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What to Bring to Paris

I get a lot of emails on how to dress in Paris. After five month of studying the much talked about “French Woman” I have some observations on what to wear to blend in when visiting Paris.

A. Dress up! The French are a little more formal than Americans. If you are going to a museum think about what you would wear to a museum in the US and then dress up that outfit a notch. This dress is from the French Store NafNaf. I don’t love most of their clothes but they really nail it on about 10% of their inventory and they are reasonably priced. Polka Dot Dress | 48 Euros

B. Hemingway’s Writing. Nothing makes you feel more “American in Paris” than reading Hemingway at a cafe. Try Cafe de Flore and be patient and wait for a table on the street. This is one of Hemingway’s old haunts. It is one of those Paris institutions. A Moveable Feast | $16

C. Accessorize! French women wear sunglasses and scarves. These are the details that really make someone look “put together.” Vintage Round Sunnies | $139

D. Travel in Style! I’ve been obsessing over this gorgeous suitcase from Urban Outfitters. Its worth looking stylish as you lug all your belongings through the cobblestone streets. Suitcase from Urban Outfitters | $149.

E. Ballet Flats! Everyone has them. Everyone. You need comfy shoes for all that walking you will do along the Seine at night, plus these fir in the “dressy” category. I love this affordable pair from Marais USA | $60

F. Iphone. Get one of these loaded with neighborhood walking tours, Museum Tours, and Custom Google Maps marked with your itinerary. Don’t forget the This American Life episodes for the plane. Iphone case | $35

G. Headband! One of the biggest differences in Americans and French Women is their “natural hair.” Americans tend to straighten, curl, spray and brush their hair into submission. The French Woman probably spends time on her hair but she is going for subtle waves, beautiful buns, and those adorable hairs that naturally frame your face when you put your hair back. This is my beautiful headband I picked up in Londan last month from Toast. It’s on sale now! Stripey Headband | 34 Pounds

H. A Sweater. The French don’t wear bright colors. I’ve honestly never seen more people wear navy blue in my life. They also love a monochromatic outfit which is why I threw in this boring errr “classic” sweater. You’ll need this for chilly evenings. Cardigan | $49

  1. Molly Covert

    July 7, 2011

    That suitcase is what dreams are made of!

  2. Susan

    July 7, 2011

    This is great, and I love the formality of dressing there-it matches how I dress anyway! I do need to be more patient and wait for a street table at Cafe de Flore…

  3. allysha

    July 7, 2011

    When I lived in France we always used to say that the French consider brown, black, gray and navy blue all the same color – mix and match them at your leisure! Those ballet flats are awesome.

  4. Jess

    July 7, 2011

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve also been reading Parisian Chic and Entre Nous for ideas. I heard no one in Europe wears shorts though, is this true?

  5. Robin @ our semi organic life

    July 7, 2011

    Yes I agree to all! Although I haven’t visited Paris yet with an iphone.

  6. Jenni

    July 7, 2011

    Thank you so much for this post! I am going to my cousin’s wedding in France in 2 weeks and was debating on what to pack. I’m getting so excited!!!

  7. Brittany Rivers

    July 7, 2011

    I went to Paris for my Honeymoon in February 2009. It was in the 30’s & 40’s and the cold was much nicer than the cold we have here in TX. It wasn’t so bitter. I LOVED the way everyone was dressed for the cold- so classy. I saw LOTS of double-breasted wool coats, flat leather boots, and of course hats & scarves. I agree with you on the navy blue!! Next time I visit I’d like for it to be in Spring or Summer, to experience the warmer months in Paris.

  8. Alison @ The Peacock Diaries

    July 7, 2011

    Great list, thank you! I love the suitcase and I’m tempted by it (I just retired an old fave), but I wonder how it would hold up? I don’t think of UO as makers of particularly sturdy goods…

  9. Lisa

    July 7, 2011

    I love this post! Fun to see your perspective as you walk the streets of Paris. I agree with the more formal attitude, and love that you noticed their hair! 🙂

  10. Prêt à Voyager

    July 7, 2011

    So funny, I have a VERY similar dress I bought at NAFNAF several years ago. Rockin’ in the US – SO easy to travel with 🙂


  11. victoria

    July 7, 2011

    should have had this handy guide before i got there! 🙂

  12. jenna

    July 7, 2011

    i just got back from a week in france on monday (still mourning my departure!), and “a moveable feast” was one of the two books i brought with me – perfect parisian reading! the other was “the parisians” by graham robb which was also excellent – you might like it!

