French Clothing Vocabulary: How to Talk About Fashion in French
It’s not hard to see why France has a reputation for great fashion.
Go to any French city, and you’ll see some of the most chic-ly dressed people in the world.
Just like with learning to count, learning the alphabet or mastering the present tense, it’s ideal to get on top of your basic clothing terms at an early stage in your French learning.
In this post, I’ll show you some of the most essential French clothing vocabulary you should know.
Whether you’re planning a shopping trip to Paris or you buy most of your clothes at your local thrift store, you’ll soon be talking about clothes entirely in French!
- Outdoor Clothing
- Special Occasion Clothing
- Underwear and Sleepwear
- Clothing Verbs
- And one more thing...
As in the English language, there are many variations on clothing tops in French. While grasping each one might seem challenging at first, it won’t be long before you know all of the niche differences without a second thought!
|Le débardeur||Tank top|
|La chemisette||Blouse (short-sleeved)|
|Le polo||Polo shirt|
While these are fairly straightforward, there are a few subtleties to be aware of. Un tee-shirt, for example, doesn’t always have to be short-sleeved, and might refer to a thinner long-sleeved top.
Une chemise is typically used to describe both shirts and blouses, although un chemisier specifically refers to a blouse.
Many of these in the French language take direct influence from English, so learning them is easy. As in the case of many other words such as le week-end (the weekend) and le tennis (tennis), the only difference with some of these is that they’re pronounced with a French accent.
|Le bermuda||Bermuda shorts|
|Le pantacourt||Capri pants|
|La culotte gainante||Shapewear|
Take note that while “pants,” “shorts” and “jeans” in English are plural, in French, they aren’t. Make sure you talk about them in the singular.
The world of outdoor clothing in French is particularly rich and there are many variations that come up. The way you refer to very similar but necessarily different items in French might take a little longer to get used to. If you make a mistake, though, don’t worry; French speakers will still be able to understand what you mean.
|Les vêtements d'extérieur||Outdoor clothing|
|La veste de randonnée||Hiking jacket|
|Le chapeau de soleil||Sun hat|
|Le pantalon de randonnée||Hiking pants|
|Les bottes de randonnée||Hiking boots|
|Les gants de ski||Ski gloves|
|La veste coupe-vent||Windbreaker|
|Le pantalon imperméable||Waterproof pants|
|Les chaussures de marche||Walking shoes|
|Le sac à dos||Backpack|
|Le gilet de sauvetage||Life jacket|
Outdoor coats and jackets can throw up a few difficulties for French learners. Un manteau, for example, is usually used to refer to a heavier winter coat worn during the winter months.
Distinguishing between une veste and un blouson might also seem tricky at first: Typically, une veste is a lighter jacket, sport coat or blazer that’s often a little longer in length than sweaters and other shirts. Un blouson, however, might refer to a heavier, shorter jacket that provides a little more warmth. (This could be a bomber jacket or leather jacket.)
The differences between these two can throw up a few problems, even amongst native speakers, so don’t worry too much about getting them wrong!
Special Occasion Clothing
Knowing about clothing for special events or vacations in French is always worth paying attention to, as it may come up in conversation. Getting to know what to take with you on vacation can be equally useful; planning a beach trip in France is very popular, and natives take their time off very seriously!
|Le maillot de bain||Bathing suit|
|Les chaussures de soirée||Evening shoes|
|Le smoking||Dinner jacket|
|La robe de cocktail||Cocktail dress|
|Le noeud papillon||Bow tie|
|Les chaussures habillées||Dress shoes|
|Le costume trois pièces||Three-piece suit|
|La Cravate en soie||Silk tie|
French speakers like to finish their outfits with the perfect accessories, and paying attention to the words for them can be very useful when in a French-speaking country.
|Le bijou||The jewel|
|Le sac||The bag|
|La ceinture||The belt|
|Le chapeau||The hat|
|Les gants||The gloves|
|Le parapluie||The umbrella|
|Les lunettes||The glasses|
|Le foulard||The scarf|
|Le portefeuille||The wallet|
|La cravate||The tie|
|Le collier||The necklace|
|Les chaussettes||The socks|
|Le parfum||The perfume|
|Le bracelet||The bracelet|
You might even notice that une cravate looks identical to the word “cravate” in English. In fact, it was borrowed from the French to describe the neckerchief or handkerchief some men choose to wear when dressing up.
Hats are a key part of many different outfits, so if you want to be specific about the hat that you want to buy or wear, here are the names of some popular hats in French.
|Le panama||Panama hat|
|Le bob||Bucket hat|
Types of shoes vary in France and, depending on what you’re referring to, there could be any number of variations out there. Like in English, while using the generic term les chaussures (shoes) does work, it can pay to be a little more specific in conversation, or when searching for something to buy.
|Les talons hauts||High heels|
|Les chaussures de sport||Sports shoes|
While there are many instances of French words being lifted from the English, here’s a good example of why you have to be careful of how those words are being used: Although baskets are used to refer to sneakers, the word used in the singular form, le basket, refers to the game of basketball.
Similarly, les tennis can be used to describe tennis shoes, but in its singular form, le tennis, it refers to the game. The association between French and English can be simple, but it pays to know your singular from your plural!
Underwear and Sleepwear
With there being completely different sizing systems from countries outside of Europe, underwear shopping in France might throw you for a loop. It pays to know what you’re looking for when out shopping and knowing a few appropriate words can be a big help.
While different regions might refer to underwear with their own slang words, the following are universally accepted descriptions, and will always be understood.
|Le caleçon||(Men's) underpants|
|La culotte||(Women's) panties|
|La chemise de nuit||Nightgown|
|Le soutien-gorge de sport||Sports bra|
|Les sous-vêtements thermiques||Thermal underwear|
If you want to opt for a patterned shirt or other garment rather than a plain block color, here are some common ways to refer to different patterns in French.
|Le pois||Polka dots|
When constructing sentences about clothes that you or other people are wearing, verbs are a key element to the equation. Take a look at these verbs that you can combine with the above French clothing vocabulary to talk about fashion in French.
|Essayer||To try on|
|Enfiler||To put on|
|Enlever||To take off|
|S'habiller||To get dressed|
|Se déshabiller||To get undressed|
|Ranger||To tidy up|
|Boutonner||To button up|
|Ziper||To zip up|
|Grandir||To grow (out)|
To see some of the above words used in context, you could check out this video of native French speakers talking about their clothing from Easy French.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Now you know the most essential French clothing vocabulary!
If you start to approach clothes in French the same way you would in English, you might be surprised at how quickly you’re able to catch on!
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
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For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
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