What Shoes Should You Wear In France?

Downward view of a man's and woman's feet as they stand on a Paris street

Jami Saunders / Getty Images

If you are like me, chances are you have a number of pair of shoes in your closet. It's not easy to pick the ones to travel with. Of course, part of the choice should be comfort. French people love their shoes, and there is a certain shoe etiquette to follow if you want to fit in when traveling to France. Especially for men since French men are quite peculiar about their shoes.

Women's Shoes

The problem with shoes is that they take a lot of room when you are packing, so which shoes to bring is definitely worth some of your consideration. Pack shoes that are versatile, and that you can wear in different situations.

French women wear high-heels but don't usually wear super high heels. Contrary to what you may think, heel shoes French women actually wear are kind of conservative. The thing is in France, particularly in big cities, you can expect to walk. You won't find parking just in front of the restaurant. Valet is not always an option. And with the typical paved Parisian streets, if you don't want to break your ankle, you have to be somewhat conservative.

For everyday, older women will still wear heel shoes. It's a question of generation. If you're working in a bank or in a somewhat formal environment, "un tailleur" (women's suit) and some kind of heel shoes will be recommended. "Normal" French women would wear comfortable shoes, flats, such as Bensimon, Tods, or some kind of sandals or ballerinas. Birkenstocks and Crocs were fashionable for a short while, but they are not typical of what a French woman would wear.

And forget about going to work with sports shoes and a women's skirt suit and changing into your heels in the elevator! A French woman would still wear some kind of ballerinas with a suit, on her way from the métro to work, and then maybe change into heels at work. Yes, most French women are kind of fashion victims, and if comfort is important, style is usually even more important.

Men's Shoes

The biggest difference in shoes between France and the US is concerning men's shoes. French men wear bulky sports shoes to practice sports—not to go out. There is a US trend in France—it can be trendy to wear a hoodie over loose jeans and the latest Nikes or Timberlands boots. It flies when you are in your twenties. But after, your sense of fashion has to grow up.

There's a kind of shoe that is typical for French (younger) men: they are tennis shoes, with laces, but smaller, more delicate than athletic—kind of old fashioned tennis shoes, like street shoes or sneakers. French men (and women) wear them in different colors, but often kind of toned-down, darker colors (as opposed to the often very flashy athletic shoes). They are made of cloth or leather, or suede. Famous brands include Converse or Vans. Skateboarding dudes wear them in the US and this is the typical shoe for a Frenchman in a casual setting, in all seasons.

In summer, French men, often a bit older or of higher social class (les bourgeois = preppy crowd) wear what we call "des chaussures de bateau" which can be worn with or without socks, or leather loafers such as Tods. 

For young adults, les tongs (flip-flops) are also very fashionable, especially with the summer being so hot lately. But, and this is essential, a Frenchmen would show his feet only if their feet and nails are impeccable. Otherwise, they'll cover them up. Socks and sandals are a big fashion faux-pas in France.

For dressy wear or going out, leather shoes are a must, and every French man would have at least one pair of leather shoes—many would wear leather shoes everyday. "Les mocassins" (loafers) are still very much in fashion, but all kind of leather shoes exist. Ankle leather/suede boots are quite trendy as well.