Fashion, Lifestyle 34 comments

Dress Like A Parisian: Luxury Basics


So you want to stock your closet with clothes fit for the French?

Although the concept is pretty foreign to most American consumers, the French live by their “luxury basics.” That is, the French buy higher quality, more expensive products for their day-to-day wear and spend very little on their splurge or spontaneous buys.

Does this sound kind of backwards to you?

Well it is sort of contradictory to our American ideas that something common should be cheap while something trendy should be worth more.

But fashion for the French is much more like real estate: consider your every day pieces an investment. You want to get the most value per use, and a $500 jacket that lasts 1000 wears delivers twice as much value as a $50 jacket that rips or bores you after just 50.

The French fashion mantra emphasizes minimalism and lasting, classic pieces:

Buy less quantity
Buy better quality
Buy versatility

Rethinking the “Tee”

In your mind you think, “those $10 shirts from Old Navy/ Forever21/ H&M sound great – I can get five of them for the price of a tshirt at a more expensive retailer.”

Do you really need five? How many times can you wear these items before they need to be replaced – or worse – take up closet space while unworn?

The pieces you wear every day should be of such a high quality that you want to wear them every day. The fabrics should be luxurious and the fit should be “just so.”

If your budget doesn’t allow for the quality garments at j.crew or Madewell, try my new favorite clothing line: Everlane. Tshirts for $15, silk for $55 – $80, Italian cashmere for $120.


Everlane’s no-label business model means that they can sell quality fabrics without designer mark-ups, but you can count on the quality of the products – even the T-shirts.

Go For Neutrals

So let’s return to the argument about getting the most value from clothes you can wear 1000 times instead of 50. Obviously a higher quality garment will last longer, but it will also get more wears simply by being more versatile.

When you’re looking for that “investment” piece, you want to find it in a neutral shade. Here are the colors that French ladies will consider “neutral” (that means, they go with pretty much everything):

  • Black
  • Brown
  • White
  • Cream
  • Gray
  • Navy Blue

That last one is maybe new to you, but the French wear navy blue like any other neutral color. It is a staple of the French wardrobe ever since Yves Saint Laurent paired it famously with the former-favorite, black:

“Who knew that black and navy were made for each other? No one – until Yves Saint Laurent gave us permission to boldly go where no one had gone before…” -Ines de la Fressange, Parisian Chic

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t wear other bright colors you love or seasonal “trendy” colors. It just means that until you have infinite closet space, those are the pieces you spend the least amount of money on.

As your tastes or seasons change, those bright colors will transition in and out of your closet while the rest of your wardrobe remains the same.

Your Best Fabric Friends

Leather, Silk, Linnen, Cashmere, 100% Cotton

These are your luxury fabrics. The fabrics not only feel good, but they last long and their looks are classic.

A silk blouse, a cashmere sweater, and a good leather jacket will never go out of style.

In A Parisian’s Closet

So what does this mean for you? Maybe you’ve got a whole new shopping list, or maybe you’re just a few pieces down. In either case, here’s a little “laundry list” to reference. These are some of the classic luxury basics you’ll find a chic Parisian’s closet:

Luxury Basics

  • 1 Navy Blue Cashmere Sweater
  • 1 Black or Navy Tee
  • 1 White or Cream Tee
  • 1 Boyfriend Blazer
  • 1 Silk Blouse
  • 1 Pair Luxury Jeans
  • 1 Pair Trousers
  • 1 Leather Jacket
  • 2 Leather Belts (brown, black)
  • 1 Trench Coat
  • A Pair of Leather Ballet Flats
  • A Pair of Classic Heels
  • A Pair of Leather Boots
  • A Leather Handbag

What’s your take on the Parisian philosophy of luxury basics? Do you have a favorite piece of clothing you’ve had on heavy rotation for years now? Let me know about it in the comments!


