Costard cravate

Costard-cravateDid you know that French men wear costumes to work?

‘Costard-cravate’ is the familiar term for a suit and tie, the uniform of the French businessman. The official name is le costume, or more correctly, according to the dictionary, le complet, although I have never heard this term used.

For special occasions, in a funny turn of franglais, they wear un smoking, or what we call a tuxedo. A.k.a. a monkey suit.

The business casual craze has been slow to catch on in France. Le costume is still de rigueur for les hommes in the corporate world, finance and politics. For women there’s a bit more flexibility but classic apparel for the career girl is un tailleur, or skirt suit.

This is slowly changing, however, in the much of the European business world. My husband, who now manages IT projects for a biopharma company, goes to work in jeans and sports gear. Dressing up means wearing chinos and a shirt with a collar. I have to admit I prefer this most of the time. But I sort of miss seeing him in a suit now and then.

When I was a kid, my Dad would leave for work every morning in a suit and tie, usually topped by an overcoat, a hat on his head and carrying a leather attaché case. I thought all men did this, until I discovered that not everyone’s Dad worked in an office.

Not having to wear a suit and tie is one of the reasons I’m grateful not to be a man.

When I first left school and went to work in an office, I hated having to put on stockings and heels. Dressing up like a secretary felt a lot like wearing a costume. So I decided to get a job in advertising, where only the suits wore suits. Copywriters and art directors could get away with just about anything as long as they were ‘creative.’

Now I work freelance and when I go to out to client meetings I try to look professional yet still feel like myself. The rest of the time, working at my home office, I might wear the same clothes that I do for yoga.

What about you? Is it costard-cravate or do you prefer to keep it casual?


  1. davidprosser · April 2, 2015

    Yay, I don’t have to worry about this anymore.But, when I did work I sometimes wore a suit though most often it would be slacks, shirt and tie with a sports jacket. Since I very often dealt with members of the public, some idea of smartness was still needed to inspire confidence.
    xxx Huge Hugs Mel xxx

    • MELewis · April 2, 2015

      I feel sure your smartness would shine through no matter what you are wearing! 😃

      • davidprosser · April 2, 2015

        Except maybe my Birthday Suit. Bisous ! LOL.

  2. cheergerm · April 2, 2015

    I think that work clothes, whether they are suit, shirts, ties, tunics, a uniform, sensible shoes; are often really a costume. They speak of what ‘we do’ not of who we really are. I too often feel for men wearing suits and ties, yet I kind of like their elegance as well.

    • MELewis · April 2, 2015

      Very true. Sometimes I have even felt that way wearing clothes that reflect different activities or facets of my life – maternity clothes, for example, or fancy sports gear that implies a level of expertise I don’t have. Perhaps we should think of it more like Shakespeare – All the world’s a stage and all that. 😉

  3. Osyth · April 2, 2015

    Like you, I do like to see my husband in a suit from time to time but like yours he is mostly to be found ‘quietly casual’ as a wonderful Gay friend of mine refers to dressing down. For me, I was a slave to the most corporate of attire in London and it is a deep joy to me to not have to bother and to be able to please myself. That said – I still hang on to my smart dresses, courts and trussed turkey jackets, just in case … of what, who knows but just in case!

    • MELewis · April 2, 2015

      *Trussed turkey jackets* – ha, ha! There is freedom in liberating oneself from the corporate uniform, indeed….but they are part of who you are which is perhaps why you cannot part with them. I have relics from past lives in my closets, although I am gradually clearing them out, there are a few pieces I just can’t bear to part with.

      • Osyth · April 2, 2015


  4. Suzanne et Pierre · April 2, 2015

    You are right about the more formal ways of the French. My husband worked in an IT company so they wore jeans unless they were going to a clients in a bank then they would wear suit & tie but that was quite rare. By the way, the word “complet” is used (though I think less frequently now; we tend to use “un habit” instead which means not much) in Quebec but I didn’t know it was the proper term. Sometimes we get it right in Quebec French!!! (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · April 2, 2015

      Interesting, I’ve also heard the word ‘habit’ used to describe a ‘costume’ in the sense of kids dressing up. Quebec French often seems closer to the way the language was spoken in the past so I guess that some current usage is more ‘correct’ in the strict sense. I would imagine that the office culture is much more relaxed in Quebec than in France, but I’ve never experienced it.

      • Suzanne et Pierre · April 2, 2015

        Hi Mel. Yes, there has been a relaxing of the dress code in businesses in Quebec and everywhere in Canada. Maybe people in Quebec are still a bit more formal than in the rest of the country due to their French flair but in general it is more casual.

  5. peakperspective · April 5, 2015

    My work clothes are yoga pants, thick socks and a hoodie. Occasionally, my dog convinces me that since it was such a late night of work, and since we’ve gotten precious little sleep, I may as well stay in my pajamas because there’s the remote possibility that we might get in an afternoon kip.
    It never happens. But I feel better knowing the odds at least exist.

    • MELewis · April 5, 2015

      Ooh, the pajama temptation: I know it well. So far I’ve managed to resist, although when feeling a bit low, I have been known to take to bed with laptop. And I always write my blog posts there. As for the after lunch nap, it is an indulgence I give in to fairly often. Never very long and it does recharge the mental batteries. Listen to your dog!

  6. Mélanie · April 10, 2015

    @”Did you know that French men wear costumes to work?” – some of them, yes, but not mine… 🙂 btw, he has only 3 vestes, no costard, I’m serious!

    • MELewis · April 10, 2015

      A costard-free Frenchman, hmm? It must be your free-spirited influence! 🙂

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