Learn to Describe More Precisely When Shopping in France

Shopping is very much a part of going on vacation, as it gives you the opportunity to walk around neighborhoods, interact with different people, and perhaps pick up something original that you cannot find at home. Shopping experiences will inevitably differ from one region to another, depending on where you visit. I remember shopping in Lyon, being in the fitting room, or the cabine d’essayage, and being interrupted several times by an attendant who opened the curtain to see what was going on. I don’t find this an effective way to sell clothing. A much more effective way is to engage in conversation with people, which is what I experienced one summer in Marseille when I was shopping with a model-y friend and people were very interested in helping us and generally quite friendly. It was also that time of year when the big sales, or soldes, were going on, and we were able to find some nice pieces at low prices.

Vêtements Clothing Vêtements Clothing
le chandail sweater le pantalon trousers, pants*
la chemise shirt le jean jeans
le chemisier blouse le short shorts
le t-shirt, tee-shirt t-shirt la jupe skirt
le pull, pull-over sweater la robe dress
le tailleur suit; trouser suit, pant suit les chaussettes (f.) socks
le costume suit les chaussures (f.) shoes
le blouson jacket les bottes (f.) boots
la veste jacket les sandales (f.) sandals
le gilet vest les ballerines (f.) ballet flats
l’anorak (m.) anorak, parka les chaussures à talon (f.) heels
le slip underpants, knickers les baskets (f.) sneakers
le calçon boxer shorts les espadrilles (f.) canvas shoes
le soutien-gorge brassier, bra les tongs (f.) flip-flops
les collants tights
le justaucorps leotard
le maillot de bain bathing suit, swimsuit
le speedo speedo
le sweat sweats

* In the American sense – outerwear, not underwear.

Accessories

Accessoires Accessories Accessoires Accessories
les boucles d’oreilles (f.) earrings la cravate tie
le bracelet bracelet l’écharpe (f.) scarf, sash
la bague ring le foulard scarf
la ceinture belt le sac bag
les lunettes de soleil (f.) sunglasses le sac à main purse
le bonnet beanie le sac à dos backpack, knapsack
la casquette baseball cap les gants (m.) gloves
le chapeau hat

Sizing

To ensure that an item fits, you can find your proper clothing size, taille, or shoe size, pointure. To speak generally of what size you might need, you can use the following terms:

Taille Size
petite small
moyenne medium
grande large

Sizing in France may be different from sizing that you are accustomed to. If you are from North America and need to feel fatter, you can appreciate jumping from a size 4 to a size 36, especially while looking at yourself in three-way mirror under fluorescent lighting just outside a fitting room while the boutique staff and other customers look on. This still won’t beat adding two sizes to what you would normally wear while in a dance store in your own country in order to find something that fits. It’s all relative.

Foo

Couleurs/Colors

Most colors change form according to gender, being descriptive words, so you will need to know the feminine and masculine forms. To make these plural, simply add an s. For colors ending in the letter e,the feminine and masculine forms are the same.

couleurs primaires primary colors
rouge red
jaune yellow
bleue, bleu blue

AUTRES COULEURS OTHER COLORS AUTRES COULEURS OTHER COLORS
rose pink brune, brun brown
pourpre crimson fauve fawn
mauve mauve blanche, blanc white
violette, violet violet grise, gris grey, gray
verte, vert green noire, noir black

The names of some colors come from nouns, which is the case for those listed below. For these colors there is no agreement. There is, however, agreement for rose, fauve, and mauve, which are exceptions.

couleurs colors couleurs colors
citron lemon (yellow) noisette hazel
kaki khaki olive olive
marine blue marine, marine blue orange orange
marron brown turquoise turquoise

For colors that are compounds, forms are invariable.

couleurs colors
bleu acier light blue
bleu marine navy blue
bleu roi royal blue
gris clair light grey
violet foncé dark purple

If you would like to be more approximate about the colors to which you refer, you can use the suffix -âtre, e.g., blanchâtre, jaunâtre, bleuâtre. This is sometimes used in a pejorative sense. We could describe socks that are not as white as they should be as blanchâtres, for example.

The names of some colors are inspired by metals, such as those listed below. These are often preceded by a preposition when modifying a noun or noun phrase. There are also have separate adjectival forms that agree with whatever they are modifying.

couleurs métalliques metallic colors
or ; d’or, en or ; dorée, doré gold, golden
argent ; d’argent, en argent ; argentée, argenté silver, silvery
bronze ; de bronze, en bronze ; bronzée, bronzé bronze
cuivre ; de cuivre, en cuivre ; cuivrée, cuivré copper, coppery

Motifs Patterns
à carreaux checkered
à fleurs flowered
à pois polka-dot
à rayures ; rayée, rayé striped
camouflage camouflage
tartan ; tissu écossais plaid, tartan

Makeup

Maquillage Makeup Maquillage Makeup
la base primer le poudre powder
le correcteur concealer le rouge à lèvres lipstick
le crayon contour liner le vernis à ongles nail polish
l’eye-liner (m.) eye liner la crème solaire sunscreen
le fard / l’ombre (f.) à paupières eye shadow SPF FPS (ou SPF)
le fard blush, rouge UVA/UVB UVA/UVB
le fond de teint foundation anti-UVA, UVB ; contre les UVA, UVB anti-UVA, UVB
l’illuminateur (m.) highlighter le courbe-cils eyelash curler
le lip liner lip liner l’éponge à maquillage (le beautyblender) beauty blender
le mascara mascara le pinceau brush

If you look at the packaging on a lot of makeup, there will be translations in multiple languages, often including French.

Other Useful Terms about Shopping

While shopping, these terms may come in handy:

français English français English
la cabine d’essayage fitting room le prix price
la caisse counter acheter to buy
la carte de crédit credit card essayer to try (on)
la carte bleue debit card bon marché cheap
le chèque check chère, cher expensive, dear*
le chèque de voyage traveler’s check en rupture de stock sold out
la monnaie change en solde on sale

* This is mainly used in the UK and reflects the uses of the corresponding term in French to denote affection as well as expense.

Shopping Phrases

français English
Est-ce que je pourrais essayer... ? Could I try on .... ?
J’aimerais... I would like ...
Je prendrai... I’ll take ...
Est-ce que je pourrais regarder... ? Could I take a look at ... ?
Est-ce que vous auriez... ? Do you have / Would you (happen to) have ... ?
Je cherche... I’m looking for ...
J’aime bien... I like ... *
Ça ne me va pas. This doesn’t fit / look good on.
Auriez-vous une autre couleur ? Would you (happen to) have another color?
C’est combien ? How much is this / it?
Est-ce que vous prenez les cartes de crédit ? Do you take credit cards?

* This is less emphatic than “J’aime...”

Addenda

It is customary to greet the people working in boutiques and shops when entering, and to thank them or say goodbye to them when leaving.

Returns are less common in France than in places such as the United States, but this might be changing. Large chain stores will usually take returns, according to whatever policy they have in place.

French clothing will have the same types of labels as in other countries with symbols for machine washing, lavage en machine, dry cleaning, nettoyage à sec, etc. The temperatures will be in Celsius.


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