feet happy and stylish.” These upscale shoes really took off when Gucci launched their new Horsebit style of shoes in 1953, and over the decades, new iterations have remained a constant classic not only in Paris, but London, Palm Beach and New York City, per the brand’s history archive. For the French, loafers can be worn with anything and everything, especially that aforementioned blazer. I’ve seen some Parisians style theirs with tights and skirts, as well as long socks and jeans.

french capsule wardrobe Floral Maxi Dresses
Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

5. Floral Maxi Dresses

According to Argenson, floral maxi dresses are key pieces in any French capsule wardrobe. “A flowing, floral maxi dress captures the essence of French femininity and is perfect for both casual and formal occasions. It's like wearing a piece of the French countryside no matter where you are,” she explains. The French are all about versatility and they aren’t afraid of outfit repeating, because they can tweak the look with styling, be it with a fluffy cardigan or trench coat, loafers or ballet flats, a shoulder bag or clutch. The secret to executing this style is to find a floral maxi that can act as a base. Think: dresses with few colors, a sleek and simple silhouette and a lightweight, crepe-like fabric.

french capsule wardrobe Breton Sailor Shirts, aka Marinières
Streetstyleshooters / Getty Images

6. Breton Sailor Shirts, aka Marinières

If there’s one thing the French will never stop loving, it’s stripes, particularly the Breton sailor stripe shirts. Argenson explains, “This iconic striped shirt is a quintessential part of French style, adding a nautical touch to any outfit. Channel your inner sailor and feel the sea breeze, even if you're just grabbing a coffee.” Though I’m often amazed at how they manage to make it look anything but nautical when they do wear it, and I can’t help but notice this has to do with how they style it. I’ve seen Camille Yolaine—founder of French beauty brand, Yolaine—couple hers with relaxed pieces like blue jeans and a little something extra, such as a bright red headband and gold hoop earrings. During the colder months, she marries the maritime look with urban dress, styling it with dark-wash jeans, brown boots and a pop of color with a neck scarf.

french capsule wardrobe White Button-Up Shirts
Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

7. White Button-Up Shirts

One thing you’ll see in every French woman’s closet: a white button-up blouse. “Elegant and versatile, a white fluid blouse can be dressed up or down, offering a touch of effortless grace. It’s as if your wardrobe whispered, ‘Let’s be effortlessly elegant today,’” says Argenson. While Americans may see corporate upon first glance, the French see fashion, options and endless possibilities—a blank canvas, if you will. PureWow’s Senior Director of Special Projects and Royals, Rachel Bowie, demonstrated five chic and cool ways you can style a white button-up, and there are a few options that are très Parisien. Remember, it’s all about how you style it. Cute accessories like a straw bucket bag and strappy heeled sandals (as pictured above) can put an alluring, French spin on the traditional blouse.

Shop White Button-Up Shirts

french capsule wardrobe A Scarf
Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

8. A Scarf

You heard it from the expert: “No French wardrobe is complete without a scarf.” Think of the silk scarf as the Parisian way to introduce some color, add a bit of character and pizazz to a basic fit. Entirely refined and sophisticated, a dainty scarf tied around your neck can really take your outfit to the next level. “It's the perfect accessory to add a splash of color and personality to any ensemble,” Argenson notes. “Imagine tying it in countless ways, each one more sophisticated than the last.” Couple it with your blazer or, as I previously mentioned, make like Yolaine and wear it with a Breton sailor shirt.

french capsule wardrobe Cardigans
Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

9. Cardigans

For the French, cardigans are much more than a lump of wool, cotton or acrylic fabric, or a piece to combat the cold and turbulent weather in. No, they’re often the pièce de resistance of an outfit, acting as the finishing layer to a romantic sundress and heels or becoming the main focal point with a pair of jeans and boots. They’re exceptionally great pieces to wear when the weather fluctuates, too, as they can keep you warm when temps drop and on hot summer days, you can always tie them around your shoulder to keep cool and still look très cute. After all, the French know how to spot a solid sweater trend when they see it.

