Packing for Paris
You are getting ready to embark on your first trip to Paris. You’re giddy with excitement about finally getting to see the beautiful City of Lights, stand under the Eiffel Tower and eat and drink your way into oblivion. But when it comes time to pack your bag, you find yourself looking over the clothes in your closet for the 45th time and staring at your empty suitcase. You know the French are fashion forward, but you also want to be comfortable during your long days of walking around the city sight-seeing. You don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, but you also aren’t sure your budget will accommodate a whole new wardrobe for a few days in Paris. So, the question lingering in your head as your stare at that empty suitcase is, “what should I pack for my trip to Paris?”
Is it your first trip to Paris?
Women’s clothing tips: What to wear in France
First off, remember that even though you may be just a tourist, Paris is an exceptionally stylish city, where both men and women pride themselves a lot on what they are wearing and how they are put together. Casual in Paris is also not the same as casual in the U.S. Forget wearing any sort of athletic wear out, leave the flip-flops at home, and when in doubt dress up more than you might normally at home.
You’ll also want to leave your short shorts at home. Although you may see some exceptionally fit and stylish women rocking little shorts these days, this is a sure fire way to feel really out of place on the streets of Paris.
For Parisians, getting dressed is a lot about creating an entire ensemble, or outfit, rather it being about a single signature piece or designer item. For Parisians, creating an outfit doesn’t mean that everything matches or is even meant to be paired together, but more about combining items to make your own unique look. Belts and scarves are easy ways to blend in and add a little Parisian flair to what you are wearing.
A good general rule of thumb is to go dress simply (black is almost always a safe bet) and spice up your outfit with accessories. This also takes a hell of a lot less space in your suitcase. Dresses are also an easy way to look fabulous and save room in your suitcase. Accessorize them for day or evening with jewelry, a cardigan or a scarf.
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Men’s clothing tips: What to Wear in France
Many of the same basic rules that apply to women also apply to men in Paris. Remember, you are in a fashion capital where both women AND men take what they wear and their clothing pretty seriously. While many guys in the states (especially in my current home town of Portland, Oregon) can get away with cargo shorts, baseball caps and tennis shoes, this is simply not how French men dress.
My Parisian cousin Jean-Marc once told me he had absolutely no success with the women until he got his first pair of Italian leather shoes. I think this is testament to the fact that men are expected to dress well in Paris. If you are hoping to score with any French chicks while you are in Paris, you are going to want to leave those ragged jeans and t-shirts at home and opt for something a little more sophisticated.
That being said, men rarely wear ties in Paris unless they are at work or doing business dealings. If you plan on going out to some nice restaurants in Paris, you’ll definitely want a blazer/suit jacket with you to dress up your outfit, but you won’t need a tie. You’ll also want to bring at least one pair of nice dress shoes. Just because you are a man does it mean its ok to wear your tennis shoes out to the Paris clubs or to a nice meal.
Like with women, simple is always best. Bring a nice pair of trousers, jeans, simple sweaters and button downs and a nice pair of shoes. Leave your cargo shorts, baseball caps and flip-flops at home. As for your tennis shoes? Those are only for the day.
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Some people don’t realize that European countries not only have different plus than in the U.S., they also run on a different voltage. Since the modern day traveler rarely goes anywhere these days without a gaggle of things that need to be plugged into the wall, you want to make sure you’ve got the proper adapter plugs before you take off. France runs on 220 volts, so some of your electronics (like blow dryers) will need a converter switch as well, so you don’t fry it when you plug it in. While most computers will work just fine with a simple adapter plug, I’ve fried more than one hair straighter trying to plug it in France.
Especially with all of the new restrictions about liquids over 3 oz. in your carry on it is probably not worth it to bring your entire bathroom of cosmetics and toiletries items with you. Paris is littered with pharmacies, where you can easily and quickly pick up a few essential items like shampoo and lotion. This will not only save you some valuable space in your suitcase, but you may just get to try out a new French shampoo that doesn’t smell or look like anything you have at home.
You can pick up this stuff at any pharmacy around the city (or in any of the many Monoprixs). Look for a green floursecent cross, as these signs mark pharmacies.
Here is some vocab for essential French toiletry items:
Vernis a l’ongle: Nail Polish
Shampooing (sham-poo-ie): Shampoo
Apres Shampooing (ah-pray sham-poo-ie): Conditioner
Brosse a dents (bra-sa-don): Toothbrush
Crème de soleil (cre-ehm duh sol-eh): Sunscreen
Preservatifs (pray-sair-va-teefs): condoms
Pansements (pan-say-mahn): bandages
Savon (sahve-ohn): Soap
General Rules of thumb
Temperatures in Paris can range anywhere from cold and rainy (sometimes even cold and snowy) to hot and humid. What you pack is going to be largely dependent on what time of year you go.
>>Want to know what average temperatures will be like for your trip? Read more about Paris Weather
If it’s summer time, you’ll want mostly stuff that will allow you to stay cool during the day, but you’ll also want at least one warmer sweater for cooler evenings.
In the winter, Paris can get quite cold, so you’ll want to make sure you have mostly warmer clothing, a good coat, thick socks and a pair of boots is also a good call.
Bringing a light rain coat or umbrella also isn’t a bad call, no matter what time of year it is.
Black trousers/pants are a good staple for both men and women to have in their bag. Their classy, flattering, can be paired with almost anything and are dressy enough to get by in almost any situation in Paris.
Shoes wise, for both men and women, you’ll probably want to bring 2-3 pairs: a good pair of shoes to walk in and explore the city and at least one pair of nicer shoes for going out. For women, flats are a good choice for both, as navigating the metro and cobble stone streets in heels can be tricky.
In the winter, you’ll probably also want to bring along a pair of boots. They are always in style, can be paired with jeans or dresses/skirts, will keep your feet warm and dry in the winter and will always look fabulous. Oh, and just because you white tennis shoes and socks are really comfortable to walk in, you may want to reconsider and opt for a more stylish option (like a trendy sneaker or flats) that is still comfortable.
Women, are you addicted to your flat iron to make your hair straight? You may want to think about just leaving it at home and picking up a cheap one at a Monoprix once you get there. Even with the proper voltage converters, I have always had really bad luck with frying hair straighteners in Paris. Rather than lug yours over there just to have it sizzle and break once you get there, just leave it at home and figure something else to do with your hair.
photo by Stephen A.J. Beijer