Run an internet search on “what to pack for Paris” and your search engine will probably return hundreds of links. Due to its history as the birthplace of modern fashion and reputation for stylish inhabitants, probably no other city provokes such angst for some travelers about what to pack and wear.
Here are a few of the general guidelines I now follow when planning what to pack:
Simple and Neutral. Pick one neutral color scheme and a secondary neutral that coordinates with the first (and your shoes). Almost all of your clothing will be selected from these one or two neutrals. First, it makes putting together multiple outfits from fewer pieces of clothing much easier, and second, you’ll find that neutrals with an occasional pop of color dominate the Parisian sartorial landscape, meaning you won’t feel like a walking neon sign. You really don’t need a lot of really dressy clothing; for almost any venue these days “Smart Casual” is perfectly acceptable. And keep styles simple. If you do feel the need to bring it up a notch, it’s much easier to dress up a simple black pencil skirt than one with ruffles and tiers.
Lightweight, Washable Layers. The weather can be changeable, and you’ll want to be able to easily add or remove layers as needed. Best options are knits, and not bulky ones. Being able to do a quick hand wash in the sink, and hang to dry overnight means that you’ll need to bring fewer pieces. I love silk jersey, though it can be pricey, but look for rayon, viscose and even poly blends (which have come a long way from the sweaty, clingy fabrics of our youth). 100% Cotton will be heavy to pack and take forever to dry if you do need to wash it. During cooler months, ponte knits are a wonderful choice for pants, skirts, dresses and jackets.
To Jean or not to Jean? Hardcore “light packers” eschew them for the weight and amount of time they can take to dry if washed or if you get caught in a downpour. But if you live in jeans and can’t imagine life without them, and are willing to either not wash or pay to have them laundered, take one or two pair. My recommendation: dark wash, straight leg, with some poly/lycra in the fabric which will help them hold their shape.
Rehearse. I usually do a “Polyvore On The Floor” with the pieces I intend to bring, just to be sure the colors, styles and textures are compatible. Then I try every top on with every bottom and each pair of shoes. It all has to work together or it doesn’t go. There’s no room for any piece that only works in one ensemble.
Stay In Character. Unless you’re a farmhand or full-time yoga instructor, don’t pack a lot of clothing that diverges vastly in style from what you normally wear. You want to feel stylish, yes, but you want to feel like yourself.
Relax. Even in Paris, there are very few venues anymore that require very dressy attire. As long as you’re neat and relatively coordinated, your demeanor and manners will count for a lot more than your attire. Don’t forget to say “Bonjour, madame,” “Bonjour monsieur” and ask in shops before you handle anything and you’ll be fine. There are no Fashion Police waiting on every corner to write you a ticket.
I’ll share some specific packing recommendations in upcoming installments as well as my Polyvore On The Floor once we get closer to departure.
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