Stressed about what to wear in Paris? We can help.
Among my proudest travel moments is repeatedly being mistaken for a Parisian by French speaking people in Paris. When French women approach me daily to ask where Place des Vosges is in French – I know I’m doing something right! Considering I’m not exactly tres petite, it’s even more of a feat.
My secret? I dress exactly the way I do at home in NYC. If you live in a major northern city anywhere in the world, you probably know how to pack for Paris. Think dark and comfortable clothing.
What to pack for Paris? is among the most frequently asked questions on the Paris Tripadvisor Forum. There’s a perception that everyone in the city dresses from the pages of Vogue. While you will definitely spot women dressed in couturier clothing, the majority of women in the city are dressing for style, comfort and possibly value. You’re more likely to see a well put together look involving jeans and gorgeous accessories than women prancing around in Chanel suits and Laboutins. And of course, there are plenty of people who don’t appear to be interested in fashion, just like everywhere else in the world.
This packing list is designed for women like me, who prefer to go casual with great accessories over dresses and high heels, regardless of where you are. And, it is designed to fit in today’s legal carry-on luggage. Check with your airline before packing because the carry-on baggage rules are constantly changing.
A few tips:
Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane to save room in your bag. Sure you will have to remove them at airport security but only leaving the US.
Bring 2 pair of comfortable shoes that you have broken in – not new. You don’t want to be that woman, wobbling on the cobblestones in your heels, or worse – carrying them – after a day of sightseeing. You can wear sneakers, but if you have comfortable, flat shoes you will be more stylish and can easily go day to night.
Even if you’re departing from a warm destination, carry your jacket or coat instead of packing it to save room in your bag. One, dark coat with removable lining is practical for spring or fall.
If you want to blend in, go with dark clothing. Parisian women, in general, do not wear white sneakers except for sports; pastels in fall; or Dockers type pants. Cargo pants yes, but designer, or worn in a way that looks designer. Cities are gritty and you will be sitting in outdoor cafes, parks and on the Metro. I’m not suggesting Paris isn’t clean, but you will stay fresh looking all day in a pair of black jeans or darker pants or a skirt.
If you’re from North American, you’re probably not used to evading pickpockets. Carrying a small, cross body handbag with a long strap is a good idea. Never dangle your handbag or daypack off the back of a chair, or behind you on a crowded Metro. I use a Crumpler messenger-style cross-body strapped camera bag. This bag features an impossible to access zippered inside pocket where I keep a copy of my passport, a credit card and larger bills. I keep smaller bills readily available for use throughout the day to avoid flashing all my cash in public. By the way, this bag is available on Amazon in selected colors right now for a fraction of what I paid for it.
When I’m traveling with a point and shoot camera, or going out at night, I use a small, black leather Mark Jacobs bag. Again, this bag slings across my chest to stay secure on the street, bars, restaurants and Metro. And, it packs flat. The little bag fits in my personal item – if I checked luggage I would be more inclined to bring a regular sized handbag as my personal item for air travel.
Think layers. The weather in Paris is changeable.
Be prepared for rain or you can always buy an umbrella. When I travel to Paris in the spring or fall, I bring a lined anorak style raincoat, which is what a lot of local women wear.
Unless you are going to a certain type of Michelin starred restaurant, dressed up jeans or black jeans are commonly seen in most restaurants. Casual chic dress is also acceptable at Palais Garnier for the ballet, or the Bastille opera house.
This list works for a long weekend, a week or several months for good packers.
It is a rare person who can avoid shopping in Paris. If you’re food focused, you will surely want to bring home culinary items not available where you live. For this reason, I always opt for hard sized luggage for Paris. My Briggs & Riley expandable carry-on is perfect for culinary rich destinations. And, I pack a lot of plastic bags.
I also bring a small personal item for my electronic gear and chargers, pills, make-up, Ziploc with cosmetics, travel documents.
Plus, I always pack some sort of folding tote bag. This way, I can check the hard sided rolling bag home, expanded, with all the liquids well wrapped – and carry new purchases and anything valuable with me in the tote bag. Paris is the best place to buy Longchamps folding extra-large totes, which are perfect for this purpose.
3 bottoms, including the ones you wear on the plane. I bring jeans and black jeans, but if you’re the skirt type, adjust accordingly.
1 nicer what if outfit*
3 pair of shoes, maximum, including the ones you wear in transit. 1 dressier/stylish; 2 comfortable
5 shirts for daytime
3-4 nicer shirts for night
Coat, jacket or sweater, depending on your timeframe – to be carried on the plane. Additional sweater can be packed in a SpaceBag to save space.
sleepwear, if you use it
accessories – scarves, jewelry, a small handbag
rain gear – umbrella, raincoat?
down travel pillows (if you’re like me and can’t sleep on rock hard pillows)
guidebooks or pages copies from guidebooks
folding tote bag for hauling souvenirs home
Stuff bag with European outlet adapters, travel laundry line, First Aid kit, batteries, universal wine stopper, corkscrew, eye glass repair kit
*be realistic. If you always carry a what if outfit and the shoes and handbag to match – and never use it, stop what iffing!
In your personal item:
Travel documents, passport
Money, credit cards, ATM card
Confirmations, mass transit directions or index cards with hotel addresses for cab drivers
Phrase book if necessary
Map that shows your hotel location printed from internet. Buy a Paris Pratique as soon as you arrive (or in advance on Amazon). The map the Parisians carry – you won’t look touristy whipping it out.
Camera, memory cards, extra batteries
Laptop or iPad (optional)
Cosmetics in Nalgene leak-proof containers in 1 quart Ziploc, and non-liquid cosmetics in a small case
Stuff bag – chargers, book light, card reader for camera, a couple extra batteries, Bonine, Sudafed, Tylenol, extra TSA locks for trip home
Book if not bringing iPad with Kindle app
Ipod and charger?
Snack food and/or a full meal, space permitting (non liquid)
Did I forget anything you have to have?
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