talking-about-clothes-in-french

Fill Your Wardrobe with 45+ Words for Talking About Clothes in French

Are you a trendy fashionista?

Do you have an eye for thrift store finds?

Maybe you’re more of an athleisure type.

Whether we like it or not, our clothing is one of our most defining features.

That’s why it’s so important to learn how to talk about clothes in French.

Whether you’re shopping, describing how someone looks or chatting about the incredible outfit you saw on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” last night, you’ll need to know words for tops, bottoms, accessories, fabrics and sizes.

To make things easy for you, we’ve collected a whole wardrobe of words for talking about clothes in French, and sorted them by season.

Prêt à faire du lèche-vitrines? (Ready to do some window shopping?)

Parfait—on y va! (Perfect—let’s go!)

When Will You Need to Talk About Clothes in French?

There are many reasons to go beyond the basics when it comes to French clothing vocabulary.

Describing Yourself and Others

Clothing words are essential to describing personal appearance. If you were in a public place and wanted to point someone out, you’d probably mention the person’s clothes.

For example:

Vois-tu ce type là-bas? Le grand homme qui porte un costume gris en laine avec un gilet rouge? (Do you see that guy over there? The tall man wearing the gray wool suit with the red vest?)

Your friend should be able to spot the man in question fairly quickly, even in a crowded airport.

Or let’s say you’re meeting someone for a blind date. One of the first things you’d probably tell them would be something like:

Je porterai une chemise bordeaux et un chapeau bleu foncé. (I’ll be wearing a burgundy shirt and a dark blue hat.)

Your inconnu (blind date) will be able to pick you out of la foule (the crowd) at the café, and your romantic rendez-vous will get off to a good start.

Keeping Up with Wearable French Culture

France is known for its fashion. Even its geographical features are well-dressed—in France, the English Channel wears the name La Manche (literally, “the sleeve”).

talking-about-clothes-in-french

Learning French clothing vocabulary will help you appreciate that aspect of French culture better. When you read Voici magazine, you’ll be able to follow the fashions of all the best-dressed celebrities. Or you’ll stay on the cutting edge of fashion news and keep up with designs from les marques émergentes (the up-and-coming brands).

Shopping in French

These words will help you purchase clothing if you travel, live or work in French-speaking countries. You’ll need to go beyond la chemise (the shirt) or le pantalon (the pants) if you want to find stylish and appropriate clothing, especially as the weather conditions change throughout the year.

Where to Try On French Clothing Vocabulary

Having a strong vocabulary is always in fashion!

Playing Your Way to Vocabulary Mastery

Stay in style. Practice your French clothing words with these exercises and games.

Then you have the opportunity to identify each piece of clothing using multiple choice. The clothes are modeled by a lady who periodically ducks back into her dressing room to change clothes for the next round of play.

  • Quizlet offers this series of games and exercises, where you can learn 51 French clothing words, reinforce them with flashcards, then quiz yourself with a test or a choice of games.
  • Just French Clothes is a timed game in which you identify a named French article of clothing from a group of photographs. The gender and IPA pronunciation for each word flank the photographs.
  • On the beginner’s site French-Games.net, you have a choice of lessons, tests or nine different games with these two sets of primary-level French clothing vocabulary: Group 1 or Group 2.

Enjoying Video Vogue

Keep the French fashion beat with this song from Roland and Etienne Bibeau, “En vogue et à la mode” (“In fashion and in style”). This catchy rock video is subtitled so you can learn the words for various pieces of clothing by reading the French text and watching le défilé de mode (the fashion show) as you listen.

Alain LeLait’s mellow melody, Les vêtements (“Clothing”), contains lots of useful clothing vocabulary. The first time Alain sings the tune through, it’s accompanied by on-screen text, matching the lyrics and glossing the colorful drawings of clothes.

Continuing the cartoonish illustrations but stopping the music, Les vêtements/les habits(“Clothing/outfits”) from YouLearnFrench takes you item-by-item through dozens of French clothing words and their English translations.

 

Ready to hear how native speakers talk about clothes in real life? FluentU makes it possible without missing a word.

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FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.

FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:

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FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.

You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.

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For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:

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Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."

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As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.

It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.

Flipping Through Fashion Magazines

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Publications such as Elle typically have fashion sections that discuss clothing. This ladies’ shopping guide from Marie Claire will outfit you with classics and novelties of fashion.

Dapper gentlemen, look no further than the fashion reporting in GQ.

Talking About Clothes in French: 45+ Stylish Words for Every Season

Ready to be a francophone for all seasons? Grab your shopping bags and let’s get underway.

Talking About Winter Clothes in French

Keep yourself warm with a wardrobe full of winter clothing words.

