Feeling intimidated by French fashion? If you're wondering what to pack for Paris, check out my easy tips on the staples you do not want to forget.
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**Post updated, June, 2019
Of all the things that intimidated me about traveling to France, embarrassingly, having the right clothes was #1 (and yes, #2 was my French skills - rusty since College. To see how that 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 few over-arching thoughts as you're starting to pack. First, and most importantly, I think, though of course there's plenty of expensive fashion to be had in Paris, the French are not all splashing out huge amounts on clothes. 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, not running out and buying random trendy pieces that are very "right now." If you're selecting items you already own, bring your best-fitting, higher-end pieces.
Additionally, French outfits are always "finished." This means they add a scarf, or a belt, or a hat, or a necklace to top off the outfit. A shirt and a pair of pants is just not going to cut it. For example, almost every businessman you see will be wearing a scarf - to complete the outfit. So, don't forget to accessorize!
Here are the staples:
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 large, wool coat that I had brought. Even when it's not cold, 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.
The 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. To me, wearing a light jacket is doubly effective - it can also eliminate the need to carry a purse, which is a huge benefit on a big tour day.
The French love, love, love their scarves! Fun fact: 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.
I brought quite a few along, and picked up several others on the trip! For everyday, I'd recommend a large, silk scarf, such as this, or a more affordable version from Amazon. And, of course, and Hermes scarf makes a great souvenir!
I also saw quite a few bulkier, chunkier scarves, like this, especially amongst the younger set. India Hicks, granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten and head of an up-and-coming fashion house, also has some lovely scarves, such as this larger, white options.
And, of course, you must know how to tie them properly! Hermes has some lovely videos, if you want to study up 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!
Yes, they actually wear these. I can't pretend this didn't surprise me, just slightly :)
Saint James is the staple. I actually hadn't heard of them until our trip to French - Canadian Quebec, where I visited their store and realized they'd even reached to North America!
They look lovely under that aforementioned light jacket, and they're good in most forms of French weather.
When we visited in October, I saw mostly slightly cropped ankle pants, such as these. Definitely no work-out gear/PJ's in public. That's a hard rule. 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, they were rocking the really light-washed 80's looking wash, a bit short, with giant tennis shoes.
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're looking to splurge, Ferragamo has the most phenomenal loafers that will last a lifetime. I'd keep these safe, though, rather than walking 10 miles a day in them!
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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