Paris Practique :: Packing

When you’re packing for Paris there are only a few basic rules you need to understand to make the most of your visit.

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.

4. Layer.
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
black scarf

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.

{i heart looking like a tourist image/t-shirt design by BustedTees, via BarceloMIA}


  • Love it… I’m actually packing as we speak! A long London business trip gets the color scheme of jewel tones… ruby red, sapphire blue, grey, black and, yes, brown… had to have more colors as I have to go to the office so I can’t repeat as often :(

    PS. How ARE the French women wearing their scarves this year?

  • What! London? and you’re not hoping over to say hello??

    I think the French are doing the loop and pull-thru right now, rather than the complete wrap around, but I need to take a closer look myself!

    Happy travels!

  • Great tips! I always struggle with packing! I want to be comfortable without sacrificing the cute. I also thinking adding a flashy piece like a cute patterned dress that can go with flat boots and a basic trench is a must.

  • i wish i was as good a packing ninja as little brown pen. alas, i’m not. i’m working on paring down my life (that’s right, not just my closet, my entire life!) — as i’m making cuts i definitely think to myself “what would a parisenne do?” and that helps me be ruthless in my downsizing!

  • such wonderful tips!! thank you so much for sharing. i’m still dreaming of a trip to paris . . . i will make it there one day!

  • i ALWAYS overpack, and then end up wearing 1 or 2 outfits my entire trip, thus bringing home a suitcase full of unworn, wrinkled cloths.
    As for the getting dressed up to take out the trash…i haven’t gone that far yet, but i did catch myself putting on makeup to run to the grocery store last week. But being a single girl in new york calls for that same, be ready to meet anyone, anywhere theme!

  • I am loving your new series, Paris Practique…will surely prepare me for my upcoming trip!
    So, all black, huh? I used to wear all black in my teenage years (just turned 30) and have been slowly introducing color over the years. Now I wear yellow sweaters, with turquoise jewelry, and purple shoes (too much, maybe), so paring down my colors will be hard. Anything to not look like a tourist in sneakers, though! :)P
    …and what about Converse CTs? I live in those (black)…

  • Thanks for all the great comments!

    LizzyB – Don’t stress too much. It’s not so much about being goth, but understanding the ropes around here. Ultimately, be yourself and be comfortable. The color thing actually just makes for more efficient packing. And you’ll be pleased to know that converse are most definitely in here in Paris :)


  • I’d find it hard to stick to just those dark tones – we Brits associate colour with having fun – just look in the Boden catalogue. Black is for funerals and for design types who wear bright red lipstick. However, I do buy into dressing in only one colour theme – at the moment for me it’s all black bottoms with all purple tops.

  • I think I was always meant to be French. Black is and always has been a large part of my fashion style. Probably why I shriek when I see cruise-line colours flashing away in Florida fashion stores like neons on overdrive. These are great tips, thks Anne.

  • Heather – SO true about the Brits loving color. Whenever I go to London from Paris, it’s the first thing I notice!

    Cate- I had a former co-worker who used to joke that I was a French woman trapped in an American body! Ha. Glad the tips are helpful :)


  • I LOVE these tips! By reading / looking at blogs like The Sartorialist and Garance Dore, you’d think Parisians all have massive walk-in closets full of designer pieces mixed in with Marant, Bruno or Comptoir de Cotoniers. But those chic French filles (and boys, too) have really mastered the art. I just love their style.

  • I lived in Paris for five years. Little Brown Pen has down pat if you’re just staying a short while. The most important thing that you can wear is CONFIDENCE. It’s not the striped shirt, etc. It’s all in the way that you carry yourself. Pack light, yes, but wear your clothes with confidence and you won’t have to even worry about blending in.


  • This was a FANTASTIC post! I think the wearing black can also apply in NYC or HK where I live. As much as I travel, I feel like I need constant reminders to pack less, pack less!

  • Dearest Anne,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! First of all that is exactly how I am going to pack for Paris once I am going there in about a month or so. Second of all as opposed to broad “pack like so” and “do such and such” this post has actual examples of what to do. Third of all, my top 3 things to do in Paris will be people watch (women in general so that I could soak in what they are wearing and how they are wearing things in a simplistic manner), then I will shop for worthy souveniers, and thirdly eat and walk a lot! This post is clearly appreciated !

    So you really think I should take it easy on color in my wardrobe when in the city? How about a colorful scarf???

  • Heading to Paris for 10 days beginning of July~ where are the best places to go for the Sales you spoke of? Hip mom,Kinda on a budget, so Herme’s won’t really be where I can make a purchase (: But I can’t wait to look!! Would love your suggestions!

  • I’d find it hard to stick to just those dark tones – we Brits associate colour with having fun – just look in the Boden catalogue. Black is for funerals and for design types who wear bright red lipstick. However, I do buy into dressing in only one colour theme – at the moment for me it’s all black bottoms with all purple tops.

  • THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU For this wonderfully concise HELPFUL post! We are leaving for Paris on Wednesday and I’m immobilized because I don’t know what to pack! Before I read your article I was lamenting the fact that my entire wardrobe except for a few pieces consists of BLACK. So yay! I will fit in! I am also going with two kids and a husband and my daughter’s teacher told her, “the French are snobby,” and “they don’t like Americans who wear jeans.” I don’t know why she told her that but now my daughter is freaked out. I just wrote a post today about my fears of packing on my blog – thank GOODNESS for you!

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  • Hey, this is interesting! I am French and I am living abroad, I have had an interest recently for foreigners’ point of view on French people.

    For instance this with lack of colours. Makes sense, now that you said it with these words. I am still schoked at how Germans wear “bunt” clothes, clothes that are so colourful that it hurts the eyes. If I were mean, I would say it sometimes reveal a complete lack of taste. But I am getting used to it anyway.

    Truth is, French style has something to do with “sobriété”. You have to sparkle with well cut clothes and shine in your own way. Wearing something that is too colourful would then mean you are craving for attention and that you do not know what “élégance” is, unless you assorted these colors well. Which is a difficult problem in style :)

    Plus if you do wear a lot of colours, you have to be really beautiful, and strong enough as to not let anyone makes problems for you every 5 meters. French problem of always been talked to, even if you don’t want…

    I think most of our problems with colours are there: we do not dare and we believe good taste is minimality. Something like that.
    I will continue reading your blog, keep it up!

  • I’m researching packing for a Parisian winter and this was so helpful! I want to be warm but fashionable. Looks like black, black, and more black it is! :)

  • Thanks for the post…I’m going to Brussels, Paris, and London in March, and this will help me keep my luggage down to a bare minimum instead of the numerous bags I usually bring.

  • Please note, for some reason this post attracts a lot of spammers, so I have decided to close the comments section. Thank you for understanding.