  1. Love this post! Some great ideas for dressing more like French women. :)

  2. Also, I love the “laundry list” of items to own!

  3. emilygrossman

    So glad you liked it! Means a lot to me, coming from such an accomplished blogger like yourself :)

  4. Jcrew and Madewell are not really made well, but rather in the same dodgy Chinese factories as the rest of the lot – Old Navy, Gap, Banana, Macys, Kohls, etc. etc. CRAP

  5. emilygrossman

    Hi Matilda!
    I appreciate your insight. Perhaps some of the products coming out of these labels are from Chinese factories, but I know that the Italian Leather ballet slippers I wear from J.Crew came from Italy.

    In fact, I’ve found all my leather J.Crew products to be very long lasting and backed up by the label. I once had a small problem with my Edie purse clasp and J.Crew immediately replaced the entire bag at no charge.

    Perhaps we’ve had different experiences, but I feel that Italian-made Italian leather shoes are quite good quality – plus at $200 or less, it’s a product that I feel I can comfortably recommend to my readers who would probably gasp at $600 Louboutins (though I’d easily recommend those as well).

    In general, the point I’m trying to make with this post is that investing in higher quality fabrics is not a bad idea. Whether your cashmere sweater comes from Eric Bompard, J.Crew, or Everlane – it’s still better than polyester blends in my eyes.

    Which brands would you recommend? I’d love to hear more of your thoughts!

  6. Loulou in France

    I’ve been paring down my closet in the last year and working toward investing in some nicer pieces. While I love H&M, their clothes fall apart quickly and in the end, they really aren’t worth the money. I find that Banana Republic’s clothes are well made, so try to get my basics there when I’m in the US.

  7. emilygrossman

    Thanks, Loulou! I’ve had the same experience with H&M. I still shop there for trinkets and costume-y things I only need to wear a few times, but I agree with you on paring down the closet to the well-made essentials. Happy to hear Banana is still producing high quality clothes!

    What are some of your favorite places to shop in France?

  8. Loulou in France

    I like Naf Naf, Promod, Mango, Kookai, Sud Express and Zara. They’re all a bit hit and miss though, kind of like the Gap and Banana Republic can be.

  9. emilygrossman

    It absolutely is, Allison! I’m a reformed cheap-dresser myself and I have to say it makes all the difference. I’m excited for you to start loving your investment pieces year after year – it’s really fun!

  10. allison b-t

    love this post! i am very guilty of building my wardrobe with cheap crap that either falls apart immediately or i grow bored of just as quickly. i decided this year to stop wasting my money on poorly made and ill-fitting items and instead save up for really nice, sophisticated staples. i’m happy to hear it’s the french way!

  11. Where can I get a good leather jacket? What is the best color?

  12. Emily Grossman

    Hi Penny! I like Madewell or J.Crew but definitely check out some thrift shops or outlets if you want a better price! Leather is a long-lasting fabric, so the second hand items tend to still be great. Consignment stores like Crossroads or Buffalo Exchange are often great if you’re looking for designer items at used prices.

    I’d go with black or a dark brown, because they are the most versatile. Gray or honey brown could work, too, but I don’t think they go as well with *everything.* Navy blue is a great option if you really want to step out of the traditional zone, but still want something to match most other wardrobe choices.

    Hope that helps!

  13. Hello,
    Love your article, very accurate!
    And I am french ^^
    As a personnal shopper in Paris I give style advices on how to dress like a parisian on my blog.
    Which is more about knowing what fits you than about having a classic style ^^
    Here is my new post on how to wear heels.
    Bises de Paris,

  14. Emily Grossman

    Thanks, Aloïs! Loved your post on heels – very extensive and so true! If you’d ever like to guest post on with some French fashion tips, shoot me an email at — I’d love to share some of your insights!

  15. Couldn’t get enough of this post, thank you for sharing. I will be forever indebted to you for teaching a new over-all spending habit; “spend very little on … splurge or spontaneous buys”.
    Recently I have seen a need to do something about my overflowing, mis-matched wardrobe, so I’ll use the advice here as a guide.

  16. Emily Grossman

    So glad to hear you’ve found it useful, Susan! Yes, we’ve all fallen victim to the siren call of that seasonal trend, but it’s important to remember that they usually end up as next season’s dust pushers! Stay strong, my friend and go for those everlasting pieces – I’m sure your closet will enjoy a little more space this way, too!

