Hi France Travel Planners! With many people planning to visit Paris soon, the topic of conversation in the France Travel Planning Facebook group (you can join here if you aren’t a member) has invariably turned to what to wear in Paris. I try really hard not to be too bossy, and I know my views are not necessarily shared by other experienced travellers to France but I have a logic behind my opinions. When I started my frugal first class travel blog I had a particular travel philosophy that was based around of the concept of spend less see more, and saving on things that don’t matter in order splurge on things that do. Part of that concept included one bag travel – pack less and wear more. So here we go, let me do a little myth busting about what to pack for Paris, and where one bag travel fits in.
Why we need to do some myth busting – let me explain why I hold the opinions I do
One bag travel rules in Europe
Anyone who has read by blog posts on packing knows I am a huge fan of one bag travel to Europe. It’s how I travel regardless of where I am going, the time of year and for how long. Years ago I wrote a post about it, but here’s a summary of my logic:
Firstly, packing just one carry on bag saves you money
Unless you are staying somewhere very expensive, the rooms and lifts (elevators) in most European hotels are quite small. In places like Paris they can be teeny tiny. You need to be able to get your suitcase in the lift and up to your room. In your room you need to be able to open it without having to lug it onto your bed every time you want clean underwear. Even if you are an unpacker you need somewhere to put your suitcase out of the way. Big suitcases don’t allow you to do that.
Taxis and rental cars also tend to be smaller. It seems such a waste of money to me to need to book a bigger car, or have to wait in the taxi queue for a bigger taxi just because I wanted to pack 6 pairs of shoes and 5 jackets. It’s a waste of my money and time – both of which I would rather spend doing something enjoyable rather than just getting from one place to another.
Most hotels don’t have luggage porters and not all apartment buildings have lifts
Unless you are staying in a 5 star hotel chances are you will need to be able to manage your own bags. If you are staying in an apartment managing your own bags is a given, unless your property manager helps out. While your hotel is likely to have a lift, unless your apartment lists it explicitly it won’t. In cities such as Paris, many hotels also don’t have entry ramps, so getting your bags up the step (or steps) at the front door is inevitable. Small, light bags mean you can manage your luggage up steps and stairs much easier.
Big bags are hard to wrangle on trains
When I travel to Paris solo I often take the airport bus and the metro to reach my hotel. So easy with a small carry on bag, but much trickier with a big one. I know there are people who pack big suitcases and always take public transport from the airport, but honestly, after a 24hour flight (or even if I was on a 7hour red eye from North America) that’s not my idea of a fun way to arrive in Paris. With my one carry on bag I skip the luggage carousel and am on my way on the bus in no time. If you are planning on taking public transport from the airport, big bags are very tricky to get through the ticket gates (and I have known people get pickpocketed while trying to manage the task).
Travelling around Europe by train is also so much easier with a smaller suitcase. Even on the big, fast trains such as the TGV in France or the German ICE train luggage racks are small and there is never enough room for everyone’s luggage. With my small suitcase I’m able to fit it almost anywhere – between the rows of seats in Switzerland, above my seat in France and even on my knee travelling to the Cinque Terre. When I visited the Cinque Terre in 2013 the last train I took was absolutely packed, with luggage and people everywhere. Luckily my little suitcase fitted perfectly on my lap without disrupting any other passenger and remained safe and sound in my possession the whole journey.
“Fitting in” matters
This invariably comes up when we are talking about clothes and I know it’s a divisive topic. I think it is worth fitting in. With my build and colouring I know I am never going to look French. But here’s the thing. Looking like you belong is safer. Even if you are surrounded by other tourists. If you are on a crowded metro or around the Eiffel Tower pickpockets and scammer look for the easiest target. The person with the bumbag (fanny pack) and the baseball (or AFL, NRL, or football) shirt clearly doesn’t belong compared to smartly dressed middle aged couple (who may in fact be pickpockets or scammers themselves). Don’t be the “easy target.”
Myth busting what to pack for Paris
Just wear what you wear at home
This is probably the myth I see most often – in my group, but also in other Paris travel planning Facebook groups. I hate it when I read this for good reason – to start with, we don’t know what you wear at home. Whether you live in your gym clothes or don’t go anywhere unless you are dripping in logos and 6 inch heels (extremes of clothing I know) you will not be appropriately dressed in Paris. In general, French people only wear athletic wear when they are actually doing something athletic, or returning home from athletic activity. Six inch heels are just dumb in Paris unless you are going from the private car to the haute couture show (or are Kim Kardashian) and as the cool French girls pointed out in an earlier post so eloquently logos are a no no.
