Feeling intimidated by French fashion? If you're wondering what to pack for Paris as a tourist, check out my easy tips on the staples you do not want to forget.
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**Post updated, August, 2019
What to wear in Paris: The Basics.
Of all the things that intimidated me about traveling to France, embarrassingly, having the right clothes was right at the top of the list. And yes, #2 on the list was finally utilizing my French skills - rusty since College. (To see how the French language piece went, check out my post 5 Ways to Charm the French).
Of course, as I knew, the French were even more wonderfully well-dressed than I had been expecting - and thankfully I had all the right things in the suitcase, if largely by accident!
A couple over-arching thoughts as you're starting to pack, before we get to the actual items you'll want to bring.
First, and most importantly, I think, though of course there's plenty of expensive fashion to be had in Paris, the French are not necessarily only concerned with splashing out huge amounts on clothes and the latest fads (though let's be honest - they often develop the fads long before anyone else has even heard of them!). The French tend to focus on fit - just because something is inexpensive doesn't mean it can't fit properly (and they get things tailored if they need it). Therefore, focus on packing your higher end items and pieces that actually fit well, not running out and buying random cheap, trendy pieces that are very "right now." If you're selecting items you already own, bring your best-fitting, higher-end, staple pieces.
Additionally, and probably more significantly for your packing purposes, French outfits are always "finished." This means that before even dreaming of leaving the house, they will add a scarf, or a belt, or a hat, or a necklace to top-off any outfit. A shirt and a pair of pants is just not going to cut it - that outfit is not "done." For example, almost every businessman you see will be wearing a scarf - to complete the outfit - on top of his suit.
First things first: Don't forget the packing cubes!
No packing article would be complete without recommending my favorite packing cubes, to get your trip off on the right foot!! These nifty cubes keep everything you pack organized before, during, and after the trip, and - the best part- they're super affordable! I love being able to keep small items neat and tidy *in* the hotel room, and they're also a great way to pack up souvenirs for your trip home. If you're concerned about hotel room germs, you could even leave all of your items in the cubes and just transfer them into the drawers in your hotel.
For even more travel essentials, check-out the constantly updated list of all the items that I can't travel without!
What to wear in Paris in Fall: Selecting a light jacket
Overall, the weather in Paris is fairly mild. If you'll be there in the winter, you'll want to bring a winter coat, but our most recent trip was in October, and I never touched the heavy, bulky, wool coat that I had hauled all the way across the Atlantic, assuming I'd need it to keep me warm. (Of course, I live in the Midwestern US, so your temperature preferences may differ from mine).
Even when it's not cold (at least by my standards), the French often wear light, stylish overcoats, which appear to be more of a fashion statement than anything else. I was not at all prepared for this, but luckily, I had brought a light jacket that I often wear to work, which turned out to be perfect, from Eileen Fisher (which I'm wearing in the picture in the top of this section - link below).
The French tendency to wear (potentially unnecessary?) jackets stems from the desire to "finish" the outfit, as I discussed earlier. Without the jacket, I'm just wearing a shirt and a scarf, which doesn't look as polished and complete. I'm all in on this front.
And, of course, to me, wearing a light jacket is doubly effective - using the pockets effectively can also eliminate the need to carry a heavy purse, which is a huge benefit for me on a big tour day. I am all about that no purse action, when the Husband is around to help carry the valuables!
What to wear in Paris: Don't forget your scarf!
The French love, love, love their scarves! Fun fact of the day: the French actually invented neckties for men. They didn't invent scarves for women, but the reinvented them to point that they might as well have created them in the first place.
I brought quite a few scarves along with me, and, of course, I picked up several others on the trip! Whether or not you're looking to buy one, definitely stop by Hermes and check out their gorgeous scarves - there's nothing quite like the selection they have in their Paris stores.
For everyday wear, I'd recommend a large, silk scarf, such as this, or a more affordable version from Amazon (as seen below). And, of course, you must know how to tie them properly! Hermes has some lovely videos, if you want to study up on how to twirl your scarf in advance! I learned in the store and the first one they have on that page is the only one I can ever remember, on the fly!
I also saw quite a few bulkier, chunkier scarves, especially when it's a bit chillier, so keep this in mind for the winter months!
What to wear in Paris: Striped shirts in every color
Yes, the French actually wear striped blue (or red, or black) and white shirts, which are lovely, but fall into sort of the idea I had in my mind of what they might wear, based on TV shows. I can't pretend this didn't surprise me, at least a bit! But now I'm a full convert and I love them!
Saint James is definitely the staple. I actually hadn't heard of Saint James until our trip to French-Canadian Quebec City, where I visited their store and realized they'd even reached to North America!
The striped shirts look lovely under that aforementioned light jacket, and they're good in most forms of French weather.
Add that scarf and voila!
What to wear in Paris: finding the right pants
When we visited Paris in the fall, I saw mostly slightly cropped ankle pants, such as these. I would definitely not recommend rocking work-out gear/PJ's in public...unless they're incredibly stylish (that's a joke. Don't do it). You might even be asked to leave a restaurant if you wear pajamas in public.
Personally, I would avoid blue jeans, unless they are chic, fit extremely well, and are dressed-up with the rest of your outfit. But, if you are younger and cooler than me, a lot of the younger set were rocking the really light-washed 80's looking wash, a bit short, with giant tennis shoes. If you do wear jeans, be mindful that there are at least some restaurants with dress codes forbidding jeans - not many, but if you're going somewhere fancy, it's worth checking.
What to wear in Paris: stylish loafers and booties
Yes, loafers are in this year, but the French have a longer and storied love of loafers that won't be ending any time soon. For me, loafers are great shoes for a big-city vacation, if you invest in the right pair.
Personally, I love anything like these from Sam Edelman, and I always stock up before long trip. And the best part - it's so affordable - Nordstrom Rack regularly has good deals on his shoes, if you keep an eye on it! Though it's definitely a breach of a rule I've created on this site, I actually brought a new pair of Sam Edelman loafers to Paris and then proceeded to walk 10 miles a day. And guess what? Not a single blister (seriously).
If you are looking for "tennis shoes" I do think you can style some of those tiny Keds to still look chic (or, of course, the giant teenager tennis shoes, but I'm not qualified to opine on those!).
And, finally, regardless of the season, you can't go wrong with booties! I like the Blondo boots below because they're waterproof. What's not to love!
Overall, just remember - emphasis on classics and fit (they aren't necessarily flashy dressers), and bring more coats and scarves than you might otherwise wear, based on the temperature! If you get hot, you can always take off the coat (but not the scarf - you should probably leave that on)!
Bon voyage! xx
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