Dressing Parisian Style : What to Wear in Paris

French striped shirtParis is known for having the best-dressed locals, who look like they leaped right off the pages of a fashion magazine.

Whether one wants to blend in to avoid being identified as a tourist, or you just aspire to emulate Parisian style, many travelers feel the need to step up their wardrobe and dress more chic during their vacation.

American women usually fall into two camps when it comes to what to wear in Paris: those who put comfort above all else and don’t give a flying fig what people think about how they look, and those who are fashion-conscious and want to blend in with Parisian fashion trends as much as they can. To the first group, I say, “Do you.”

If you’ll be most comfortable in a Lakers sweatshirt, a pair of white Nikes, and a Jansport backpack, then go for it. No one’s judging.

For the rest of you, whether you’re fashion-conscious or just don’t want to look like an obvious tourist, check out the clothes, accessories and fashion essentials you need. We’ll review the fashion do’s and don’ts, and take a closer look at some of the staples of the Parisian wardrobe.

As former French fashion model Ines de la Fressange says in her book, Parisian Chic, “Brilliant basics are the key to a great look.” So think simple. French women don’t have huge closets full of clothes. What they have are a few high-quality basics that they combine and accessorize in interesting ways. (You can see more tips from Fressange and check out her book below.) It’s an exaggeration that they wear black ALL the time, but their color palette tends to be muted.

Pay attention to cut and shape. The Parisian silhouette is feminine and slim-fitting. Avoid anything baggy, slouchy, or oversized.

This video offers a quick primer on Paris street style:

If you’re wondering what to wear and what to avoid if you want to fit in, here’s a quick rundown:

PARISIAN STYLE DO’s

Leather handbags
Ballet Flats
Black Leggings
Trench coats
Military jackets
Motorcyle jackets
Black
Blazers (slim fitting)
Jeans — well cut and in good condition (Boot cut, trouser, skinny, etc.)
Dresses
Stripes
Neutrals
Capris
High Heels (for clubbing, dining out)
Colored Bensimon or Converse sneakers
Dressy Bermuda shorts (plain, pinstriped, etc.)

PARISIAN STYLE DONT’S

Shorts (some young people wear them, though)
Flip Flops
Bright, loud colors
Floral prints
Tracksuits
White sneakers (Nike, Adidas, etc.)
Athletic Apparel
Backpacks

Now, let take a look at a few essential travel wardrobe pieces:

The French Sailor Shirt

 

Yes, it’s part of the uniform of the stereotypical French mime. But the sailor shirt actually has it’s roots in French naval history. The striped, boatneck shirts were originally worn by navy seamen in Brittany — thus the nicknames “Breton” and “marinière” (marine). Tricot Saint James has been making the nautical knits since 1850, but there’s no need to be picky about having the authentic brand. Any sailor-like shirt with narrow horizontal stripes will put you in step with French fashion, and best of all they look good on women of any age.

I like short-sleeved ones for summer. Oh, and Miss Sophie at les anti-modernes has a cool lookbook of them in different colors and outfits.

Buy a striped shirt and wear it with jeans and a pair of red flats, and you’ve got instant Paris style.

 

The Handbag

 

You need a fashionable handbag that goes with your chic look. For theft prevention, you also want something that you can close tightly and secure close to your body. The solution? A neutral-colored leather shoulder bag with a zipper closure. It doesn’t need to be a designer brand, just something that looks polished. This rich-looking leather purse (pictured, left) is only about $100.

 

The Trenchcoat

 

Don’t let a rainy day get you down. Instead, step out in the women’s outerwear of choice for chilly or rainy days. If you’re traveling in spring or early summer, you definitely need to pack one of these.

Although bright trench coats have become popular in the U.S., in Paris, one should stick to the neutral palette: classic khaki or black. Make sure your trench is double-breasted, falls below the hip, and has a belted waist.

 

Shoes to Wear in Paris

 

Fashionable footwear choices for Paris travelers include ballet flats, heels for an evening out, and cute sandals.

I love ballet flats and mary jane flats with support, because they’re comfortable enough for all-day wear, and versatile enough to be dressed up or down. They work great for the flight to Paris, a day at the museum, or a stroll along the Seine.

See some of my stylish travel shoe picks >>

 

Choosing travel sandals can be tricky, depending on how many pairs you can pack. If you have room for two pairs, then that’s easy: Choose one casual (but not too rugged or sporty) pair for walking around all day, and pack a second pair of dressy, strappy sandals to wear out to dinner or with a dress. Espadrilles (with wedges) and gladiators are popular summer footwear in Paris.

However, if you can only pack ONE pair of sandals, then you need to find a versatile pair that can work for both occasions. That usually means strappy sandals of the “comfort” variety. (Comfort gladiators fit the bill nicely.) I’ve chosen some looks that have support for long days of walking and don’t look like clodhoppers.

See some of my stylish sandal picks >>

 

Les Tropeziennes, the handmade, classic summer sandal of the French Riviera, are an enduring summer fashion staple among women in France. While you can only get authentic Tropeziennes at K. Jacques’ 3 retail stores in St. Tropez and Paris, you can find imitation Tropeziennes at shoe stores all over town.

Leather BootsLeather Boots are an essential piece of footwear for a winter trip to Paris. Feminine black leather boots add instant Rocker chic to any outfit.

Tuck your skinny jeans (for those of you lucky enough to fit a pair) into your slouchy boots for a cute, casual look.

Paris Style Guides

Style book

Paris Street Style

Paris Street Style is a 2013 guide to getting that “nonchalant chic” that Paris women seem to have down pat. Get fashion tips from stylists, magazine editors, designers, and more.

Learn “how to” with photos and sketches illustrating the looks.

Parisian Chic Book

Parisian Chic

You might also want to check out the book Parisian Chic for even more tips from former French model Ines de la Fressange. (She actually hails from the South of France, and had to learn herself how to mimic the unique style of Parisian women.)

The book will help you get into the mindset of how French women approach fashion.

De la Fressange describes Paris style as “between Rocker and Bourgeois,” which is just about right. Watch a video preview of the book:

 

Doing some shopping while in Paris is a great way to capture the French look. Read my shopping guide to find the best spots.

 

 

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