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  18. Emily Grossman

    Thanks, bleona!

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  21. I could not agree more about luxury basics. As a teacher, my clothes get a lot of wear and a lot of scrutiny every day. Having fantastic long-lasting items in neutral colors not only gives me a closet that can hold up to the school environment, but will save me the embarrassment of a student asking “Miss Katie, didn’t you wear those bring orange leggings two days ago?” With my black skinnies, they never even notice.

    I have found that Uniqlo is a great option for cashmere, especially if you go at the end of the season you can pick up a v-neck sweater for $50-60, which is really extraordinary. At first I was concerned with the durability, but I have worn mine to death and they are still as they were when I first purchased them.

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  23. I have to say I love JCrew and they are wonderful pieces that are classics. I have started the minimalist wardrobe concept and am finding wonderful pieces that go great together, why didn’t I find out about this sooner? lol

  24. A bit late to the party but I stumbled upon your blog as it is my new years resolution to revamp my wardrobe with quality (instead of quantity). I always have trouble finding good quality and flattering singlets (I think some places call these tanks?). I need some nice basic singlets to go with patterned skirts, shorts or pants that tuck in well and seam cant be seen with tighter fitting garments.

    Would love to hear suggestions of brands, fabrics or anything else :)

  25. I bought a BCBG merlot-colored kimono blouse off of ebay for $16 in 2010. I still have it and wear it constantly! I buy a lot of my items from consignment or outlet stores. Most of my dressy or date night blouses are Nanette Lepore, BCBG, or D&G and I paid next to nothing for them. I have a D&G blouse, paid $50 for it at an outlet (has the hologram). I wear all of these items repeatedly with black pants or skinny jeans and flats. It makes it easy to get dressed in the morning and pick out outfits and since I wear the same brands I know what works.

    I get a lot of my basic t-shirts from Bebe. They go for about 30 a piece but the fabric is soft, a bit form fitting, and they last forever. They come in neutral colors but also in trendy colors so I buy a pastel shade every other season. I have about 8 of these.

  26. I would go to Nordstrom’s, Everlane, or White House black market. White house black market has seamless tanks and seamless short sleeve and long sleeve shirts. They are great quality and come in great fabrics.

  27. I think it’s important to remember that the typical French wardrobe we read about exists within the context of a French environment. Meaning – they have even better access to very high quality items there (not that we can’t get them, but maybe not as easy to shop for); they tend to have smaller closets in Paris apartments, so they can’t hoard; their culture, mentality, and lifestyle all support maintaining a healthy/slim weight rather than fluctuations, so their great finds that last for years will still fit them all those years; when many women there find what works, they just stick with it rather than experimenting too much – so the limited wardrobe works for that reason; I think there is also more judgement about what people are wearing and trying to fit in – not conformity, but a common and well-developed sense of taste, so again – the neutrals and understated clothing really works, but it’s a way to play it safe – there are less big risks/innovation/experimentation in terms of clothing styles; when in France, things will look good that might look a bit blah elsewhere. For example, what the girls wear in Los Angles (trendy) can look very different from what they wear in New York (edgy/fashion-forward) – but if you try to carry off either of those looks in the opposite cities, you won’t look nearly as cool – maybe just plain silly! So considering the entire environment you are in and what feels right there and for that lifestyle is good to do.

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  30. Hi,

    Just a thought, if you want to reference Parisian chic, you might want to use name brands that actually sell in France or that French people actually know about and buy on a regular basis… I am a Parisian and before going to the US I had NEVER EVER heard of J Crew, Madewell or Everlane… (granted, more and more sites deliver to Europe these days…)

    Some of the brands we do know though, French and foreign (in no particular order) are: Petit Bateau, Etam, Promod, 123, Un jour ailleurs, Gap, Zara, Nafnaf, Sandro, Ralph Lauren, Armani, Zadig & Voltaire, Burberry, Benetton, Morgan, H&M, Jennyfer, Max Mara, BCBG Max Azria… (And of course, other high end luxury brands, )

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