Can you visit Paris without admiring the fashionable locals, or casting a longing eye on the racks of chic clothing hanging in shop windows? If you can, you’re a stronger person than I am. The problem I usually have is that what I truly covet in terms of the latest styles is way beyond my price range (and would probably look ridiculous on me because I’m not a Skinny French Girl). But you don’t have to let the normally high prices keep you from becoming a Parisian shopaholic if you time your visits to Paris right – just plan on going to Paris during one of the two sale seasons each year.
In France, unlike in the United States, the government sets certain times of the year when shops can put their merchandise on sale. If a store wanted to have a sale outside those pre-ordained acceptable times, it would require more paperwork than anyone in their right mind would have the patience for. So they just don’t bother. Instead, every shop in the country slashes prices on everything they’re selling for a couple of months each year – at the same time everyone else has slashed prices. It’s a shopping frenzy for residents, but the Paris shopping seasons also make a great reason for a trip to the city.
The two times each year that Paris goes on sale are in January and July, although the specific start dates change each year so you’ll want to check with a current calendar. Each Paris sale period lasts roughly six weeks, and the discounts get progressively better as the sale drags on. In other words, that handbag you were drooling over at the start of the sale period – the one that had a 30% off tag on it – could be more than 60-70% off by the time the sales are drawing to a close. That is, if it’s still there. Shoppers who are willing to take the chance that their desired items won’t have been grabbed by someone else have been known to use tricks like hiding pieces of merchandise in other parts of a store (such as hiding books in the clothing department or hiding a certain size of skirt in the furniture department) – but even this strategy is so well-known now that I’m not sure it works as well anymore as its proponents would lead you to believe. Not being a risk-taker myself, I’d probably grab the handbag at 30% off and then just ignore any further price reductions… But how you deal with it is entirely up to you.
And if you’re thinking it’s just clothing or knick-knacks that’s on sale, think again – everything is on sale. If you can buy it in Paris, it’ll have a sale sticker on it during these sale periods. Furniture, beauty products, fine china, bed linens, designer duds – even wine goes on sale in January and July. Your biggest dilemma may not be going over-budget, but instead it may be how to get all your goodies back home.
>> Read more about shopping in Paris
Winter Sales Period in Paris
While you may be familiar with pre-Christmas sales, in Paris the first sale season of the year begins just after the holidays in early January. It’s an opportunity for shops to clear out the last of the Christmas stock, and a chance for shoppers to pick up whatever they didn’t get as a gift. The start-date is generally the second Wednesday in January, but that’s fungible, so it’s good to check what this year’s dates are. The January sales in Paris usually run through early February.
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Summer Sales Period in Paris
The second sale season of the year in Paris takes place just before the annual month-long vacation most French citizens get in August. The summer sales in France typically start in late June and run through the end of July. It’s one last shopping hurrah before Parisians abandon the heat and humidity of their city and head for the beaches, but even if you’re not planning a beach vacation you can still get in on the deals.
Survival Tips for Paris Sale Seasons
Survival tips for a sale? Don’t scoff, because unless you’re a seasoned pro, the Paris sales will be like nothing you’ve seen before. Think of it like this – you’re not acclimated to the sale periods in Paris the way the locals are. You’ll need to dip your toe in and approach slowly, lest you get overwhelmed and drown. Consider these tips your slow approach.
- Know the lingo. The word “soldes” means “sale” in French, and you’ll see it all over the city during the sale seasons. Don’t make the same mistake I did when I was a young pup who didn’t speak the language, thinking, “Wow, all these stores are selling the same thing – something called ‘soldes’ – and they’ve all got it marked down. It must be really bad, for them all to be getting rid of it at the same time…” Oh, how I sometimes miss that silly and naive little girl…
- Do your reconnaissance work. While this may make shopping seem like a job, it’s a good idea to visit the stores you’re hoping to score bargains in a day or two (or more) before the sales actually start – especially if you’re not as familiar with them. You’ll be able to learn where things are in the store, and perhaps find a few things you’ll want to come back to once they’re marked down. Slowly browsing through the racks isn’t the way things are done during the sale, when it’s a take-no-prisoners rush to grab the best stuff, so knowing what’s where – and what size is yours – beforehand helps immensely. (This is also when people begin hiding things in the store, like squirrels storing nuts for winter.)
- Plan to shop when the locals aren’t. This sounds like it would be easy, because you’re on vacation and can therefore shop during the day when Parisians are working, but it’s not that simple. Many people take days off to shop during the sale periods, so even at midday on a weekday you may find stores as crowded as they are on weekends. Your best bet is to check the stores on a few different days, and at different times. As long as you’re not intent on picking up any one specific item, then this method will let you enjoy the shopping a bit more when the stores are less busy. Also on this note, if you’ll be in Paris for awhile during the sale, it’s a good idea to check back with a store you like at different points during the sale period. This way, if there’s something you were on the fence about, you can see whether the additional discounts make it worth picking up – or whether someone else has bought it first, thereby making your decision for you!
- Dress for the occasion. Okay, so you’re madly hunting for the perfect little black dress or that to-die-for pair of designer stilettos, and you’re shopping in Paris, where all the women seem to be impossibly beautiful, thin, and stylish. Despite all of this, however, you need to resist the urge to try to blend in by dressing up. As mentioned, all that shopping can be tiring, so don’t make it worse by trying to navigate the crowds in heels or skin-tight jeans. Wear comfortable shoes that you won’t mind standing and walking in all day long, and comfortable clothing that breathes. And if you haven’t had a chance to scout the sale racks beforehand and try things on, wear clothes that are easy to get on and off in the changing rooms.
- Don’t assume the lowest price is the best deal. Shopaholics will certainly agree with me when I say that sometimes you really do get what you pay for. In other words, while you can probably pick up a designer knock-off for what feels like pennies during the sale seasons in Paris, if it’s as poorly made as most knock-offs are it’ll fall apart within a year and you’ll be out both the money you paid for it and the item itself. If there’s something that’s normally quite expensive on your shopping list – something you’ve really been wanting, or something that you’ve been putting off buying but you actually need – this is the time to get it. It’ll cost more than the knock-off, but it’ll still be a bargain compared to the normal prices, and anything that’s well-made will have the added bonus of lasting a long time.
- Remember to take breaks. A day of single-minded bargain-hunting can be exhausting, not to mention six straight weeks of it. Not that you’re going to spend six full weeks in the pursuit of the best deal, but when you’re surrounded by people who are equally single-minded it’s hard to not get (and stay) caught up in it. Even if you’ve set aside a whole day for shopping, you’ve still got to eat. If you’re lucky enough to be close to your hotel or hostel in Paris, you can drop off your purchases before heading out to fill your stomach and dive back into the shops.
>> Remember to hang onto your receipts – even though most sales won’t allow returns or exchanges, you can get that pesky value added tax (VAT) refunded if you’re not an EU citizen, assuming you’re spending over €175 in one shop in one day. You’ll need to fill out a form called “Tax-Free Shopping France,” which you’ll need to pick up from the shop. You can learn more about the form here (including exactly who’s eligible for a refund, and what products are eligible).
>> Paris has a website that’s dedicated to shopping, and which is meant to be helpful during the sale seasons, but it’s not as helpful as it could be. Still, it’s a good place to start, and it’s a good place to find out more information about the sales, what the sale dates are, and what neighborhoods have the best shopping. If you’re in Paris before the sale starts, a much more useful sale guide (provided you understand a little French) comes out the day before the beginning of the sale from the newspaper Le Figaro.
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