“C’est chic!”: What to say when shopping in France

From designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel, and Louis Vuitton to the notoriety of Paris fashion week, France is an international hotspot for shopping. To make the most out of your shopping experience in France, here are some must-know phrases to learn.

Finding the stores

Looking for a clothing store in Paris is not an easy task due to all the different options to choose from. If you want to ask a local for recommendations, these are useful phrases to know:

“Je cherche des boutiques de prêt-à-porter. »
-  « I am looking for ready-to-wear boutiques.” ‘Pret-a-porter’ literally translates to ‘ready-to-wear,’ a term developed when industrial production of clothing took over handmade and “sur mesure” (custom-made) clothing. This term was popularized in the 20th century.

« Où se trouvent les rues commerçantes ? »
-  « In what streets can I find fashionable boutiques?” In Paris, there are several of these ‘districts’ or rues (streets) which will differ in style. You will find high-luxury designer streets, thrift store streets, or commercial chain store ones.

“Que cherchez-vous exactement ? »
-  “What exactly are you looking for?” This is a typical response you may hear when asking a Parisian person where to go shopping. If you are looking for clothes to go out dancing, you can respond: “Je cherche une tenue pour sortir danser.”

“Où se trouve le magasin Dior le plus proche ? »
-  « Where is the closest Dior store to here?” Of course, you can substitute Dior with any other brand name or company in this formulation.

« Quelles sont les boutiques branchées du coin ? »
-  « What are the trendy boutiques of the area” Instead of “branchees,” you could also say stylees, meaning stylish.

“Je cherche un magasin de haute-couture proche d’ici. »
-  « I am looking for a high-fashion store near here.”

« Parlez-vous anglais ? »
-  “Do you speak English?” No matter the situation, it is always good to know this one by heart in case of an emergency.

“Connaissez-vous des boutiques de chaussures dans les environs ? »
- « Do you know of any shoe stores in the area?” Further down I have a list of vocabulary words for clothing articles. You can replace “chaussures” with just about any other article of clothing – robes, costumes, bijoux…

“J’adore votre pantalon! Où l’avez-vous acheté ? »
-  « I love your pants ! Where did you buy them?” It is less common in France to compliment a stranger on their appearance, so do not be surprised if people are taken aback if you give them a compliment.

The Neighborhoods

In what “quartiers” should you be doing your shopping? Of course, Les Champs Elysees is a fashion hotspot, but it has become very commercial or very luxurious. Here are some other places to check out:

“Le Marais.”

Paris’ oldest neighborhood. Located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, this cobblestone neighborhood not only features delicious bistros and antique bookstores, but there is also a wide-array of fashionable boutiques to shop from.

“Boulevard Haussmann.”

Near the Opera spans a 2.5km street of fashionable stores, boutiques, and a centre commercial (mall). It is in the 8th and 9th arrondissements, and it is surrounded by historical monuments, parks, and museums.

Les Friperies

Looking to do some thrifting? Look no further than at Rue de la Verrerie, near the intersection with Rue du Renard. Here you will find thrift stores “by the kilo” with vintage, edgy, and inexpensive pieces.

Once you are in the store

If you are looking for expert advice on fashion and style, you may ask one of the people working to give you recommendations. The first thing you may be asked when given recommendations is:

« C’est pour quelle occasion ? »
-  « What occasion is it for?” The worker may respond to you by asking this question, to get a better understanding of the style you are aiming for.

« Je cherche un costume pour un mariage. »
-  « I am looking for a suit for a wedding.” If you are one of the groom’s best men, you could say, “Je suis le garçon d’honneur”, translating to “I am the best man.” In the case of bridesmaids, you can say “Je suis la demoiselle d’honneur”, which means “I am the bridesmaid.”

« Je cherche une tenue pour un entretien professionnel. »
-  « I am looking for an outfit for a professional interview.” For your first day of work, you could say, “Je cherche une tenue pour ma première journée de travail.”

« Je cherche une robe pour assister à un gala. »
-  « I am looking for a dress to attend a gala.” You can replace “une robe” in this phrase with any other clothing item: “Une chemise” (a dress shirt), “une echarpe” (a scarf), “des gants” (gloves)…

« Je cherche quelque chose de classique en noir ou bleu foncé. »
-  « I am looking for something classic in black or dark blue.” Remember, never mix dark blue and black in an outfit – especially not in France!

A Question of Taste

If you are really trying to integrate into the French fashion world, you will need to know how to assert your opinions. Here are some basics to knowing how to say “I like…” or “I don’t like…” specifically related to shopping:

“Quel genre de style cherchez-vous ? »
-  What kind of style are you looking for?

“Je cherche quelque chose de chic. »
-  “I am looking for something chic.”

