It’s easy to spot the tourists in Paris.
They have hiking backpacks, hiking shoes, pants with pockets near the knees and a metro map in one hand. Sometimes they are less assuming, and it’s just the metro map and huge camera that give them away. And sometimes, with the right outfit, tourists can go unnoticed through town.
There are some advantages to fitting in.
Namely, being less of a target for pickpockets.
For me, blending in made me feel like I belonged, and less of an outsider. In a way, I was forced to conform because as soon as I arrived I discovered that my shoe collection was entirely unsuitable for long walks up and down metro station stairs and on city streets. I needed shoes with thicker heels, shoes that could withstand the hours of walking I do every day. So right from the beginning I chose footwear that conformed to the trends: super cute summer sandals with rhinestones, black leather ankle boots, and professional grey mary janes with a thick rubber heel.
Although I don’t see any runway fashion while wandering around Paris, I observe the people around me and I pay close attention to the language they are speaking. Based on the language they speak and the clothes they wear, I can usually distinguish the average Parisian, from the tourists and the French out-of-towners.
In this post, I’ll share with you what I’ve observed of the everyday fashion of Parisian women. Though, I think it’s worth noting that these pointers help you become part of the average, the middle, the large majority.
There ARE exceptions. TONS of them.
What you see here is only a slice of the very middle of the bell curve of French fashion.
Some of the basic elements of the Parisian wardrobe include:
- Wearing classic colors: adding just a small splash of (one) brighter color to the outfit.
- Dressing up: always leaving the house with the goal to impress oneself in the mirror. Never leave with a fleece jacket or anything that looks remotely like it comes from an outdoors store.
- Accessorizing: wear cute belts, shoes, purses, even jewelry. Also scarfs. Always scarfs in Paris.
- Excellent shoes. Period.
I took almost 140 photos for this post, but (#1) it felt creepy to take photos of strangers, (#2) most people were moving, so many of my photos were blurry and totally unusable, (#3) I did my best! Haha
But seriously, I don’t think these photos are amazing. Often, I’d see a perfect outfit and it would take too long to get my camera out, or the lighting wasn’t right, or she was practically running in the other direction. Ideal outfits were disappearing left and right to my dismay. This small collection of outfits is what I could salvage from the on-the-move shots I was able to snag.
Hopefully my photos will be a good guide for you, but if you want more ideas about French fashion, please visit my Pinterest boards where I collect photos of women who look like elegant Parisians, and photos of women in casual Parisian looks. These photos are done by professional photographers, so the quality is far superior to mine! 🙂
Also, a wonderful Parisian blogger I know puts up creative spins on typical French outfits. It’s all in French, but that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating her photos! Take a look at L’Atelier D’AL.
Start with a classic color palette: black, white, light beige, brown, navy blue, and grey tones. Use these as the foundation of your wardrobe, and you’ll be in great shape.
This is not to say that the French do not wear pastels or any other color from the rainbow: they most certainly do!
Though, in Paris, it’s typically in moderation.
Navy blue, forest green, and burgundy red are common, and are seen a lot in colder months.
Brighter colors come out in the warmer months, and especially during the summer. The same is true for flowery prints. You’ll almost never see those in the winter.
In summer, you can make white and light grey the basis for your wardrobe. In the winter, concentrate on the darker classic colors.
Outside of Paris, fashion is not taken quite so seriously. I’ve seen full outfits of bright red and brilliant orange, especially with a bohemian/hippie look.
Eccentric fashion is observed without much criticism here. To each her own, as they say. 😉
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Did I mention the shoes? I’m obsessed with footwear in France. Their shoes always look so good and well-maintained! Clearly I’m a novice shoe-owner compared to these Parisians!
You won’t see them in basic flip flops, except at the beach. You won’t see them in running shoes, except while jogging. You won’t see them in falling-apart chucks.
Teenagers and the more “hippie” college students might wear beaten up pairs of Ked-like sneakers, but for the most part the French choose nice shoes that are well-maintained.