Secondly, when you are at home you have racks, cupboards, drawers etc full of clothes and shoes. Even if you pack heavy it is unlikely you will have everything you own in your case when you travel to Paris. So some editing is important – making multitasking items essential. We all have our favorite clothes we wear a lot at home – but that doesn’t mean they are the best clothes to pack for a Paris vacation. You can read my own list of things I never pack here.
Rather than just pack what you wear at home, think about separates that mix and match and that can multi -task. A pair of athleisure leggings are fine for going round the Louvre, but you will certainly be under dressed in a nice restaurant, and if you want a drink or afternoon tea at my favorite Le Meurice you will not be allowed in. Leave the leggings home and take a pair of casual pants – you won’t be over dressed at the Louvre and they will take you anywhere you want to go. Be careful with jeans – if they get wet they take ages to dry, restricting your wardrobe.
Mix and match separates allow you to pack less and have more to wear.
Wear what you like – nobody cares
No, nobody else does care what you look like, but you will care if you are hot/cold, uncomfortable, have sore feet, are denied entry into the special restaurant you had booked or feel hopelessly self conscious if you. You will care even more if you have to waste your precious holiday time and money looking for a collared shirt or a pair of comfortable shoes unexpectedly, because you didn’t think through what to pack.
Unless you’ve also shared your itinerary when you’ve asked about your Paris packing list, no one knows what clothes you need, except for a few generalisations (comfortable shoes, a coat suitable for the time of year etc), so wearing what you like doesn’t really help with your Paris packing dilemma does it?
People do sometimes worry overly about what to wear in Paris and I don’t encourage high anxiety, but do your research, and if you are planning something specific (such as a fancy dinner) ask questions specific to your activity – then you will get, and afterwards be able to give, great advice on what is appropriate.
You will look like a tourist anyway
Yes, you probably will, but that doesn’t mean you want to scream it from the rooftops, attracting every pickpocket and conman in sight. If you look even a little like you know Europe you are less likely to attract the wrong sort of people.
Never wear shorts
I must admit I was always part of the “never wear shorts” brigade (except for children and very young women). I only advise them normally for men in summer if they are smart dress shorts. I’ve softened my opinion on this a little, but just a little, due to two recent images I’ve seen on line.
The first image was one of “those” French women on Instagram. She was dressed in black. Cropped little tweed jacket (the very French ones), short, relaxed fit black shorts and black pantihose – topped off with cute little ballet flats. She looked impossibly chic and dressed for all but the most formal of occasions.
The second image was in a Facebook group that I know many of my group members also belong to. It was of a very fashion forward aqua shorts suit. The young female poster had bought the outfit especially to wear in Paris for a special occasion. She was lamenting she had subsequently discovered that she “couldn’t” wear shorts and that she had learned she “had to wear black in Paris.” I felt so sorry for her, because again that outfit was fashionable, chic and would look great for going out to dinner and other special activities where you want to dress up a bit more. The jacket was a classic multi tasking piece that would go perfectly with neutral separates.
So I have softened my view on shorts. What I haven’t softened my opinion on is the shorts most of us immediately think of when we think of shorts. The casual ones we all love to wear to do our supermarket shopping on weekends in warm weather and wear on resort holidays are still the ones I don’t recommend. They are too casual for multi tasking (so you need to pack more skirts, long pants etc) and because they are still not commonly worn in Paris women over the age of about 25 years, they immediately mark you out. Pack a pretty skirt instead to wear with your sneakers – it will take you most places.
Just wear black and you will be fine
As an experienced one bag packer even I find it easy to fall into the habit of packing a lot of black because it’s just so easy, it doesn’t show the dirt and it goes with everything. And there is a stereotype that it’s what French women wear. To some extent all of these things are true. But black can be boring and restrictive and you can use other colours (or even patterns) as neutrals if you coordinate your packing list carefully. This post will show you exactly what I mean.
And yes, French women do wear black. But they also wear other neutrals as the basis of their wardrobes too. If your wardrobe staple at home is black, black, black there’s absolutely no problem with that, but don’t think you need to ditch the pink jacket or the purple sweater. Just think about what else you have that goes with those more colourful garments and how you can wear them. Just don’t fall for trap of thinking you need to dress like Emily in Paris.
A few final words on what clothes to pack for Paris
Paris is not the moon. It is a busy, international city with lots of tourists. Rightly or wrongly (and I think Instagram and Pinterest have a lot to answer for here) it also has a reputation for unachievably chic women we mere mortals can only look at in awe. While it’s true that in cities European women tend to dress a little more formally than many of us might be used to at home, I genuinely believe that you – yes, you – have the right clothes to wear in Paris sitting in your wardrobe, cupboards and drawers at home – it’s just a question of what you choose to pack and what you choose to leave at home. And I also genuinely believe you will fit it into a carry on bag with some consideration and planning (yes, really).