What to Wear to Paris

Capsule Wardrobe

packing paris what to wear capsule wardrobe carryon

Oooh la la I am tres jealous of the many of you readers who write to me asking for Paris packing advice! I can’t wait until I can return, it would be so nice to share the experience this time with Emerson. Until then I shall live vicariously through you… and my collages.

While I understand having nerves dressing for the City of Light, the way to look the most like a tourist is to try too hard. Parisians are known for their effortless style, and they don’t require huge wardrobes to be chic. It is possible to be comfortable, pack relatively light, dress for the ever-changing weather, and still be stylish. Here’s some tips:

what to wear to paris capsule wardrobe europe Sample Capsule Wardrobe:


Prepare for the Elements. Nothing ruins a trip faster than being too hot, too cold, and in the case of what often happens in Paris, too wet. Check the five-day forecast before you go. Bring layers, an umbrella, a trench that repels water as well as wind (the ones with removable linings are brilliant). A pashmina can be a wrap for a dress come evening, and during the day can tuck into the collar of your coat to ward off chill. Have shoes that can handle puddles and slush.

Focus on Shoes. You can be comfortable without wearing sneakers. I highly recommend anyone who is traveling to invest in a quality pair of supportive shoes that are versatile. A slip-on or Mary Jane style of shoe with arch support and a good sole will work with pants, shorts, skirts, and casual dresses year-round. Keep in mind that Paris has many cobblestone streets, so thin soles and thin heels can be uncomfortable.

I love wearing tall boots for travel – I waterproof them and wear them on the plane to save suitcase space and find they are comfortable for long days on my feet, especially if they end up soggy. A riding boot in brown or black looks smart pulled over dark wash jeans, with knee-length skirts of all styles, and makes cozy airplane fashion of heavyweight leggings and a knit tunic downright chic.


Keep it Simple. While Paris is known for fashion, its street style is not as extreme and wild as you will find in New York. More subtle colors, classic silhouettes, solid shades are a smart way to look chic and not stick out like a sore thumb. Black is always a safe bet because it can dress up and down with ease, hides stains, is less memorable and is eternally chic. Jeans are acceptable, but keep them a dark wash, a slimmer style, and free of overly trendy details and embellishments. Keep logos and prints to a minimum – not only is this more stylish but it’s far easier to re-wear pieces that are less memorable.

Unlike America where we have become famous for “more is more,” less is more in Paris. One accessory is plenty, be it a statement necklace, scarf, or cuff bracelet. Same with your beauty routine – a full face hides your natural beauty, choose lush lashes or red lips or flushed cheeks, not all. Don’t worry about the perfect blowout; a few bends, a low ponytail or a messy updo is chic and shows you’re not trying too hard.


If in Doubt, Overdress. I believe in this rule no matter where you are, but it’s especially good advice in Europe, where they dress more formally than we in America. Leather shoes in place of sneakers, trousers instead of jeans, sweaters in place of tee shirts. Dresses aren’t ridiculous for sight seeing, a simple boatneck tee-shirt inspired dress with anything from short to bracelet length sleeves is comfortable, travel-friendly, and chic. If chilly, pair with tights and boots, a pashmina and a trench or moto jacket. When warm, wear with ankle boots or flats. Wrap dresses are another versatile piece, pair with boots for day and pumps for evening.

And come evening, unless you know your audience and your personal style, leave the jeans and tee shirts in your hotel room. Even if it’s dinner in a simple café, a pair of trousers and a sweater or twinset is a better choice. No need to be decked out in silk and velvet, just have a bit more polish and care to your outfit. A scarf is a quick way to make anything look more polished, be it a printed silk square knotted at the throat or a cotton voile oblong piece looped around the throat.

Pack Smart Accessories. As I mentioned, a pashmina can multitask; a necklace with a ribbon closure can adjust length depending on your outfit; boots and flats can work with dresses as well as ankle-length trousers. A silk scarf can be tied to your purse for flair, around your neck for color, or even kerchief style on a windy day. A bag with a handle as well as a crossbody strap is on trend and great when you want your hands to drink a coffee or capture a photograph.


Keep a Simple Color Palette. There’s nothing wrong with dressing in all neutrals when on travel, it’s easier to rewear pieces, stains are less obvious, and pieces mix and match with ease. While I am one who loves hot pink and red and emerald green, when I travel my wardrobe is primarily black, gray, white, denim, and navy with only touches of color. A black boatneck knit tee dress is great for day with riding boots, but can work for evening with black pumps. A silk jersey shell with jeans and ballet flats is lovely for museum hopping; switch the denim for a black matte jersey maxi skirt and you’re prepared for your evening activities.