  13. Carrie

    July 7, 2011

    I wish I had an iPhone when I was in Paris (11 years ago… before iPhones existed). Even with a map I got lost constantly!

  14. Misha

    July 7, 2011

    The French are so classic. All I can think of is Audrey Hepburn.

  15. Amanda

    July 7, 2011

    I love this post! Thank you 🙂
    We went to Paris last weekend for my birthday, and I agree with all you’ve said. Lovely.

  16. melissa

    July 7, 2011

    Jess, yes it’s true. The only people in Europe wearing shorts are American tourists! Adults just don’t wear them. I have seen them rarely on a few men in the heat of summer in England or on the French Riviera, but certainly not ever on women.
    I agree the French are dressier, but I also find they are a bit more creative with their clothes and have a distinct personal style. They do more with fewer clothes, that’s for sure. And they wear far less makeup.

  17. Kacie

    July 7, 2011

    So many great ideas! I loooove this. It makes me really want to go to Paris again. Time to pack up! =)


  18. Jennifer

    July 7, 2011

    You nailed it! There is so much navy at the park next to my apartment that I started dressing my kids in bright colors so that I could find them.

    I also think that french women wear much less makeup (ah, I see that has been said above). And for those following the trends I have seen a lot of unlaced worker boots on women lately (well, before it got really hot).


  19. Andrea@FancyThat!

    July 7, 2011

    No bright colors?! That’s my only disappointment. Love the shapes and silhouettes of classy clothing, though.

  20. Heidi

    July 7, 2011

    Last time I was in Paris I totally noticed how all the French college-aged students were so effortlessly stylish and had the most beautiful, natural hair!

  21. Cher

    July 7, 2011

    I must have been French in another life time! Loved this post….and now that you mention the thing about hair, you are so right! I love looking at photos of women with effortless waves and curls. I’m keeping mine!

  22. Marissa Waddell :: ROOST

    July 7, 2011

    Gorgeous! Ines de la Fressange did a list on “Ten Ways to Dress Like a Parisian” in Lonny a little while back–your suggestions are right in line with hers. My problem is that I’ll be in Paris in December (if you can call being in Paris a problem!). Any suggestions on how to pack for a Parisian Winter?


  23. abby

    July 7, 2011

    i’ll never forget being in rome and feeling ever so out of place in my jeans, rain parka and sneakers! at least i was with a huge group of college students who were dressed just like me- like tourists!

    my goal is to go to paris and look, well, a little LESS american . . . although i think maybe even a well manicured wardrobe won’t do too too much for camouflage.

  24. Penelope@thirdroomstudio

    July 7, 2011

    Gorgeous selection, those shoes are beautiful.

  25. Gaby

    July 7, 2011

    Lovely roundup! Love the dress and the suitcase! Great tips too, thanks!

  26. Kersey

    July 7, 2011

    Gorgeous! I definitely agree about the hair. I’d bet French women don’t wear as much make up either. Naturally beautiful and confident.

  27. jillian

    July 7, 2011

    le sigh. perfect! i cant wait to go back to paris. xoxo jillian:: cornflake dreams

  28. Thelma

    July 7, 2011

    Loved this post!

  29. becky-lee

    July 7, 2011

    oh my goodness, this post brings back the most heart warming moments of me and my nan, when i was a little girl she would take me shopping for clothes and say, “oh thats straight out of naf naf” for years i thought she was trying to make me look “naf” (daggy) we didnt have alot growing up, but just being french made it great for her!

  30. kim

    July 7, 2011

    ooh – love it all. i think you’ve captured Parisian style perfectly.

  31. Rebecca

    July 7, 2011

    Can I dress like a Parisian girl in America?? 😉

  32. Linda

    July 7, 2011

    i just saw Midnight in Paris last night and this Paris packing list is perfect for wandering the beautiful city streets! I love your French Woman Essentials 🙂

  33. Abbi

    July 7, 2011

    love this post.

  34. Phuong

    July 7, 2011

    I love this! Their wardrobe just seems so effortless and classy. I did miss seeing colors when I was there though…so much black, grey, tan, and navy hehe

  35. Maia

    July 7, 2011

    LOVELY! It makes me miss Europe so much… salut!

  36. Iris

    July 7, 2011

    Parisian style is perfection!!! I couldn’t believe how effortlessly fabulous all of the women in Paris looked, even riding the bicycles….I LOVED it!!! Your tips are right on…so chic, so Paris 🙂

  37. Lissa (Bellenza)

    July 8, 2011

    Great tips for a honeymooning bride, too!