To hear many of these words pronounced, with pictures, try Frencheezi’s Les Vêtements D’Hiver (“Winter Clothing”) video.

Winter Articles of Clothing

Manteau d’hiver — Winter coat

Other words you could use to describe that heavy, cozy winter coat include veste d’hiver, anorak and parka.

Gants d’hiver — Winter gloves

Gants is the general term for “gloves” of any kind.

Mitaines — Fingerless gloves

In other words, gloves with no coverings for the fingers.

Les mitaines aren’t to be confused with “mittens” in English… except in Québec, where they do mean the same as “mittens” in English.

Moufles — Mittens

Outside of Québec, the French word for a “mitten” is une moufle.

Une paire de moufles is a pair of mittens.

L’écharpe — Winter scarf

Le foulard is another word for “scarf.” However, it usually refers to a decorative lightweight scarf, often square in shape, such as those popular with Parisian women as a fashion accessory.

Le cache-col — Scarf

Literally, the “neck hider.”

Le cache-nez — Scarf or muffler

Literally, the “nose hider.”

Le cache-oreilles — Earmuffs

Similar to le cache-col and le cache-nezle cache-oreilles “hides” your ears from the bitter winter cold.

Although the oreilles (ears) part of the word is plural, the name for the article of clothing is singular.

Le bonnet, le bonnet tricoté — Knit hat/cap

Oddly enough, the word bonnet in French also refers to the cup of a soutien-gorge (bra).

Le sous-vêtement thermique/Les sous-vêtements chauds — Thermal underwear

You might also hear this garment referred to as des thermolactyls, which is a brand name for thermal clothing made by the French company Damart.

The French way of saying “long johns” is le caleçon long. (Caleçon d’homme means “boxer shorts,” and caleçon de femme means “leggings.” Caleçon will make a return in summer, as part of the French word for “swimming trunks.”)

Les bottes de neige — Snow boots

These are also called les après-ski, presumably because they’re the footwear favored by skiers who’ve left the slopes for the day and are returning to the lodge to drink hot cocoa by a roaring fire.

Le chandail — Heavy sweater

You can also say le pullover or le pull for short.

Le pantalon en velours côtelé — Corduroy pants

One of many examples of how French can be a lot wordier than English.

Les lainages — Woolens

In other words, garments made of wool.

Descriptive Words for Winter Clothes

Épais, épaisse — Heavy and/or thick

Refers to the fabric.

En laine/de laine — Woolen/made of wool

Not to be confused with the noun les lainages from earlier.

…qui gratte — Itchy

For example: une jupe en laine qui gratte (an itchy wool skirt) or des chaussettes de laine qui grattent (itchy wool socks).

Dialogue: Suivez les pistes de ski (Following the Ski Slopes)

Geneviève: Marie-Claire, tu es venue faire du ski plusieurs fois. Puis-je te demander quelque chose? (Marie-Claire, you’ve gone skiing many times. Can I ask you something?)

Marie-Claire: Bien sûr! Vas-y. (Of course! Go ahead.)

Geneviève: Quel est le meilleur genre d’écharpe à porter quand on fait du ski? (What’s the best kind of scarf to wear when you go skiing?)

Marie-Claire: Les pistes de ski sont glaciales! Te réchauffer, c’est essentiel. Moi, je porte un cache-nez en laine, et bien un chandail en laine. (The ski slopes are freezing! It’s essential to keep yourself warm. Me, I wear a wool muffler, and also a heavy wool sweater.)

Geneviève: Eh, non, je ne peux pas supporter les lainages qui gratte! (Oh, no, I can’t stand itchy woolens!)

Marie-Claire: Donc, peut-être, tu porterais une écharpe tricotée—et des thermolactyls sous un pull épais en coton. (Then maybe you could wear a knit scarf—and thermals underneath a thick cotton sweater.)

Talking About Springtime Clothes in French

When the flowers bloom, so should your springtime vocabulary. It’s time to get abuzz with excitement over these spring fashion words!

Spring Articles of Clothing

Imperméable — Rain coat

As an adjective, imperméable means “waterproof.”

A similar term is résistant(e) à l’eau, which means “water-resistant.”

Chapeau de pluie — Rain hat

This is typically a brimmed hat made of water resistant material.

Bottes en caoutchouc — Galoshes/rain boots

Literally, “rubber boots.”

Pullover léger — Light sweater

Just like it looks! Léger is an adjective that means “light.”

Maxi robe — Maxi dress

A staple since the late ‘60s and enjoying renewed popularity over the past few years, la maxi robe is a casual, ankle-length dress. It’s loosely fitted and cool, making it a great choice for almost any spring occasion.

Polo — Polo shirt

Can’t get easier than this translation!

Tunique — Tunic

A loose, flowing, blousy shirt.

