There is something about blending into the city you are visiting that is very satisfying. And being stopped not only by someone who is very obviously a tourist but also by locals and being asked for directions is a compliment that I have received in many cities around the world, and I get a real kick out of it. But in Paris, this compliment is always even more thrilling.
The much-talked-about Parisian chic is something many people strive for, analyze, and try to emulate, but, when it comes down to it, it really is quite simple. Classic, basic pieces go a long way toward not only looking Parisian but also making choosing what to wear and pack for a visit a lot easier.
And trying to look like a local rather than a tourist does not mean that you will have to forgo comfort, ease, or security. You can still wear shoes which you can walk in for hours, you can wear comfortable clothes, and you might even be able to wear a backpack — for that, read on.
After having called Paris home for some 6 years, there is one thing I learned, and that is to distinguish a tourist from a local at 100 paces. If you want to channel your inner Parisienne and avoid looking like a tourist, follow these easy steps when it comes to packing for your next visit.
1. Neutral Colors And Classics
Parisians tend to live in the colors black, blue, white, beige, and caramel, with a splash of color added for effect. In summer, you’ll get more colorful outfits, floral dresses, and floaty tops, but to keep daily outfit choices and packing very simple, try and stick to two or three main colors and avoid too-busy prints. All the above colors can be teamed up with each other — yes, even black and blue — and always look smart.
Timeless pieces are more Parisian than high fashion, but you’ll find that Parisiennes tend to mix and match, something classic with something quirky and fashionable; something vintage with something just bought, or something high street with something utterly luxurious.
2. Be Comfortable In Jeans
Parisians love their jeans, and really, since this marvelous invention back in 1873, there hasn’t been a more durable piece of clothing and one that lends itself so perfectly to travel. But do try and splash out not only on a pair that fits your body perfectly, and, depending on your age and figure, remember that darker washes tend to look smarter than those very faded ones, but that is up to you.
Jeans can be easily teamed with any of the suggestions below and work for all your excursions throughout the day, even for dinner in a gorgeous brasserie — just add heels instead of flats and a more elegant top.
3. Make Your T-Shirt A Mariniere Top
You know that oh-so-French look, that blue-and-white striped top? That is called a Breton top, or mariniere, and has evolved from navy and fishermen’s uniforms. If you think that this would be too clichéd to wear in France, you’d be wrong. You will see it everywhere, and what is even better, is that it is comfortable and goes as well with jeans as it does with a tulle skirt, should you wish to pack one. If it is good enough for Coco Chanel, who brought these tops into the daily wardrobe of every Parisienne, then it is perfect for a city break in Paris. Just add a string of pearls.
Pro Tip: You haven’t got one? In this case, you could either use this as an excuse to pop up to Brittany, where you get entire shops filled with these beauties, or head to Saint James, a shop found across Paris specializing in a variety of good quality striped t-shirts.
4. Flats, Boots, And Sneakers
Paris is the city that invented the flaneur, that person who strolls leisurely through the city, taking in the small details as they go. Walking is a must in Paris, and so are comfortable shoes. That is true for visitors as well as locals, even if you do see the odd Parisienne getting her high heels stuck in between the ancient cobblestones.
But flat does not mean walking shoes, or clunky, neon-colored sneakers. Sneakers are fine, but preferably in white and made from leather, which will go so well with your blue-and-white striped top and your jeans. For normal sneakers, try and keep the design and color scheme to a very reduced palette (see above), unless you are younger than 25 years old.
Pro Tip: Depending on the season, ankle boots, preferably black, with, a low, chunky heel for comfort work well, as do ballerinas, especially if you go for some Chanel-inspired two-tone flats that work as well with your jeans as with a little black dress and save you packing space.
5. A Trenchcoat And Blazer
In Paris, the weather can easily turn a little less sunny. While your initial thought might be a nylon raincoat, try to resist that thought and opt for either a camel-colored Burberry-style classic trench coat or one in navy blue. These are light, smart-looking, and withstand a rain shower, if not a tropical downpour. But for that, you can pop into Monoprix and get a cute little umbrella. For other days, take a tailored or an oversized blazer with the sleeves rolled up, in a neutral color that goes with everything.
6. Wear A Scarf
Male or female, old or young, there isn’t a French person who does not wear a scarf, even in summer. A scarf, be it long and thin, or a Hermès-style foulard is the accessory of choice for any French person, and it gives you a chance to add that splash of color to your neutral tones. Tie it to your handbag, around your neck, use it as a belt for your trench coat, or wear it Grace Kelly-style covering your hair. They do not take up much space and will change your look immediately, while also allowing you to stick to simple jewelry and not have to carry those heavy statement pieces with you.
7. Alternatives To Touristy Backpacks
You can spot a tourist a mile off by their chunky backpacks, often worn on the front instead of the back. Yes, they are perfect for carrying everything but the kitchen sink, and if you wear it like a kangaroo with a joey on its front, then you’ll probably be less likely to have your bag stolen. But at the same time, you will look so much like a tourist that the pickpockets will zoom into you immediately.
One thing you ought to consider is that in a city like Paris, you do not need to carry the proverbial kitchen sink around with you because you’ll be able to get water or snacks at every corner, you can put your travel guide easily into a smaller bag, or carry scans on your cell phone. To feel safer, opt either for a leather rucksack if you really cannot let go of the idea or a crossbody bag that is comfortable to wear and which will take you from day to night.
Pro Tip: Opt for a crossbody bag with an outer zipped compartment large enough for your phone, but with that compartment on the side that will be on your hip when wearing it. This way you can access your cell faster, but equally, have it stowed away more safely.
8. Think And Pack Layers
Layers are always a good idea for European city travel, as the weather, especially in spring and fall, can be somewhat changeable. Take simple t-shirts, both long and short-sleeved, simple shirts that don’t crease too much and can be worn open over the t-shirts, and a light neutral cardigan that will fit under your trench coat and will work with all the shirts. Bring a pashmina as an alternative light coverup that can stand in as a blanket for an impromptu picnic.
9. What Not To Pack
If you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb in Paris, leave the sweatpants and sweatshirts, especially those with “I Love Paris” on them for home. Do not wear berets, shorts, or those “practical” trousers with zips along the knee for a two-in-one solution; and please also leave the baseball caps at home. If it is sunny and you need to cover up, grab a little straw hat and some large sunglasses instead.
Final Word: Paris is the undisputed city of fashion. If in doubt, pack less and go shopping. Not only will you get something authentically Parisian, but you’ll also get some souvenirs that whenever you wear them back home will transport you straight back to Paris. And even if the Rue Saint-Honoré luxury labels may be out of your reach, stores like Monoprix offer fun fashionable items as well as great classics at extremely low prices. Or go hunting in the dépôts-vente for a pre-loved designer piece. Why not? It is Paris after all.
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