Heels are really popular right now.
Pretty much any heel will do: traditional pumps, espadrilles, wedges, t-straps… Paris is easiest in wedges and thicker heels, because there are a lot of cobblestone streets, and you have better ankle support with a thicker heel. Using the metro or the bus requires a lot of walking, so your feet need as much support as they can get!
Most Parisians will go for these options, but there are some daring women who navigate Paris in thin heels. I imagine they take Ubers instead of the metro, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong. 😉
Check out this lady sporting a cute pink pair of t-strap heels as she rides her moped:
Otherwise, it depends on the weather.
On hot summer days, cute sandals (with or without a heel) are perfect. Go for dressier styles than your basic sandal.
Ballerina flats are great for mild weather days.
However, watch the weather, because Paris has been pretty chilly. Ladies are still rocking the forever popular ankle-high leather boot (mostly black and brown), and the newly popular “oxford” (in all colors, from black to glittery gold).
The Oxford can give a lovely androgynous look with pants.
Skinny jeans and a cute top pair well with these shoes. There are also ways to make a more feminine look with them by pairing them with a dress or shorts, and tights. I’ve also seen women wear dresses with black leggings and these shoes.
If you decide to buy these when shopping in Paris, they are called “derbies” (or “derby shoes”).
Summer is for dresses! In Paris, aim to wear dresses that are fancy! If you own a casual dress that you’d like to bring to Paris, no problem: just add a pretty belt, heels or slightly fancy sandals and a blazer. Of course a nice purse will add just the right touch to look fabulous in Paris.
Skirts are also very popular in the summer.
I’m a terrible skirt-wearer. I just seem to look strange in them. But, if you look fabulous in skirts, you’ll be alright!
Skinny jeans (white, black or dark grey mostly, but sometimes other colors) are worn by women of all ages. Now that it’s getting really warm, ladies are branching out to all sorts of other colors.
In the hot summer weather women are also wearing loose pants made of light fabric.
Shorts are also worn, in nice fabrics and classic colors. Black shorts with black translucent tights are popular for a youthful look.
Go for fancier here. Choose something with a collar or with a delightful fabric. Shirts are often loose-fitting, and not skin tight. Prints and stripes are ok if the rest of your outfit is in solid colors.
If you want to go casual and still look like a Parisian, you must pair it with adorable shoes, nice pants or a skirt, a great belt and a cute bag.
On colder or rainy days, a classic trench coat in navy, black or light beige is perfect.
On mild days or chilly mornings I see lots of cute, lightweight motorcycle jackets (black, some brown or burgundy).
And always, ALWAYS, pack a blazer or two. I usually wear a blazer and if it’s a little chilly I add my trench coat over that. They don’t need to be very serious blazers. They can be a little flowy and more stylish than your “classic” black blazer with shoulder pads. Go for fun and cute blazers! White, pink, light grey… There are so many options.
Year-round, the French have scarves. You wear a scarf? You look French!
Special items of note
- T-shirts: don’t wear a regular t-shirt unless you want to look like a student or a tourist. If it’s somewhat hip looking you can fit in by pairing it with super cute shoes, a blazer (yes, really), and a fabulous purse.
- Sneakers: Parisians wear Chuck Taylor’s and white Keds and a few other cloth or white leather sneakers, but they never wear running shoes unless they are going for a run. Don’t wear hiking shoes around Paris either. My husband does that, and his family teases him about looking like a foreigner.
- Flip flops: this one is tricky. Typically, they are only for the beach… And maybe towns along the coast. However, I have seen a few Parisians wearing them around town. Not many, but it has been observed. Typically this screams “out-of-towner,” though.
- Leggings: primarily worn with a dress or shorts, and never alone. Those who wear leggings with a shirt that doesn’t cover the bottom are always non-Parisians.
- Sweatpants and athletic gear: never worn in public, except when walking to and from the gym.
Good luck packing! And, of course, let me know what you think of the ideas I’ve shared!
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