Pantalon en sergé — Twill pants

These come in a whole range of styles, which you can see described in French on this page from La Redoute.

Pantalon capri/Corsaire — Capri pants

These are also called “breeches” in English.

You can also think of them as pirate-style pants, which is why they’re sometimes called corsaire in French. (Corsairs were French privateers who wore trousers similar to capri pants.)

Descriptive Words for Spring Clothes

Ample — Loose-fitting

A garment that’s ample (loose-fitting) has ample room, but isn’t too big.

If a piece of clothing is two sizes two big and you’re “swimming” in it, you’d say it was lâche.

En lin — Linen

For example, une chemise en lin (a linen shirt).

Dialogue: Les soldes de printemps (Spring Sales)

Michel: Où vas-tu, Sylvie? (Where are you going, Sylvia?)

Sylvie: Je vais au “Temps pour Printemps.” C’est mon magasin préféré! J’y vais chaque avril. (I’m going to “Time for Spring.” It’s my favorite shop. I go there every April.)

Michel: Pourquoi est-ce que c’est ton favori? (Why is it your favorite?)

Sylvie: Parce qu’ils ont les meilleures maxi-robes, les plus jolis corsaires et même les plus doux pullovers légers. Aujourd’hui, je vais acheter une tunique ample en lin. (Because they have the best maxi-dresses, the prettiest capri pants and also the softest light sweaters. Today, I’m going to buy a loose-fitting linen tunic.)

Michel: Il me semble qu’il n’y a pas des habits pour moi, là. (It seems to me that they don’t have any outfits for me there.)

Sylvie: Si! En fait, je crois qu’ils ont un polo et un pantalon en sergé en vente qui seraient parfaits pour toi! (Yes, they do! In fact, I believe they have a polo shirt and a pair of twill pants on sale that would be perfect for you!)

Michel: En ce cas, je vais t’accompagner. (In that case, I’ll come with you.)

Talking About Summer Clothes in French

Summer time, and the livin’ is easy… which is why you get to cheat a little and use English-derived words for several summer clothing items in French.

Summer Articles of Clothing

Sandales — Sandals

This is the generic word for “sandals” in French. If you’re an English speaker, it might seem familiar to you.

Tongs — Thong sandals/flip-flops

Again, there’s a certain similarity to the English term. Since the “th-” sound (like at the beginning of the word “thong”) doesn’t really exist in French, the French word mirrors the French pronunciation of the English word.

Espadrilles — Rope-soled sandals (or other rope-soled shoes)

Espadrille came into the French language through an Occitan version of a Catalan word. The term refers to the sturdy grass from which the rope soles of the sandals were traditionally woven.

Our friends in Québec use espadrilles to mean running shoes.

Short — Shorts

Similar to un jean for “a pair of jeans,” un short is “a pair of shorts” in French.

Débardeur — Tank top/Sleeveless T-shirt

A débardeur is also a name for a longshoreman or stevedore. The garment was named after the workers who favored this style.

Tank tops are commonly called le marcel after Marcel Eisenberg, who ran a hosiery shop. In the 19th century, Eisenberg began manufacturing sleeveless shirts for dock workers, and the style came to bear his name.

Dos-nu — Halter top

Le dos-nu refers to a generally sleeveless style in which the wearer’s back is mostly or completely uncovered. Usually, the material from the front of the bodice is secured behind the wearer’s neck, often in a knot or a bow.

Le dos-nu can be a separate top, or it can describe the bodice of a dress. It’s not to be confused with le petit haut, which is specifically for “crop top” and features a bare midriff.

Robe bain de soleil — Sun dress

Literally, “sunbathing dress.”

Maillot de bain — Swimsuit/Bathing suit

The word maillot by itself can mean jersey—as in le maillot jaune, the coveted yellow jersey designating the Tour de France rider with the best overall time.

A maillot une-pièce is a one-piece swimsuit, while a maillot deux-pièces is a two-piece swimsuit or bikini.

Caleçon de bain/Slip de bain — Swim trunks

As promised, caleçon makes its appearance in summer fashion. This time, it’s a term for swim trunks.

Depending on who’s wearing it, le slip de bain can also mean “bikini bottoms.”

For those longer, looser board shorts, use the term short de surf.

Descriptive Words for Summer Clothes

Tenue de plage  Beachwear

Use this term to describe your beach-ready wardrobe in general.

Pudique  Modest

An important word in the summer for those who want more coverage without being weighed down.

You may also notice that la mode pudique (modest fashion) is becoming more recognized and catered to by clothing brands.

Dialogue: La tenue de plage (Beachwear)

Pauline: Tu vas à la plage cet été, Justine? (Are you going to the beach this summer, Justine?)

Justine: Oui, comme d’hab’. (Yes, as usual.)

