If you’re anything like me, before going somewhere unfamiliar, you can appreciate a heads up on the typical attire of the location. There is no feeling quite like showing up underdressed or overdressed – ESPECIALLY underdressed. Now, if you aren’t anything like me and this doesn’t bother you one bit, more power to you. Moving to a new country for four months with a couple of suitcases and no familiarity with the French Riviera style seemed like a recipe for a fashion faux pas. Now three weeks into the experience, I am gaining a better understanding of the fashion of the French Riviera. There are many misconceptions of what “fashion” here is like, and I’m going to do my best to clarify some of this based off my own experiences. There are items I’m glad I packed, I wish I didn’t pack, and wish I did pack, and I figured it would be helpful to share these things in detail for anyone with the same concerns I had heading into a semester abroad.
When I first looked into studying abroad in the French Riviera, I was under the impression that every day would be a fashion show. It is a well-known fact that many household designer brands were birthed in France, and that intimidated me. What if I don’t consistently smell of Yves St. Laurent perfume or carry my everyday belongings in a Prada fanny pack? Luxury brands have never mattered much to me, but for some reason I started to care about them. While there are areas where this may be the case, the majority of the French Riviera is very laid-back, and everyday dress is quite casual and beachy. I am based in a small town in between Cannes and Nice called Antibes, famous for its beaches and yachting. Most women wear sundresses, flowy pants, casual skirts, sandals and tank tops. From my travels to other French Riviera locations such as Nice and Cannes, this does not change much. When venturing a little further to Monaco, the situation is different, because the crowds are different. Monaco is known for its affluent visitors and high-class hotels, restaurants, casinos, etc. The best call when studying abroad is to research the area you may be traveling to and pick a few pieces out of your closet that fit the vibe but are still true to your own style.
For everyday life here, the key is simple, layerable pieces that I will wear more than once. I brought several solid tank tops, linen button up shirts, and pairs of denim or linen shorts that have been staple pieces in my closet thus far. For fall and winter, I brought 4 pairs of jeans, all different colors of denim, and LOTS of layers. Turtlenecks, sweaters, and jackets. Jackets are probably my favorite item of clothing because they are so versatile. Moral of the story is no matter the season, you can’t go wrong with layers that can be worn in so many ways.
I would say 75% of what I brought are basics that can be worn a million ways – but I decided to have fun with the other 25%. I LOVE dresses. And not just fancy dresses, but a good casual dress that I can throw on to avoid pants at all costs. In addition to all my basic pieces, I brought about 7 dresses of a wide variety of styles. Was this too many? Probably. But I’ve been here for three weeks and have already worn half of them, so this is what works for me. Know the pieces in your closet that spark joy, and don’t shy away from packing them just because you may only wear them once or twice! Chances are, you’re going to take lots of pictures and attend some fun dinners and shows, and you’re going to wish you had brought some fun options with you. The “capsule wardrobe” is great in theory, but if neutral basics aren’t you, then make it your own with pieces you love!
In the United States, I attend the University of Oklahoma, where the clothes I wear to class are honestly sometimes the same clothes I wear to bed. Big T-shirt or sweatshirt, athletic shorts or leggings, and sneakers. Boy was I in for a shock on my first day of school in France… not a Lululemon logo in sight. Most girls wear jeans or trousers, dresses, blazers, sneakers, etc. Last week I had a conversation with another student from Italy. I told her, “I wish you guys dressed more casually for class in Europe,” and she looked at me like I was crazy and said, “What do you mean? This IS casual!” … ouch. Ultimately, you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in, but just know you will most definitely get some looks if you show up to class in France the way you would in the U.S. Your best bet is to find business casual clothes that are still comfortable to you. Jeans and T-shirt dresses are that for me!
At the end of the day, there is no better outfit than one that you already have, and that you feel comfortable in. Do your research to make sure you embrace and don’t offend the culture you are stepping into – but stay true to yourself and the clothing you feel will best complement the experience abroad you are seeking.
Cameron ten Napel is the Fall 2021 CEA MOJO Blogger in French Riviera, France, and is currently studying at University of Oklahoma.