At Paris Escapes, we are frequently asked "How do the Parisian woman dress" and "What should we wear in Paris?"
Paris is a large, cosmopolitan city and you'll see people on the street wearing all ranges of clothing - from men in power suits, women who have mastered the art of walking on cobblestones in short skirts and stilettos, to both sexes wearing jeans and cowboy boots.
However, Parisians are renowned for their style and fashion forwardness. After all, this is the city that founded "haute couture" and supports a vibrant designer "knock-off" industry. Parisian chains like Naf Naf and Carroll crank out low-cost versions of the latest designer trends literally overnight. The result is that the average Parisian is usually flawlessly put together for a relatively few euros.
Even if you are fashion-oriented, pack your most comfortable clothes from home. However, if you'd like your appearance to not scream " I am an American Tourist", follow these classic five tips listed below.
1. Neutrals are Key - If you're from a climate that sports a lot of florals and bright colors, aim for the subdued approach. You can never go wrong wearing black in Paris - in fact, you'll notice that this is the color scheme that most of the locals live in. You've heard it all before - black is slimming, always in style, and versatile - a flattering black sweater or pants/skirt can be dressed down for daywear and easily spruced up for a night on the town.
As a traveler, black has the added benefit of not showing the "wear and tear" of a trip. And if you can't stand wearing black, try other neutral colors - like beiges, browns, and creams.
2. Leave Leisure Wear at Home - Leave your hoodies and matching sweatpants, white tennis shoes, shorts and bright colored nylon windbreakers at home. The comfortable clothes that suburban American women live-in, are not seen on Parisians outside of their homes.
Elisabeth Fourmont of La Coquette, a Parisian fashion blog, says it best, 'Most countries fetishise styles only young people look good in, whereas in Paris there are interesting women dressing their age. 'That's why designers find Paris so inspiring.' And always, always look neat: 'There's a lot you can't get away with here,' continues Fourmont. 'Wearing a tracksuit and flip-flops to the post office is a form of disrespect.'
Bottom line: Dress your age and dress nicely - you'll be rewarded with better treatment in cafés, shops and restaurants
3. Make a Statement with Accessories and Scarves - Don't over pack with too many outfits. Bring basics that travel well and that you can mix and match. Dress up your outfits with accessories - necklaces, earrings and scarves. Scarves are ubiquitous in Paris - Parisian women know they are a quick and easy way to pull an outfit together.
They also make great souvenirs. You can usually purchase a few silk scarves in the season's hottest colors and patterns (usually, a year ahead of trends in the US) for 5-10 euros at the stands outside the Galleries Lafayette or Printemps. Or, splurge at Hermes for a scarf that will last a lifetime (and at 300+ euros/scarf it should).
4. Wear Comfortable Shoes, Not White Tennis Shoes - Paris is a city made for walking and you'll be on your feet more than you can imagine. You will see the trendy, flat "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 shows are the tell-tale sign of "American Tourist". Truthfully, when we see white shoes in a sea of black, we know that it is a fellow American in Paris. Unfortunately, many unsavory types that prey on tourists also know that this is the case. Don't make yourself an easy mark for pickpockets - leave the white tennis shoes 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.
Remember: Paris is not the city to "break-in" a new pair of shoes.
Learn More: View the up-to-date shoe trends for Spring/Summer 2013 and learn about the top shoe brands for comfort and style by reading "What Shoes Should You Wear When Visiting Paris."
5. Jeans are OK - Five years ago, we never saw anyone in Paris wearing jeans except teenagers. Today, denim is a growing Paris trend. Jeans are everywhere - upscale restaurants have even lessened their dress codes to admit designer jean clad customers.
Before you toss your favorite Levi's in a suitcase, remember that we're talking about Paris, and the jeans you see on Parisians contain certain stylistic elements - dark, slim fit "skinny jeans", or slight flare - paired with low-heels or ballet flats for daytime walking and stilettos for going out at night. If your jeans can be described as high-waisted or pleated, you'll feel more comfortable wearing black pants or a skirt - especially for dining in the evening. (View the trend for jeans in Spring/Summer 2011 here).
6. Don't Worry About Your Hair and Make-Up - A bonus about visiting Paris is that you don't need to obsess over your hair and make-up. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but Parisian woman tend to favor the "au natural" look more than their American counterparts. Hairstyles are more unstructured and air dried. You'll see more long hair pulled back into a casual chignon than elaborately straightened and styled like in the US.
Make-up is minimal with an emphasis on glowing skin (visit any French pharmacy and you will be stunned by the amount of products promising "prefect, pore-free, blemish-free radiant" skin). To quote Laura Mercier, the French creator of a line of cosmetics, "French women are not flashy. They must be subtle. The message must not be, 'I'm spending hours on my face to look beautiful."
Parisian cosmetologists caution restraint by choosing one area to highlight - shadowed eyes mean neutral or no lipstick, wear lipstick and keep your eyes untouched, and let your natural skin show by wearing minimal foundation and little blush. For an example, pick up a copy of French Elle and be amazed to see unairbrushed models with minimal make-up. So, "embrace your inner beauty" and spend your time exploring Paris instead of styling your hair and making-up your face.
- For photos of what Parisians are wearing on the street last spring, check out Photos from the Streets of Paris - Spring 2012.
Author: Cheryl Montgomery