What to Pack Series

What to Wear: How Not to Look Like an American in Paris

Posted by Fodor's Editors on April 11, 2011 at 9:32:54 AM EDT | Post a Comment
France-Paris-shopping-Agnes-b.jpgIt’s hard to imagine a trip to Paris that doesn’t include, at the very least, an afternoon of shopping. But the question is what to wear while you’re shopping—and sightseeing, and eating at a café—since fashion will always reign supreme in the City of Light. No matter where you live or what your style, from the moment you step off the plane you’ll obsess over how to achieve the relaxed, elegant way Parisian women dress. You’ll marvel at how they casually toss a scarf around their neck and have it look amazing, or how they can make a 15-year-old cashmere cardigan look fresh with a skinny belt. Suddenly, virtually all the clothes you packed may feel outdated, frumpy, and wrong. But fret not, ma chère amie. You’re not destined to walk around Paris feeling less-than. We’ve given you a fail-safe guide that promises to keep you looking fabulous as you stroll down the Champs-Elysées or around the Marais. But we can’t promise that once you hit the streets of this fashion-obsessed city, that your credit card won’t max out faster than you can say oh la la.

Do’s & Don’ts of Dressing in Paris

  • When in doubt, do wear black.
  • Don’t overdo jewelry. A minimalist look is better.
  • For those on the smaller side, do go braless—they’re decidedly optional.
  • Don’t get a french manicure (the French don’t!). Your best bet is to keep nails short with clear polish.
  • Do wear your glasses if they’re funky and colorful. Bonus for not having to schlep solution on the plane!
  • If you visit in summer, don’t dress like you’re going to camp.
  • Do bring a scarf or two. You’ll look instantly chic with one wrapped loosely around your neck.
  • Don’t match your shoes to your bag—or spend time worrying about matching too much at all.
  • Do carry a backpack—but only if it’s small, sleek, and doesn’t say college student.
  • Do rock your best t-shirt and a pair of Converse Chucks with just about anything—even a skirt!

Find Your Fashion Inspiration

La Jeune Femme

Paris-shopping-Vanessa-Bruno-tote.jpgShe’s that young wisp of a thing standing on rue Oberkampf, chatting with her friends, cigarette in hand, looking as if she’s had less than her eight hours—and whatever she has on, she wears it well. Inspiration: Audrey Tautou Best Accessories: The huge, costume cocktail ring you found at the bar last night, Vanessa Bruno tote (pictured), and Repetto ballet flats Favorite Parts of Town: Canal St- Martin, Oberkampf, the Bastille. Biggest Splurge: Are those 200 euro jeans from Colette really considered a splurge when you wear them every day? Chic Boutique: Thank goodness the designers have secondary lines! Now you’ll only spend one paycheck at Antoine & Lili. Chain Store Knockoff: Never underestimate the genius that is H&M. Favorite Pick-me-up: A croque madame and side of frites. Mode of Transport: Get thee a boyfriend with a Vespa! Otherwise, it’s the métro for you. Won’t Leave The House Without: Your trendy new cell phone. Must-have Item: Nearly-destroyed high-top Converse. Hands down.

La Dame Elegante

Cacharel-perfume.jpgHow’s she so stunning at the Sunday market, children in tow, no make-up, hair up in a knot? Easy—she’s meticulous about skincare, has in-laws with a house in the south, and is carrying the latest bag from Longchamps. Inspiration: Juliette Binoche Best Accessories: Longines watch, Lamarthe bag, Cacharel perfume (pictured), and the 400 euro cashmere Chanel sweater you just scored from that fabulous consignment shop on rue St-Honoré at half the retail price! Favorite Parts of Town: The Marais, Rive Gauche. Biggest Splurge: It’s hard to resist those new platform sandals from Dior. Chic Boutique: You can’t get enough of Chloé, but you’ll settle for anything from Vanessa Bruno. Chain Store Knockoff: How is it that you ever survived without agnès b.? Favorite Pick-me-up: Lentil and poached egg salad and sparkling water. Mode of Transport: You take the métro, but chances are you have an Audi that’ll get you and the kids out of town. Won’t Leave The House Without: The scarf your grandmother bought you for Christmas. Must-have Item: Every elegant woman needs a trench coat.

