What (Not) to Wear in Paris

If you follow fashion, stop reading this post now. And if you’re a guy, you might want to move on as well. Today’s sage wisdom is for the lady concerned about making a good impression in Paris without having to buy a whole new wardrobe or going too wild and crazy trying to stay current with fashion trends.

Yes, Paris is the world’s fashion capital but relax. Not everyone dresses up here all the time. You can do just fine in Paris as long as you have a few basics in your closet and follow a few simple rules.

Don’t worry about being dressed up; just don’t dress down. Some Parisiennes go all out: killer heels, fabulous jewelry, couture, the works. You don’t have to follow suit if that’s not you.  Instead, think polished, classic, and restrained.  And don’t think about going out of the house in your gym clothes unless you are actually going to the gym. Sweats and sneakers are fine for jogging but a big no no at the bank, the post office, and the market. Save your shorts for the tennis court or for summer in the countryside.

Yes, you can wear jeans. Honestly every third person walking down the street in Paris is in a pair of jeans.  The twist?  They’re not slouchy (unless you are a 17 year old gansta rapper wannabe), holey (unless you are a 22 year old rail thin model), or grubby.   A well fitting, crisp pair of jeans is what you want.   With a pair of boots, a white button down shirt or a nicely fitted knit top, and a great jacket, you’ll fit right in.

Invest in comfortable shoes.  Parisiennes do a lot of walking.  How those gals in heels do it, I cannot fathom.   And reserve your sneakers (unless they are Converse All-Stars) for the gym.  Instead, consider making your way around town in ballet flats, boots, loafers, or any shoe that has a chunky heel.

Think layers.  The weather in Paris is fickle; temperatures can swing wildly during the day, particularly in spring and fall, while the sun plays peekaboo.  Light cardigans and tops you can layer make a lot of sense.

Make sure you really like your raincoat because you are going to be wearing it a lot.   Right now trenches are popular and for good reason.  They work fall and spring, look great with skirts and slacks, and they keep you dry when Parisian skies open up.  A raincoat with a zip in lining is the best bet.  With a scarf and the lining in, you will stay warm on even the coldest day (which admittedly is never much below zero (Celsisus, that is).  Zip it out and you are good to go in spring and fall.

Black is the new black.  Parisiennes wear a lot of black.  You don’t have  to, but look at this way.  A great pair of black slacks or a black skirt goes with pretty much everything.

Make sure your purse is a shoulder bag that zips shut.    Clutches, purses hanging on your wrist, backpacks, and anything gaping open is a ready target for pickpockets.  A shoulder bag, either one with a strap that goes across your body or short straps that allow you to hold your bag snugly under your armpit, is a lot more secure.

Consider stocking up.  If you are tall, round, big busted, or have big feet, it’s probably not a great idea to wait until you get to Paris to go shopping.   To make a gross overgeneralization,  the average French woman is petite:  trim and not very tall.   So unless you relish the hunt, go ahead and buy an extra pair of the shoes you love or your favorite jeans and put them aside for later.

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8 responses to “What (Not) to Wear in Paris

  1. Terrence Angel-Hyland

    To the Team of P.F.Paris.
    As a Television Producxer/Director, currently based in Australia, I have to say you do a “Terrific Job” with this site…
    My Thanks to “Grace Teshima” Via Face Book, for turning me onto your site.
    It is so well structured & written in a language of the street all could/can relate to…
    Thank you for your efforts. I have sent your site to many of my asociates. I hope your receiving some return for all the work & care that is going into this post.
    You get the “Gold Kangaroo” stamp for excellence.
    Regards…”T”

  2. After eight years of living in Egypt, I’m about to move to Paris. I’ve had to make sure I’ve very conservatively dressed (high necked tops, long sleeves, absolutely opaque, long skirts/trousers etc.) in clothes for warm/hot weather over here, so am preparing to go on a massive shop for “Paris clothes” once I arrive.

    This is very useful, thank you!

  3. I think (especially for Americans, who are still attached to sweats and Uggs and general sloppiness – er, I mean “comfort”) the key is: Look nice. Dress as if you’re meeting someone you want to impress. Because walking around Paris, you want to impress all the people watching you from their cafe chairs!

    • Though I do see a LOT of Ugg boots here (and I wish I didn’t!), I mostly spend my time walking around marveling at women in high heels. Do they just not have nerves in the balls of their feet?

      To the excellent advice in this post, I would add two things: 1) A scarf makes everyone look Parisian. 2) Make sure you have a small, light umbrella.

  4. Marie-Christine

    I’d definitely second the advice to stock up. When I was 12 years old I grew out of French sizes, and I’m only 5’8″. If you’re over a size 44 (which is a German 42, a US 14) you will experience extreme difficulties in finding any clothes at all. Do you really want to wear underwear with holes in it? If your feet are over a size 40 (US 10), you can just forget it entirely. Even shoes that you know very well are made in larger sizes, like Birkenstocks, won’t be stocked in larger sizes if they’re not clearly wearable by men.
    The main solution of course is mail-order. You’ve got German sites that’ll send you walking shoes, you can hit up landsend in Germany of the UK, etc. Or you can take an occasional trip North to a country with people your size, like Holland or Germany. It helps if you can sew :-)..

    • Ulla Popkin
      H&M
      C&A

      all near Galleries Lafayette/Printemp (also have larger sizes but the prices are really expensive)
      have larger sizes and are relatively inexpensive

      and there are other large size stores near thers

      for shoes, there’s an ad in most of the metros for a place with bigger sizes for men and women – they have a nice selection

  5. Pingback: All things French | Vicktorious

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