August might be drawing to a close, but don’t pack up your summer wardrobe just yet! The warm weather extends well into the Fall in Paris. Below, expert Julie Blakley helps to demystify the “rules” of Parisian street fashion.
By Julie Blakley, Why Go Paris
Style and fashion are important in France. My cousin, Jean-Marc, recently told me that he had no luck with the ladies until he “bought his first pair of Italian shoes.” However, even with a good percentage of French blood pumping through my own veins, every time I find myself in France I look longingly at the always impeccably dressed and stylish French ladies and wonder why they’ve got it going on so much more than I do. Suffice it to say, I will never be as sleek, stylish or thin as most of these French women, but that doesn’t mean I want to walk around Paris sporting a fanny pack and socks with sandals. And, while I may never look quite so effortlessly perfect as the French women always seem to, I have spent enough time living and traveling in France that I think I can do a pretty good job of looking like a local in France.
While simply wrapping a scarf around your neck, buying a pair of great boots and sporting a peacoat are perfect when wondering what to wear in France in the winter, this is not so much the case for warmer weather apparel. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned French traveler, you still may need some pointers on what to pack for your French vacation this summer.
Ditch the shorts—Yes this rule applies to both women AND men. The French just don’t rock the shorts. Although in recent years I have been seeing some women’s hot pant style shorts surfacing in stores in Paris, shorts in general are just not worn by men or women in France. For that lucky 1% of ladies who look great in the booty short variety and feel like wearing a pair with a sassy top and a pair of heels, go for it (though don’t think you’re going to be able to waltz through any churches in that outfit). For the rest of us, opting for a skirt instead is probably the best route. If you have a stylish pair of fitted Bermuda shorts (knee length, fitted shorts) these are also acceptable (please note the words stylish and fitted).
For guys, I know you LOVE those khaki cargo shorts and practically live in them all summer, but I’ve got news for you—these won’t fly in Frog country. Not only will you stand out from kilometers away as an American, you may have a hard time getting into churches, nice restaurants and nightclubs while wearing them. If you don’t care about looking like an American tourist, then by all means wear your cargo shorts—but don’t count on a) being able to pick up any hot French babes while wearing them b) getting into any nightclubs or c) being mistaken for a local.
Don’t wear flip-flops—I love flip-flops, you love flip-flops, we all love flip-flops. But, this does not mean you should sport them around Paris on a day of sightseeing. Not only are they not great walking shoes, but especially in Paris you’ll find your feet completely filthy almost immediately. While these sandals are great for short walks to the beach, they are not stylish footwear to sport in France. We’re not in California guys and gals, so swap that pair of flip-flops for a more stylish pair of sandals (and, please, whatever you do, please don’t wear any of these options with socks. Ever.)
Spring for a skirt or dress—This obviously applies to the ladies, but since shorts are pretty much a big no-no in France, you are going to have to find an equally cool alternative for those hot summer months of July and August in France. Skirts and light dresses are perfect summer wear for ladies in France. Not only does wearing a skirt or dress keep you cool and allow for plenty of ventilation, but you’ll also look totally fabulous. Personally I’m a fan of the light and casual sun dress—they take up less room in your suitcase than separate pants and bottoms, require less thinking when getting dressed, keep you cool and look great.
Be brave, break out the manpris—You may have to wait until you are actually in France to find a pair of manpris (man Capri pants), but once you have crossed the Atlantic you should have no problem picking up a pair of these things. Since shorts are out for guys and they can’t wear skirts, manpris are a good choice. Now, I’m not suggesting you wear manpris with fringed bottoms and decorative glitter clogs like I once saw on a guy in Italy, but a stylish pair of manpris and sandals or stylish tennies and you’ll be fitting right in.
Leave Leisure wear at home—So, I know you think your Juicy velour sweatsuit is just TOO cute, but that doesn’t mean you should wear it in public. The French tend to have a more elevated version of what’s casual–and hoodies, sweat pants and athletic wear just doesn’t cut it in France. Keep it in the hotel or keep it at home all together.
Tube socks and white tennis shoes are a no-no—Yes, I understand that it is important to have comfortable walking shoes on when you are exploring France, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear your sneakers with white tube socks and shorts. You will see the trendy, “puma” like tennis shoes on young Parisians, but if you want to blend in, leave at home your white tennis/running shoes. We know that these shoes are comfortable and built for mileage, but white tennis shoes are the tell-tale sign of “American Tourist”. Truthfully, when I see white shoes in a sea of black, I know that it is a fellow American in Paris. Don’t make yourself an easy mark for pickpockets and just leave ‘em at home.
Invest in shoes designed for walking (Recommended brands are Ecco, Mephisto, or Dansko). One day of climbing steps up monuments and navigating cobblestoned corridors and you’ll understand why these sturdy European brands are so popular among Parisians . Or, wear a pair of flats, loafers or short-heeled boots that have been battle-tested at home for walking.
Leave your baseball cap at home—You love the Yankees and you may want everyone in France to know this, but the truth is that wearing a baseball cap in France is a sure-fire way to stand out as an American tourist. The French just don’t sport these types of hats, and you’ll definitely stick out like a sore thumb if you do. The French also find it rude to wear hats inside and during meals. You also definitely won’t be able to go clubbing in Paris wearing one either. You’re best off just leaving it home.
There’s nothing wrong with basic black (or other neutrals)–Since you can’t bring your entire closet with you when you are traveling to France, you’ll want to stick with basic, neutral items that go with almost everything. Not only will this save you room in your bag, but you’ll also look classy. If you want to punch up your outfit, add scarves (of the silk variety in the summer) and other accessories.
Ditch the Fanny Pack—
This is actually not a bad idea for right here in the United States, but you’ll especially want to heed this advice when traveling in France. If you want to embody the cliché of an American tourist in France, all you have to do is strap on one of these bad boys and put your camera around your neck and you’re good to go. However, if you are trying to avoid looking like a bad cliché, leave the fanny pack at home and opt for a backpack, a purse, a tote—anything that isn’t a fanny pack. ALSO, while backpacks are fine for that hike in the south of France or your day-trip to Mont Saint-Michel, pick something more stylish and sleek for the streets of Paris.
Keep in mind that no matter how hard you try you probably won’t look quite as stylish as your French counterparts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t blend in. When I was living in France, I always cherished the moments when I was asked for directions in French or when people were surprised to learn I had an accent. When in doubt, dress nicer than you think is necessary, remember there is definitely such thing as too casual in France, and dress your age. If you look the part, you may even get better treatment when you are out and about.
Julie Blakley is a writer for Why Go Paris, a comprehensive on-line Paris travel guide, where you can find the latest information on everything from conquering Paris on a budget to how to how to use the Metro.