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.
Of course, not everyone’s a fashionista.
But brushing up on basic French clothing vocabulary is a must for any learner.
Being able to talk about clothes in another language is immensely practical, and it’s also fun!
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.
Regardless of your goals in learning the French language or your travel plans, doing so can be easy and entertaining, and it’ll really serve you well down the line.
Getting to grips with new words takes a little practice, so in this post, we’ll look at some creative ways to learn French clothing vocabulary. We’ll also give you a starter list of some basic words 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!
How to Learn French Clothing Vocabulary
Make paper dolls and paper clothing flashcards
Using flashcards is a tried and tested method, but you may want to think a little outside the box where learning French with flashcards is concerned. By using paper dolls as a starting point and selecting a new type of clothing for them to wear each week, you can construct paper clothing “flashcards” to use as visual cues. Cutting pants and dresses to shape and writing the French words on the back will help you to memorize these words faster.
While just making the paper clothes will give you a great start on beginning to remember those new words, it’s always a great idea to test yourself at regular intervals. This type of learning works particularly well if you’re in a class, or learning in pairs, so if you’re learning French on your own, you may want to consider teaming up with other learners for vocab study.
Here’s one fun game you can play with a partner: Stack up the type of clothing you want to focus on for the week—for example, you may choose “outdoor clothes” as a theme. Divide the paper clothing into piles and test your partner on the word for each item. If they get it right, they can keep the piece—the person with the most clothes at the end is the winner!
Alternatively, this process works really well as a dressing game. Make two paper dolls and find a language partner. Repeat the same vocabulary game, this time using two piles of a complete outfit. The first person to successfully dress their paper person is the winner.
Raid your wardrobe and dress yourself in French for the week!
If you’re learning French vocabulary on your own, however, there are still many ways you can go about it. Using any active task to test yourself is great for really committing new vocabulary to memory.
Individual clothing challenges are one way to test your knowledge. This is an activity that you can build on as your vocabulary surrounding different types of clothing, colors and description becomes more advanced: At the start of the week, make a list of the outfit you’ll wear each day and write it down, in French. On another sheet of paper, write down the English translations so that you can test your responses. Each day, use the French list to dress yourself and then check to see whether or not you’ve got it all right!
You can also play this game with friends, writing each other clothing lists in French for the week. Let them keep the English translation, and each day, send them a photo of what you think they wanted you to wear, according to their list in French. This is a fun way to stay motivated and to learn new vocabulary in no time at all.
Practice with French clothing websites and brands
Learning vocabulary is all well and good, but if you want to familiarize yourself with French clothing in general, looking at native websites is the perfect place to start. While you don’t have to do any shopping on the websites, simply navigating around is a great way to get to grips with clothing items and all their variations.
There are a ton of popular French clothing brands to add to your routine and make learning a little more interesting. If you’re planning a trip to France, it’s also a great way to take a sneak peek at the types of clothes on offer!
The French chain Monoprix, while not incredibly fashion-forward (they’re sort of like Target in the U.S.), is an accessible option to check out online. They have a varied and diverse range of clothing and also stock cosmetics, home items and toys. They even have a well-stocked supermarket. In France, locals might be more likely to prefer smaller shops for their clothes shopping, but Monoprix’s range makes it a perfect online resource for practicing your vocabulary!
In the top section of the site, mode (fashion) will take you to the clothing selection. From there, there are tons of different options depending on the types of clothing you want to practice with. If you’re interested in women’s clothing, the femme (woman) option will take you directly there. You can find men’s clothing under homme (man).
You’re given the option of selecting à la une (featured) or looking more specifically for what you want. Selecting the chemises (shirts) option, for example, you’re then able to choose the taille (size) and couleur (color) for a more advanced search.
If you follow à la une, you have the option to search for les nouveautés (latest). Once again, you can refine your search by using the taille and couleur menus, and browse as you wish!
Setting yourself a shopping challenge is a really great way of taking advantage of everything that French websites have to offer and can help perfect your vocabulary.
First of all, choose a website that you want to use. It’s worth picking a new site for each challenge, as layouts and vocabulary differ quite a lot depending on the brand or store. In addition to Monoprix, stores like Petit Bateau, Promod, Cyrillus and Camaïeu are all great places to start.
Imagine you’re a personal assistant and shopping for a new client. Think about the kind of person they are and the event they’re going to. Once you have your criteria in mind, start looking at the websites. Listing an entire outfit, with shoes and accessories, will really help to test your abilities and can also be a really fun way of learning. Navigate the sites and select clothes for your client. Of course, you don’t actually need to buy anything—it’s just a learning exercise!
Using interactive challenges like this is a great way to get on top of French clothing vocabulary. Making these lessons a part of your routine and daily life will enable you to familiarize yourself with words much more rapidly, and might just inspire you to visit France, too. There are a ton of great French clothing and fashion websites out there for native speakers that you can take advantage of, too. Pretty soon, you’ll have mastered the whole world of French clothing vocabulary!
French Clothing Vocabulary: 30 Dapper Words for Dressing Yourself en Français
To prepare you for getting started with the above activities, here are some basic French clothing words you should learn before going more in-depth.
To expand your fashion vocabulary even further, you can always head on over to FluentU.
Sign up for a free trial with FluentU to make your next shopping trip a breeze!
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 pull — sweater (US) / jumper (UK)
- La chemise — shirt
- Le tee-shirt — T-shirt
- La robe — dress
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 described 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 pantalon — pants/trousers
- Le jean — jeans
- La jupe — skirt
- Le short — shorts
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.
- Le manteau — coat
- La veste — sports coat/jacket
- Le blouson — jacket
- L’imperméable — raincoat
- Le chapeau — hat
- L’écharpe — scarf
- Les gants — gloves
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 costume — suit
- Le smoking — tuxedo
- Le bikini — bikini
- Le maillot de bain — bathing suit
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.
- La cravate — tie
- La ceinture — belt
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.
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 baskets — sneakers
- Les bottes — boots
- Les pantoufles — slippers
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 pyjama — pajamas
- Le slip — underwear
- Le caleçon — (men’s) underpants
- La culotte — (women’s) panties
- Les chaussettes — socks
- Le soutien-gorge — bra
Grouping your French clothing in categories like those shown above and learning one section at a time will help you master your vocabulary more effectively in the long run.
If you use the suggested practice activities above, and 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!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.