Pauline: J’aimerais mettre à jour ma tenue de plage. Hier soir, j’ai vu un short de surf super chouette au catalogue—léger, avec de protection solaire intégré au tissu. (I would like to update my beachwear. Yesterday, I saw a really cool pair of board shorts in the catalogue—light, with sun protection built in to the fabric.)

Justine: Fantastique! Moi, j’aimerais trouver un maillot une pièce. (Fantastic! I’d like to find a one-piece swimsuit.)

Pauline: Pas un maillot deux-pièces?! (Not a two-piece?!)

Justine: Non, un bikini n’est pas assez pudique pour moi. (No, a bikini isn’t modest enough for me.)

Talking About Fall Clothes in French

Let your wardrobe be as colorful as the changing autumn leaves around you.

Fall Articles of Clothing

Coupe-vent  Windbreaker

Literally, “slice-wind.”

Pull à col roulé — Turtleneck

Col roulé by itself refers to the style of collar, which is called a roll-neck or polo neck in British English.

Jean  Jeans

This word is plural in English, but—like le short—is singular in French.

Veste en jean  Denim jacket

The word “denim” originally derives from “serge de Nîmes,” a twill fabric manufactured in southern France.

Nevertheless, a denim jacket is called a “jean jacket” in France—thus borrowing back the English word “jeans” for the garment made from denim, which originally came from the French jean fustian (referring to a Genoan fabric similar to denim, made of cotton and flax).

And ‘round and ‘round the language goes…

Collant en laine — Woolen tights

In the context of clothing, the French word collant means “clingy,” “skintight” or “close-fitting.”

Le collant de danseuse is a leotard.

Le collant d’homme are leggings, as in Shakespearian hose or tights for men.

Chemise en flanelle — Flannel shirt

Remember chemise en lin from earlier? Same grammatical structure here.

Gilet tricoté  Knitted cardigan

Be sure to pronounce the gilet with a soft “g.”

Sweat à capuche  Hoodie

New world meets old in the name for this garment.

“Sweat” is short for the English word “sweatshirt,” an article of clothing developed in the mid-1920s. Capuche, meaning “hood,” came from the Italian cappuccio (cloak) through Middle French in the late 16th century. (And, of course, the frothy coffee drink “cappuccino” derives from the same root, reflecting the color of the Capuchin monks’ hoods.)

Blazer — Blazer

An iconic part of private school uniforms, blazers are also a versatile part of an autumn wardrobe.

The final “r” is pronounced in French. Unlike English, the stress is on the second syllable.

To refer to any school uniform, use the cognate uniforme scolaire.

Phrases for Back-to-school Clothes Shopping

Prendre les mesures de quelqu’un — To take someone’s measurements

You might also get asked, quelle taille faites-vous? (What size are you?)

Essayer un vêtement — To try on a piece of clothing

For a full on shopping spree, you could say essayer des vêtements (try on clothes).

Lécher les vitrines/Faire du lèche-vitrines — To go window-shopping

These expressions literally mean “to lick the shop windows!”

Dialogue: Les nouveaux habits pour l’école (New School Clothes)

Maman: Allons-y, Andrée! Nous devons t’acheter un nouveau uniforme scolaire. (Let’s go, Andrea! We’ve got to buy you a new school uniform.)

Andrée: J’aimerais mieux porter un jean et un sweat à capuche, Maman. (I’d rather wear jeans and a hoodie, Mom.)

Maman: Quand même, il faut que tu portes l’uniforme. (Regardless, you have to wear the uniform.)

{Quelques minutes plus tard… } [A few minutes later… ]

Maman: D’accord, nous sommes ici au magasin. Voilà, une vendeuse. (Okay, here we are at the shop. There’s a saleslady.)

Bonjour, Madame. Ma fille a besoin d’un nouveau uniforme scolaire—un blazer, une jupe, un pull à col roulé et un collant en laine. Elle va au lycée Jeanne d’Arc, rue la Fontaine. (Hello, ma’am. My daughter needs a new school uniform—a blazer, a skirt, a turtleneck and wool tights. She goes to Joan of Arc High School, on Fountain Street.)

La vendeuse: Bon, mademoiselle. Quelle taille faites-vous? (All right, miss. What size are you?)

Andrée: J’sais pas, moi… (I dunno… )

La vendeuse: Pas de problème. On prend les mesures maintenant, et puis, vous essayerez quelques tailles. (No problem. We’ll get your measurements now, and then, you’ll try on a few sizes.)

 

Try these words on for size, fit and finish as often as you can. Whether you’re just window shopping or you’re planning to buy a whole new wardrobe, these words will help you talk about clothes in French all year ’round.


Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in at least three others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles and phonemes, Michelle is a freelance content writer and education blogger. Find out more at stellawriting.com.

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