It’s okay to wear the same more than once, honestly it is! Take Tide to Go pens, a bar of Ivory soap, and spot clean your clothing. One thing nice is that travel-friendly fabrics like matte jersey are also quick drying – spot clean, hang up, and it will be ready to be re-worn the next day. The French usually have smaller closets than we and do this on a regular basis, to re-wear is smart and chic!

I always believe that the simpler the wardrobe, the more time you have to enjoy your trip.  Pack smart, and use your energy to see the sights and soak in the culture!


  • Snaps of Ginger

    It looks so easy when you do it…

    ~Cheryl

    http://snaps-of-ginger.blogspot.com/

  • Anamarie

    I hope this isn’t a controversial post, because you gave very good advice! I was lucky enough to be in Paris in July. I took my most neutral clothing and left the flash at home. Instead of tacky souvenirs, I bought scarves that served as mementos AND livened up all the neutral outfits. Definitely take your best versions of classic pieces, and if traveling with a man, encourage him to dress up more than he would at home – no baseball caps! Good news – French women are very fond of messy updos! Leave your flat iron and elaborate hair routine at home.

  • Ginger

    Yeah, you included gloves! Warm hands can make a big difference between being hunched up and chilly outdoors and being relaxed despite a bit of chill. If you aren’t taking a heavy coat gloves/scarf will stretch a layered jacket.

  • Meg Hart

    I love this! You could substitute the name of any city for Paris, since this capsule would work in NY, Chicago, Buenos Aires, London, etc.

  • Kris

    A brilliant post, Allie. And one that I am going to tuck away for the future. When I went to Ireland, I did fairly well with navy and gray, but could have pared down even more. I’ll be going to Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg next fall and I assume that your capsule would work for that area, too.

  • crtfly

    Allie,

    Fantastic advice as usual. I also think this capsule wardrobe would work in a number of cities.

    I am wondering how so many folks can afford to go to Paris. That kind of travel is way out of my budget. But then I started thinking. It is a lot less to fly to Europe from the east coast of the US than it is to fly from a small, non – airline hub, California town.

    And I know you’re so good at finding the deals. So you probably find air fares that are lower than what I found.

    Chris

  • Ooh, love that Alexander Wang t-shirt dress. We’re thinking of taking a trip to London next summer and it would be perfect for that. It’s never too early to start daydream packing!

  • Scarves are the best souvenirs! My sister brought me back one from Greece and it’s fabulous.

  • Diplospice

    Can you share the Polyvore link? I need that grey tunic sweater! Thanks!

  • oyster

    I just returned from Paris and this advice is spot-on. Many of the Parisian women were wearing flat or low-heeled ankle boots or oxfords – these could be good choices for walking around all day in comfort.

  • Wendy

    Don’t forget to leave room to bring something back! The last time (heck, the only time) I was in France was 19 years ago. I bought a long warm knit scarf in Tours because I was freezing and a beautiful silk scarf in Paris. I still wear both of them regularly.

  • Great advice! Also, a key thing is ‘leave room to shop while you’re there!’. I’d take the minimum so I could fit plenty of goodies in my suitcase on the way home – food (things you can take internationally), homewares, clothing, shoes, accessories, beauty products… so many glorious things to be snapped up!

  • DebiL

    Wonderful!

  • Katelyn

    I really like the styling you’ve put together here. I can really see myself wearing most of these pieces. I’ve bookmarked this post to come back to later. Thank you!

  • nobodyssister

    I thought navy and black together was a no-no. Or is that one of those rules that has gone by the wayside?

  • Navy and black are now considered very chic together. It took me a while to get used to it but now I love it. Check out http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/2011/01/some-rules-are-meant-to-be-broken.html 🙂

  • Deanna Piercy

    I wish I were going to Paris but New Orleans will do. 😉 That’s where I’m going for 11 days at the end of the week. I went shopping yesterday and bought a similar black trench with zip-out lining, I then bought basic knit pieces in black, grey, white and one burgundy long-sleeved tee. I already have lots of beautiful scarves and pashminas. My goal today is to find boots (one tall and one shorter) and then I think I’ll be all set. I’ll be checking out your suggestions for putting these pieces together. New Orleans is VERY casual but I still like to look decent.

