Paris Practique :: Packing
1. Wear black.
If you wear color it will scream TOURIST! Ok, you may be able to get away with navy blue, brown, and possibly one red item. As soon as you look around, you will see the sea of lack of color in this city. The good news is that if you adhere to this rule everything you pack will match. The downside is that whoever you are traveling with may not be able to spot you, so maybe one signature color isn’t all bad.
2. Choose a color palette.
So rule #1 may not be for everyone, so why not try rule #2 which I learned from Margaret Vest: for any given trip pick a color palette that you think suits you and your destination, and in sticking to those colors it will help you limit what you pack (while having a stylish adventure). When I moved to Paris this fall I only brought black, brown, blue and gray clothes + my accent color of mustard yellow. Not only does everything match (ok, some of you need to get over your fear of black and brown together), but I’m still to this day able to find new outfit combinations and it’s never a challenge to decide what to wear. And I get lots of compliments.
3. Stripes and scarves.
There’s no better way to feel French than a stereotypical striped shirt. Seriously though, striped shirts are all the rage in the design blog world, and lucky you, they seem to be super in this spring in every storefront in Paris! And while French women aren’t huge into accessories, a simple pashmina can be that extra je ne sais quoi to finish up an outfit (and keep you warm in a drafty cafe). If you forget to pack one, they are sold in literally every color of the rainbow (eek, you better rethink how much color you want in your life) all over the city – specifically around tourist hubs – for 5 Euros each. Once you have one or two, your assignment is then to study how French women are wearing theirs this season, and you do the same.
The weather in Paris is well. . . spastic. Although being a relatively small/compact city, you can be in one area and it will be sunny, hop on the metro elsewhere and walk out into the rain. Rain usually never lasts that long, but it’s still good to be prepared. Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel more put together and like the outfit is complete when I have at least 3 pieces on.
5. Dress for anything (and everything).
In his book The Sweet Life in Paris, David Lebovitz jokes that he knows he became a Parisian when he started dressing up to take the trash out. In Polly Platt’s French or Foe, she cites the case of a French mother-in-law repremanding her American daughter-in-law for going out to get the paper from the newsstand without wearing pantyhose. No, sweatsuits won’t do here in Paris. The Parisian attitude of dressing is based on the fact that you never know what your day may hold (or who you may meet), so be ready for anything. A few years back when I was teaching in a French high school, believe it or not I dressed for the day with the idea that it’s something I could teach in, but also go to the bar in the same outfit (this is where layering comes in extra handy!) should the occasion arise. Paris is relatively small and easy to get around, but why waste your time running back and forth stressing about changing when you could be living it up in your limited time in Paris?
6. If you forgot something, remember you’re in Paris dammit – buy it here!
There’s no sense in over-packing for any trip, but especially not Paris. With so many airline restrictions, limitations, added fees and lost luggage, why overdo it? Perhaps this is the best time to challenge yourself to use that carry-on bag for more than a weekend trip. And don’t be afraid to leave some room for “souvenirs” (note: not the cheap, tacky kind). If you’re super smart, you’ll plan your trip during Les Soldes, the twice yearly (late Jan/early Feb and late June/early July) sales where every store in Paris offers huge discounts to make room for the next season’s shipments. Regardless of when you come, let’s face it, I doubt you’ll have much problem finding something you’ll want to take back with you.
7. When in Paris do as the Parisians Do.
Finally, my last secret is that most Parisians don’t have huge closets (hello, may I remind you I live in 10m2! – that’s the size of most American closets), let alone huge wardrobes. During your visit watch and learn from the Masters themselves. Really the goal is to have a basic, functional wardrobe, and then maybe splurge on one or two pieces a year. Apply this concept to your packing. Classic over quantity.
If these rules are still confusing you, let me use Nichole Robertson of Little Brown Pen (ahem, see her Boarding Pass feature HERE) as my favorite example of what she packed for her most recent trip to Paris this winter:
2 pair of dark jeans
1 pair of black booots
3 long-sleeve black tees
1 black sweater
1 gray sweater
black pea coat
noting: I can get by on that for four solid days, and if we are there for a week, I’ll just pop everything into the washer. [and she and her husband even share a suitcase!]
I hope you found this post helpful! And perhaps if you didn’t want to come to Paris before this, perhaps you do now just to see how savvy a packer you can be! P.S. Rules can apply to all travel.