Shop Cardigans

french capsule wardrobe Bloomingdales Maje Magie Cardigan
Buy it
french capsule wardrobe Reformation Clara Cashmere Crew Cardigan
Buy it
french capsule wardrobe Vintage Jeans
Streetstyleshooters / Getty Images

10. Vintage Jeans

As a longtime admirer of French style, one thing I’ve always appreciated is their commitment to denim. During this year’s Paris Fashion Week, Parisians sported double denim in the form of the Canadian tuxedo. At the end of the day, the one piece that remains a constant amidst the flashy trends is a steadfast vintage pair of jeans. While a wide-leg jean may come and go, the French woman usually prefers a well-fitted, straight-leg pair of baby blues that hugs her natural curves and shows off the bum (bonus points if the hem falls just above the ankle). The closest I’ve managed to get to the vintage look is with Reformation’s Cynthia jeans, which I put to the test in an in-depth review over the course of a few months.

What Should You Consider When Shopping for a French Capsule Wardrobe?

“When shopping for a French capsule wardrobe, think of yourself as an art curator at the Louvre, selecting only the masterpieces. Each piece should tell a story and stand the test of time,” notes Argenson. Below, she’s outlined three tips to make your wardrobe stand out. Overall, prioritize classic cuts, neutral colors and high-quality fabrics that can be mixed and matched effortlessly just like the French.

  • Find pieces you have an emotional connection to: “Select items that resonate with you, pieces that have character and can ignite conversations, add a touch of nostalgia and personal history to your ensemble, like a vintage brooch inherited from your grandmother,” says Argenson. Parisians hold heirlooms near and dear to the heart, but are also not afraid to incorporate them into their everyday style. Your mother’s hand-me-down heels or your nana’s silk scarf can be the key piece that takes your outfit to the next level.
  • Go for practical elegance: “Opt for pieces that seamlessly marry style and comfort, letting you glide through the day with effortless grace, such as a navy pencil skirt with gold buttons that you can mix and match with a myriad of tops and colors, ensuring you always look effortlessly chic,” she tells me. Versatility, versatility, versatility, people. This is the key to a really good French capsule wardrobe, and you can find this in almost every item, from your cardigans to your jeans to your blazers and more.
  • Add an element of surprise: Last, but certainly not least, Argenson explains that the French are always looking for un petit unpredictability. “Add a quirky, unexpected piece to keep your style fresh and intriguing like a classic silk scarf with a whimsical, unexpected print.” Not only does it add depth and texture, but it’s also a fun way to show off your personality and taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Makes a French Capsule Wardrobe So Unique?

“To me, a French wardrobe can be summed up in three words: elegance, timelessness and practicality,” says Argenson. “It will never be overly trendy; it will never be old-fashioned.” One thing it will be is consistent in having an air of sophistication, she explains. “Picture yourself in a poppy-colored blazer, effortlessly paired with a crisp white shirt and skinny jeans, accentuated by a light red lipstick and matching red pumps. The ensemble exudes effortless charm, embodying the essence of Parisian style with every step.” As for the attitude and Parisian charm, well that’s that je ne sais quoi.

What Pieces Would a French Woman Never Buy?

“A French woman would likely never buy into overly flashy trends or anything that screams ‘trying too hard,’” explains Argenson. “Logo-heavy clothing? Non, merci. Overly distressed jeans? Pas du tout. Instead, she opts for subtle elegance and timeless pieces. Invest in a beautiful silk scarf or a classic pair of sunglasses that add just the right amount of je ne sais quoi to her look,” she adds. There’s that word again—coincidence? I think not.

IMG 0045 e1692204525583

Associate Fashion Commerce Editor

Stephanie is a natural savant in the fashion, beauty, and dating & relationships beats. She graduated with a bachelor of arts at the University of San Diego, where she majored...

Why You Should Trust Us

PureWow's editors and writers have spent more than a decade shopping online, digging through sales and putting our home goods, beauty finds, wellness picks and more through the wringer—all to help you determine which are actually worth your hard-earned cash. From our PureWow100 series (where we rank items on a 100-point scale) to our painstakingly curated lists of fashion, beauty, cooking, home and family picks, you can trust that our recommendations have been thoroughly vetted for function, aesthetics and innovation. Whether you're looking for travel-size hair dryers you can take on-the-go or women’s walking shoes that won’t hurt your feet, we’ve got you covered.