  • Here you go! Sorry I forgot it in the original post http://www.polyvore.com/vacation_in_paris/set?id=98758206

  • Bridget Wall

    Oh I love this! Now all I need is a summer version…for my trip this past July, I had the hardest time finding good summery shoes to wear for long walks through Paris that didn’t require nylons or socks, and that looked okay with dresses and skirts. I defaulted to Toms most of the trip, and it wasn’t the best for my feet or the heat (they drive me nuts if I try and wear them barefoot, so I wore nylons most of the trip, not ideal).

  • Mary Kay

    Thanks for posting this helpful advice, Allison. I live in Paris and friends frequently ask what they should pack for their visits. Now, I’ll have an easy answer — I’ll forward your blog post to them! Bridget Wall, who commented above, forwarded your post to me. Thanks, Bridget! I posted it on my blog’s FB page.

    I strongly agree with you that supportive/comfortable shoes are a must! I’ve seen way too many tourists who can’t do everything that they want while they’re here because their feet are killing them. And, in my opinion, it’s alright to wear fashionable jeans to dinner in Paris, unless of course you’re going to a three star Michelin restaurant or one of the palace hotels.

    Thanks again for a very helpful post!

  • Auf Deutsch

    I live in Europe, travel a ton, deal with crazy European airline carry-on sizes, and need amazing capsule wardrobes. This one would be absolutely perfect. My problem is translating this into things in my closet. Your capsule wardrobes are always perfection. I’d love to see a post that digs a little deeper into the thought process behind them, so that I might better be able to create these awesome mini-wardrobes from my own closet. Do you start with 2 pairs of neutral pants, then aim to create 3-4 “top” looks, then add a a skirt and dress? That’s the sort of things I’m looking for, broken down as much as possible. Future post, maybe? Or come to Germany, stay with me for free, and put together 3-4 wardrobes from my closet, and we both win!

  • Lawgirl

    Sorry to be a dissenter, but I find this capsule very dull and drab.

  • Not a dissenter, it’s your opinion and a valid one! I made it this color for a reason, and did it based on my experience traveling in Paris and other parts of Europe. Others may find a different type of collection a better choice!

  • What a timely post!! You can live vicariously through me. I am crossing the pond to that side of the world in a few weeks. (-: Yes, I sadly cannot contain my excitement. Except for the tank and cardigan(bringing a blazer instead) this is also pretty much my packing list. Thanks for the advice on how to carry the boots. I was planning to wear sweat pants on the flight over (nothing too tight that will itch when I fall asleep) but will reconsider wearing the leggings with the boots instead. (-:

  • I’d suggest a white blazer somewhere. It was the one way I saw French girls in Paris really freshen up a look, they threw it on over a grey t-shirt, with some jeans and boots, and looked freakin’ amazing.

    If you don’t like the longer boots, little short biker boots worked too, and looked really stylish.

    The neutral colours are a good bet for sure because Parisians do not do colour for the most part (black black black and more black), but don’t forget that white and ivory are neutral too 🙂

  • Theresa Hall

    I live in Paris and I found this post spot on. I do find all the black depressing though. I need COLOR in my life! So I remedied this with either wearing or carrying an accessory that is colorful, like my pumpkin orange tote bag. Though Parisian women wear “natural” makeup, I find my red lipstick is the perfect pick me up on a dreary day, surrounded by black, black and even more black! BTW-maybe it’s the arrondissement I live in, but I’ve never seen women here wear blue jeans.

  • Sue

    Hi Theresa, firstly, how lucky are you to live in paris! It is my hearts dream, We go often but its never enough, Yes I agree, wearing black all the time when there becomes a little like a school uniform! However, being a tourist I dont want to attract le pickpockets and weirdos, so any other tips? Regards Sue.

  • Lisa Gaines

    I love you! I am so happy I found you. I am going to Paris in October with a woman who is an image consultant and who is amazingly fashionable and from Paris. I will be there for about 10 days and the last time I was there, I packed smart, but less fashionably than I would like. I will be assisting this woman at a retreat for Women Entrepreneurs who want to get in touch with their feminine power and up their brand image for their businesses. I need to represent pulled-together chic and still be comfy. This capsule wardrobe is perfect and I am already planning to go through my packed away fall/winter clothing and create the perfect travel wardrobe for this trip using neutrals and maybe a pop of “MY” colors as presented to me by the image consultant. Yay for me! Thanks to you!

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