La Grande Dame

Paris-shopping-Roger-Vivier-flats.jpgYou can’t miss her walking down the Champs-Elysées—she’s still turning heads, with her Chanel suit, Hermès scarf, and her near-perfect posture. Something to aspire to... Inspiration: Catherine Deneuve Best Accessories: Roger Vivier flats (pictured), Cartier watch, and your favorite companions: your two French poodles. Favorite Parts of Town: The Faubourg St-Honoré and the Grand Boulevards to name a few . .. but definitely not the Rive Gauche. Biggest Splurge: Does it really have to be just one? If so, a private jet will do. Chic Boutique: Only the standards—that’s Chanel and Herm ès, darling . . . Chain Store Knockoff: What’s a knockoff? Favorite Pick-me-up: Foie gras or steak tartare . . . plus champagne. Mode of Transport: Having a driver is really the only way to get around with all those shopping bags. Won’t Leave The House Without: Your Chanel No. 5. Must-have Item: A Kelly bag, of course!

Plan Your Trip

Photo Credits: Courtesy Agnes B., Cartier, Vanessa Bruno, Cacharel, and Roger Vivier. What are your favorite fashion tips for Paris?

Member Comments (7)  Post a Comment

  • bucharest on Apr 15, 11 at 04:10 PM

    Re Deneuve
    Sorry to let you know but in the several months I spent in
    Paris last fall I saw her at least four times a week on
    the Boulevard St. Germain. The left bank.
    The one thing I noticed during that time was that French women are not slaves to labels as so many Americans are.
    The first cool day in fall, so many women bring out that
    quilted black Burberry jacket with the plaid cuff turned
    up. Not in Paris! What women wear in Paris is partly what this article says but also they are far more creative in
    what and how they wear simple things.
    There is no age-ism among women but you don't see older women in too short skirts. Knee length not thigh length.
    You also do not see the ridiculous platform spike stilettoes that ruin the posture no matter how well someone is dressed. And you will never, ever see French women wearing track suits and tennis shoes unless they are
    Fashion can be bought, style cannot.

  • Brizman on Apr 14, 11 at 04:50 PM

    I have often wondered - just what do the non-Parisien French wear when they go on holidays to the capital? Is there a preferred casual dress for French men on holidays - I mean apart from striped shirts, black trousers and berets? Is there a different dress standard for dinner at Georges V as compared with a bistro in rue de la Chine?

  • gourmet2go on Apr 13, 11 at 11:18 PM

    this is all about women! what about men?? American men can avoid a lot of bad French behavior just by dressing appropriately for Paris. Honestly, certainly in Winter, wearing a jacket and tie opens a lot of doors.

  • madameX on Apr 13, 11 at 09:32 PM

    Yes, be comfortable, but it is very possible to be comfortable without being sloppy.

    There are plenty of street shoes that you don't have to resort to trainers. I like cushioned ballet flats -- stylish and they can go jsut about anywhere. Frankly, I'm much more comfortable in a dress or skirt in warm weather.

    And as my Parisian lawyer friend says, "No male over the age of 12 wears short pants in the city."

    I know enough French to understand the comments of waiters and staff when they think tourists are bringing down the look of a place. Yes, they like your money, and they will always respond best when you are polite. But they they think you are clueless when you don't understand how your presence adds or diminshes the ambiance of their business.

  • mrsdenison on Apr 13, 11 at 12:35 PM

    Stay in the suburbs & ride the metro into the city!

  • travelchick28 on Apr 13, 11 at 11:14 AM

    Make sure you wear comfortable shows. You won't believe how long you will be on your feet each day. A pair of sandals designed for walking or ballet flats with cushioning are ideal.

    Here are some pictures from last summer from the streets of Paris. Lightweight sundresses were everywhere in Paris in the summer.


    If you are wondering what the latest styles, here are photos of whats trendy in the stores right now.


  • kjalaska on Apr 13, 11 at 10:43 AM

    Just enjoy and wear what's comfortable. You will see all manner of fashion there, jeans and t-shirts were everywhere and so were skirts and blouses. Sightseeing will be much more comfortable in trainers or walking shoes with some cushioning. Shoulder bags are more practical than back packs plus there is less chance of thievery from something you can hold in front of you on the metro. Waste packs are handy too. Don't be ashamed to be a tourist, they love our money coming in to their economy. Just remember to be polite with a friendly Bonjour and you will be welcome everywhere.

Sign in or Join to comment.