French People Never Wear Athleisure

French people have almost always been known for their style. French women in particular have a reputation for being extremely well dressed and put-together.
Despite Paris being considered one of the fashion capitals of the world, French people are a lot less likely to jump on fashion trends because of our culture around style.

One of these trends is athleisure – athletic clothing worn in leisure settings. While athleisure has become massively popular in places such as the United States, Canada, and the UK, French people haven’t exactly embraced this trend. In today’s lesson, I’ll dive deeper into this cultural difference and explain a little bit more about French style. C’est parti !

1) Do French people all wear Dior and Channel?

French people respect fashion, but we don’t (all) wear high-end designer clothes, especially outside of very formal occasions! Other more accessible French brands still offer high quality clothes without the added “bling” and inflated price of the biggest fashion names.

Because I have to say, in France you do need to dress well, even when running errands. It’s true that French people tend to dress more formally than Americans for most occasions. French culture tends to value elegance and sophistication over comfort and practicality, a bit more than North American culture.

French brands that are known for making quality clothes, that people actually wear:

  • Armor Lux: brand from Brittany, with trendy striped shirts and nautical style clothes.
  • Comptoir des Cotonniers: Chic and understated brand offering high-quality clothing and accessories for women.
  • Agnès b.: Simple yet elegant fashion brand with clean lines and minimalist style for men and women.
  • Saint James: Nautical-inspired brand specializing in high-quality striped shirts and other clothing for men and women.
  • Petit Bateau: French brand known for soft and comfortable cotton clothing for children and classic breton striped shirts for women.
  • Sézane: Trendy and elegant fashion brand for women, known for high-quality materials and attention to detail.
  • Sandro: Stylish and contemporary brand offering high-quality clothing and accessories for men and women, characterized by attention to detail and high-quality fabrics.

La mode = fashion
La haute couture = high-end fashion brands
Dior, Channel = well-known luxury brands
Bien s’habiller = dressing well

2) There are standards for everyday French clothing

Which means that there are standards. Especially in the more posh areas, and especially in Paris. Even for a casual outfit to run errands. If there are no direct French translation for the word judgmental, it might be because it’s the expected way of life here…

(Of course, culture is hard to define – it all depends on the specific people you meet, and the situations. Some French people will have different standards than others and it will depend on the occasion. And things like your social class.)

And it’s not all about the money either. French people can dress well even with second-hand clothes, upcycling them or matching them with accessories. Outfits can be a way to show our personality and creativity.

Une tenue décontractée = a casual outfit
Vinted = a popular app for second-hand online shopping
Une friperie = a thrift store
Emmaüs = a network of second-hand stores and organizations, working to combat poverty and promote sustainability.

3) Don’t wear Athleisure

Athleisure is frowned upon! Especially for events or outings, like a brunch with friends. But even for running errands at the nearest French supermarket. Even on your way to the gym!

And it’s not about the quality. A lot of athleisure can very expensive, and very well made, and very stylish. It just doesn’t seem to have that same vibe in France.

You can wear gym clothes at the gym, but it would be rare to see someone in that outfit while grocery shopping. Sports clothes are used for actually exercising, that’s all. Or as part of urban youth culture, of course, like the tracksuit.

On the other hand, French people do wear sneakers in everyday life!

Un legging, des leggings = leggings
Un jogging = sweatpants
Un survêtement = a tracksuit
La salle de sport = the gym
Faire les courses = grocery shopping
Une basket, des baskets = sneakers
Des talons hauts = high heels

4) Fitness in France

Fashion standards are a big part of the French view on wearing athleisure. But there are other things in play as well.

One of them is fitness in France. French people don’t really go to the gym as much as American people. It’s not as much of a thing. When I exercise, I’d much rather go to the park with a friend, do some exercise, and a bit of running. However, I have to admit that gyms are on the rise, you see more and more of them in French cities. Maybe that will change the standards towards wearing athleisure in the next few years.

Faire du jogging = running for exercise, going for a jog

Click here to get your free lesson:
A French culture of fitness?

5) What do French people wear?

So what do French people wear instead of athleisure? Well, it depends on the context and the season. For most French people, outfits aren’t often designed to show off, but they’re a reflection of who you are. And the key thing is being less intense, again.

Which means nothing too casual. Just like with athleisure, you won’t find a French person wearing a pyjama outside just because it’s more comfortable.
But also nothing too chic; you’ll fit in better with a blend of nice accessories and less ostentatious clothes. And we tend to avoid the brightest colors as well.

This article gives a nice breakdown of it : French people won’t be underdressed in everyday life, but we won’t dress too formal for special occasions either. We tend to avoid wearing colors that are too bright, or to over-accessorize.

Of course, these are just generalizations. There are exceptions to every rule and you might see some French people wearing athleisure from time to time. But if you want to blend in with the locals and avoid looking like a tourist when you visit France next time , you might want to leave your athleisure at home.

Keep exploring French culture with me:
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À tout de suite.
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Join the conversation!

  • Is the French attitude to fashion part of a larger concept of « savoir-vivre » ? Sabine Denuelle writes in Le Petit Larousse de savoir-vivre, « Le savoir-vivre n’a pas pour objectif de composer une apparence trompeuse… mais d’aider a ressembler dadvantage à soi-même pour améliorer le contact avec autrui. L’aisance s’apprend ; elle est faite de naturel, de simplicité, d’estime de soi, et de curiosité pour les autres. … S’imposer de force ressemble plus à un défi qu’a un échange harmonieux ».

  • Merci, Géraldine! I’ve posted this for my students who will traveling to France with me in June! Great info and links.

    • See under 3) Don’t wear Athleisure, the last sentence: ” On the other hand, French people do wear sneakers in everyday life!” I guess that maybe they consider sneakers a fashion statement?

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