  38. Babou

    July 8, 2011

    Nice selection, but I disagree en one thing : black
    Parisians do not wear much black. It washes you out and is a bit harsh
    As an american now living in Paris i used to wear black a lot and people commented that it is not the most suiting or versatile. And they were right. my former “center piece” black suit now hardly comes out of hiding. Though nafnaf is french, people would see a summer day dress in black as odd…
    As for glasses they have a trick : a prescription here gives you the right to buy glasses that are generously reimbursed by health insurance and those come with a pair of sunglasses for free! So every year before vacation the french go to their doctor, get a prescription (even oh so small a correction or they use the free sunglasses token of friends)and pouf : free glasses and sunglasses (even ray bans, tom ford, persol… all brands)
    I am building quite a collection myself
    this explains why there are glasses shops every street corner 😉

  39. Katherine

    July 8, 2011

    Great post! As an American living in Belgium, I agree with all of your recommendations and will add a few of my own.

    1. As many of the comments pointed out, shorts are a big no-no. I have not worn a pair in close to 10 years. The only people wearing shorts in European cities are children…. or American tourists. My kids are 6 and 8 so, of course, they are allowed to wear them! I might add that I find shorts unflattering on most people, including me, so I don’t mind not wearing them.

    2. Converse sneakers are everywhere. I just bought a pair for my 8-year-old son and he loves them. Everyone here wears Converse – men, women and children. You cannot go wrong with a pair of Converse, dark jeans and a long scarf.

    3. Bensimon tennis shoes are inexpensive and almost as ubiquitous as Converse.

    4. Another very popular brand of shoes is Camper (from Spain). They can be quite pricey, depending on the style, so look out for sales.

    Finally, I have a theory that Europeans, in general, buy less (or at least fewer clothes) than Americans because they tend to live in smaller spaces and have less closet space. There’s no sense in buying a lot of stuff if you have nowhere to store/put it!

    That being said, Europeans also tend to be more quality oriented, in my opinion. They will not buy something just because it’s cheap or on sale and are willing to spend more on a few investment pieces which will carry them through the seasons. I also think that clothing in Europe is on average more expensive than in the US, unless you shop exclusively during the biannual sales, which explains why people buy less.

  40. Sonia

    July 8, 2011

    Love that outfit and you know what, is similar to what I’m wearing today! It’s a signal, I need to go to Paris 🙂

  41. Eva @ Four Leaf Clover

    July 8, 2011

    LOVE this post and your selections! I definitely noticed that people dressed better in Europe as a whole when I moved here and then even more so in Paris. It was definitely a pleasant thing to see.

  42. Sewing Princess

    July 8, 2011

    It’s true that Europe is generally more dressy than the US, with notable exceptions though!

    I also agree with Katherine, In Europe people buy less and clothing, shoes etc. is more expensive, e.g. sales are not as good.

  43. katrina

    July 8, 2011

    Please can I have it all? Just the dress at the very least! I can’t wait to step foot off the plane into Europa! “someday”

  44. Designs Good

    July 8, 2011

    Lovely ideas–I love that this post matches the fan post below!

  45. noelani

    July 8, 2011

    Your observations are astute and spot on. I suppose living there would give you that insight though! I just discovered your blog (via a tip from Jen Lula) and I am in love! You are living my dream! I just got back from a trip to Paris and Provence and I am ready to pack up the bags forever and leave Boston behind. Until husband is on board with me…..I’ll try and make due with some Hemingway.

  46. Elizabeth

    July 8, 2011

    Too fabulous! Love those flats!

    I’m having a Scotch Natruals nail polish giveaway if you’d like to enter, just click here

  47. Shoegirl

    July 9, 2011

    I only just came across your blog and I love it! My husband and I also made the jump to Europe from SF (well, bay area..), but our move is more or less as permanent as we’d like. I can so relate to all your notes about daily food shopping and the fresh bread (I had no idea Germans were as obsessed with their bread as the French!). Paris was one of my first experiences visiting a big European city when I was in high school and my husband proposed to me there, so I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for that city. I look forward to following your adventures – thanks for sharing!

  48. desiree {vosgesparis}

    July 9, 2011

    I love this post .. although many things seem more or less natural to me, like wearing scarfs and sunglasses 😉 I was reading another american who was talking about the scarfs, I think it is an european thing maybe !

  49. marni

    July 9, 2011

    such a fun post! i love reading the explanations and all the links led to adorable!!!

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