“Je cherche une tenue à porter au bureau. »
-  “I am looking for an outfit to wear to the office.”

“Je n’aime pas trop le rose, ni le vert.”
-  “I do not like pink nor green all that much.”

“Aimez-vous celui-ci?”
-  “Do you like this one?” The kind of question you would be asked after a worker brings an array of recommendations for you to look through.

“Non, je déteste!"
-  “No, I hate it!” Although this would be very rude to respond with, it is a funny one to know.

“J’adore!”
-  “I love it!”

"Je suis désolé, mais je n’aime vraiment pas ce style. »
-  « I’m sorry, but I really do not like this style.”

“C’est parfait. Absolument magnifique!”
- “It is perfect. Absolutely magnificent!” This one is a bit overboard, especially for France. That said, you can always use “perfect” and “magnifique” separately.

“Je cherche quelque chose de jeune et moderne. »
-  « I am looking for something young and modern.” Although ‘young’ is not used as much in English as an adjective to describe a specific style, in French, ‘young’ and ‘old’ are common descriptors for fashion.

“Je cherche quelque chose d'original et décontracté. »
-  « I am looking for something original and easy-to-wear.” It is difficult translating “decontracte” in English in this context: it means relaxed, laid back, and easygoing.

“Avez-vous des tenues un peu dans le style bobo ? »
-  « Would you have any outfits in king of the “bo-bo” style?” Bo-bo is the abbreviation of “bourgeois boheme,” or bohemian chic, in English.

The Shoes

Let us be honest with ourselves, it is hard to not splurge on ten different pairs of shoes when in Paris. If you want to sound fashion connoisseur, here is some must-know vocabulary when shoe-shopping:

“Je cherche des bottines en cuir. »
-  « I am looking for small leather boots.” Bottine typically refers to an ankle-high and low-heel boot. They are in style across Europe right now and are easy to find and easy to wear.

“Vendez-vous des talons pour sortir danser ? »
-  « Do you sell heels to go out dancing?” From stilettos to platforms to Louis XV, the dictionary of types of heels is vast. Make sure you are getting comfortable yet chic shoes to go out dancing all night.

“J’aimerais des escarpins pour assister à mes conférences de travail. »
-  « I would like escarpins to attend my work conferences.” Escaparins feature a pointed toe, a thin sole, and a medium-height heel. They are very chic and a classic staple of French fashion.

The Accessories

Accessories are very important in French fashion. From handbags to jewelry, the list is long. Here is a list of some important factors of any good fabric:

“Je voudrais un sac à main pour aller avec cette robe. »
-  « I am looking for a purse to go with this dress.” ‘Sac a main’ literally translates to ‘bag for hands.’ Just as with ‘purse,’ this can mean a wide variety of styles and materials.

“Vendez-vous des bijoux ? »
-  « Do you sell jewelry ? » Boutiques will often have a rack or two of necklaces and rings in their window display.

“Je cherche une robe, un collier, et des boucles d’oreille en ensemble. »
-  « I am looking for a dress, a necklace, and earrings as an outfit.” ‘Ensemble,’ in this case, means ‘together,’ so it could mean either as an outfit or in matching styles.

Technicalities for Shopping

There are often questions we ask in our native tongue that we forget to learn in other languages because they seem insignificant. These questions, however, are often the most important to learn. Here are go-to phrases to know when you are shopping in a store in France:

“Où est le rayon pour hommes/femmes ? »
-  « Where is the men’s/women’s section?”

« Auriez-vous le même article une taille au-dessus ? »
-  « Would you have this same article in the size above?” This you would ask the worker if the sizing was off. Remember, in France, and in Europe in general, the sizes are smaller than in the US. A US ‘small’ will often be a French ‘medium’

« Où se trouvent les cabines d’essayage ? »
-  « Where are the fitting rooms located?” Returning clothes to stores is more uncommon than in, say, America, especially in small boutiques. You may be given a weird look if you try to return something, so make sure to try it on before purchasing.

« Jusqu’à quelle heure êtes-vous ouverts ? »
-  « Until what time are you open?” Stores and boutiques in France do not have the same schedules as in the US. Stores will typically open at around 10 AM, close from noon to 2PM, and finish the day at 7PM.

« Combien cela coûte ? »
-  « How much does this cost?” Also, remember that in France clothing tax is already included in the price - meaning whatever price you see is the price you will pay, no hidden fees at the checkout counter.

Conclusion

Shopping in France is not only a fun day-time activity, but it is also rich in artistic, cultural, and historical significance. It has not been named a capital of fashion for nothing. Learning this vocabulary and these phrases will make the experience even more enriching.

Amusez-vous bien, enjoy!