Many people wear bérets in France… But most of them are tourists. Especially in Paris! French people rarely wear bérets.
Let’s talk about some “French” fashion trends, and explain where the stereotypes fall short, and what we actually wear.
1 – Le béret
The tradition of le béret comes from South-Western France (and Northern Spain), from the area of le Béarn or le Pays Basque ; that’s why it’s also called le béret basque, especially when it’s black and functional.
The French béret is a flat, round felt hat, originally worn by shepherds and farmers to get some protection from the sun and rain. Over time, it became associated with French culture, as it was used by French military forces, artists, and intellectuals in the early 20th century.
Nowadays, nobody wears the béret as an everyday accessory in France – especially in cities.
In Paris and the main French traveling sites, people wearing béret will almost all be tourists. It’s a stereotype that’s not even that clever, like wearing a really wide hat in Mexico. It might be possible to pull it off, but it’s not easy.
There are some exceptions, of course. Mainly some old men in rural villages, some young people partying in Basque country, and some people in the South-West reclaiming the béret, wearing it as a sign of pride in their region.
And other French fashion clichés also have a kernel of truth in them!
Ressources about le béret on YouTube:
- Douce France: l’histoire du béret
- Ni vu ni connu – a lovely 1958 movie set in rural France, starring extremely famous comedian Louis de Funès, as a béret-wearing poacher-trickster figure, making fun of the pompous mayor and local policeman. His hat here helps ground him as a humble man from the land.
2 – La marinière
La marinière is a shirt with horizontal stripes, classically white and blue, originally for French sailors. They’re linked to the area of Western France by the sea, like la Normandie and la Bretagne. They’re indeed in many French people’s une garde-robe (= a wardrobe)… but we don’t wear it as often as you might think from seeing stereotypes of French people, or fashion from
Ressources about la marinière :
3 – Une écharpe
Une écharpe = a scarf (warm), reserved for winter and cold days
Un foulard = a scarf (for summer), often in la soie (= silk)
More ressources on French scarves:
- Le carré Hermès = a “square” (carré) silk scarf, by luxury brand Hermès. It’s only one example of French summer scarves, but this one has its own Wikipedia page.
- Un foulard is also used as the name of the headscarves worn by many Muslim women.
4 – Neutral colors and general fashion
French women tend to be cautious about flashier colors. We’d rather buy clothes with neutral colors – like white, beige, black or le bleu marine (= navy blue.) So you can mix and match more easily, even with some more colorful clothes when you feel like it.
French people also tend not to dress too formally, even for social events – but never dress too informally, even for getting groceries!
French fashion is often simple, elegant, and mostly functional. We’d rather invest in high-quality, versatile clothing that can be mixed and matched to create various looks.
Wear a shirt or a dress that fits well, with timeless, versatile cuts and colors, and keep accessories minimal. Opt for a few well-chosen accessories to complement your outfits, rather than overloading on statement pieces. And here you have it: the real Parisian chic.
More ressources :
- Fashion interview with Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu (Sylvie in Emily in Paris) – as she says, “Une vraie Parisienne c’est quelqu’un qui a l’air d’être chic sans avoir du tout travaillé son chic.” = “A real Parisian woman is someone who looks chic, without looking like she worked on being chic.”
- Some popular French clothing brands for everyday life:
– Comptoir des Cotonniers
– Agnès b.
Authentic French fashion can be far from the stereotypes often portrayed. And yet sometimes, you might want to buy a béret at the little souvenir shop. So you can wear it yourself because you like it – or buy it as a present for people back home!
Keep exploring real everyday French culture with me:
- French people never do these 5 things
- French people never wear athleisure
- French people never snack
- French people never eat alone
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
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