Sneaking Around Paris


I’ll be putting together a lengthier post about footwear for travel, but wanted to weigh in on the “Sneakers in Paris” question, which seems to have divided the masses in comments on Tuesday’s post. IF you prefer some version of lace up sneakers for walking, keep them simple and sleek. If you see Parisians wearing sneakers, chances are they’ll look like one of the “Yes” options above. Converse are quite popular for casual wear (I slip orthotics into mine for better support and cushioning).

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  1. March 21, 2012 / 6:41 pm

    Oui, Madam, for my trip to NYC and Washington D.C., there’s a alomost knee lenght pair of boots and a pair of All Star. Of course, a pair of flipflops for the Hostel bathroom. Happy to know I will be OK.

  2. Roseg
    March 21, 2012 / 7:01 pm

    I think you’ve demonstrated the difference nicely.

    It’s not comfortable vs not-comfortable. It’s sporty multi-purpose vs heading for the gym. Sporty is fine.

  3. March 21, 2012 / 7:15 pm

    I agree with you. I don’t know why. Is it possible I am developing some taste?

  4. March 21, 2012 / 7:40 pm

    I wear converse because I love the look but need to get a little more practical as I adjust to my new walking around town city. I don’t want the NO shoes for sure! I like a light-weight easy to slip on and walk in, but also easy to store in bag when I’m wearing my uh, non-walking (read cute “big girl” shoes). Still looking for some chic city lovin’ versions of this.

  5. Neats
    March 21, 2012 / 7:41 pm

    I think you can do much better. If what you want is a sensible walking shoe that will “carry” you all day but not scream “an American in her ugly white NikesNikes” these are good but not good enough. Have you looked at Aerosoles’ Solo Artist, Card Shark or High voltage ( Or some of the Merrell shoes. Mon Dieux, you can be way more stylin’ and still be comfortable.

  6. March 21, 2012 / 7:43 pm

    It’s impossible to go wrong with simple and sleek… Love the black sneaks with the hot pink bottoms! (I have a gorgeous pink scarf that would be perfect with them!)

  7. Anonymous
    March 21, 2012 / 8:14 pm

    I am European. I lived the whole of last year in Milan – and still spend 1/3 of each calendar month in Milan. Converses are de rigueur – everywhere. White, usually, or black. In colours only if under 30. I do treasure my two pairs. Flats with a sensible sole may also help – or oxfords or sandals. But no flops, please – they reside with the pool. I have not seen one flop in Italians in my whole year there, except around pools. Or shorts in the city. Or cargos. Or sports equiment of any kind, including ski gear like parkas – there are sports parkas and city parkas. Same with Merrells – they have city line, only that is for city walks, the rest are for sports only. And apart from cobblestone galore, Milan also has large areas of grates (on the pavements – much like Marilyn metro grate, but everywhere) and you may get stuck if in heels…

    Also, if sandals, no socks. If socks, keep them low, not high. No uncovered upper arms and legs if visiting churches. In Italy they evict you immediately or do not you to enter – I have carried a large silk scarf for churches and in Vatican you will not pass security.

  8. March 21, 2012 / 8:56 pm

    Love those pumas! And I like my Nike Frees (black, with pink laces/sole — I may change out to black laces so they’re less noisy), depending on the rest of what I’m wearing.

  9. March 21, 2012 / 11:02 pm

    I really like the Converse, and when I saw the last pair (the gym shoes) I almost yelled “Non!”. But of course, you knew that already : > Comfort plus style, you can’t beat Converse.

  10. March 21, 2012 / 11:19 pm

    The last time I was in Paris, I think every other person was wearing Converse! I was starting to wonder if there was a law.

  11. Anonymous
    March 21, 2012 / 11:48 pm

    I agree with the previous anon. For women “of a certain age” we can do better. I’m just back from France and didn’t see one “woman” in Chucks.
    Lovely flat oxfords with skirts and jeans. I take it all in and chucks just weren’t on the pavement nor Pumas and they are my personal favorites.
    Something like a bowling shoe, dark. Of course for the teens-40″s Chucks
    are spot on. Hopefully this helps. Shoes are so important. I would have been very self conscious had I arrived with
    Chucks only. Some very chic women I visited with in France wore pointy toe boots, flat but never chucks.

    Anon 2

  12. Jill Ann
    March 22, 2012 / 12:59 am

    My college age daughter would be pleased to know she’s so fashionable, since she wears Converse almost exclusively. Except of course, she wouldn’t care what we older ladies think! Last time I was in Paris (and London, same trip). I wore black suede Pumas with black jeans, and felt somewhat stylish. And importantly, very comfy for all the walking. I also have a pair of Clarks Privo line black & white polka dot ballet flats from a couple of years ago; very comfy AND adorable. I think the main key to sneaker wearing is to not have the white soles (hence my black suede Pumas). I just got back from a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico; obviously not as style-frought as Paris, but I’m trying to up my game. So for the two walking-intensive days, touring the rain forest and the old town San Juan, I wore tan Sperrys with khaki shorts and capris. They were fairly comfy and looked sporty-stylish, I thought. Shoes are always an issue!

  13. March 22, 2012 / 1:50 am

    And Bensimons? Yes?

  14. Anonymous
    March 22, 2012 / 1:59 am

    just got from paris, one of my shoes were a silver version of the fuschia-soled black sneaks. made by ecco. very comfortable!

  15. March 22, 2012 / 1:59 am

    To those who have said that there are more stylish choices, well yes. But some commenters yesterday mentioned that they need the comfort and stability of a lace-up sneaker, so I wanted to show some options. The styles I’ve shown above (at least the top three) ARE quite similar in style to those I’ve seen Parisians wear casually. And I’ve observed Converse worn by all ages, though not in all arrondisements.

    • Anonymous
      March 29, 2012 / 12:50 am

      Not a new trend–the New Balance have been a staple (especially for men) for at least ten years.

  16. kathy peck
    March 21, 2012 / 10:54 pm

    Although I do like the Converse, I don’t much care for the others. There are such cute shoes, such as Arche, or Cole Haan/Nike Air, that are just as comfortable, and a lot more fashionable.

  17. March 22, 2012 / 6:09 am

    Oh yes most definitely to the first three – sorry, when you said sneakers before I thought you referring to the ones like the No. 4 picture. And my personal choice – Bensimon. Have 3 pairs all of which I love and cannot throw out even though they have seen better days now! X

  18. tammy Silverstyle
    March 22, 2012 / 1:48 am

    I’m just not a sneaker person! I wear them, but not much. I have such a hard time with casual (really casual) dressing. I need to learn how to do it better but, I’m truly a girly girl and at almost 54 can’t get past it. Unless I’m floating in the lake or doing yard work.
    Do I need an intervention? Maybe?

  19. March 22, 2012 / 12:28 pm

    On my trips to France, I must say that I feel just fine in my dark clothing and–the trip is $$$ and we walk a lot–so I will wear whatever is comfortable on my feet. I can’t say I felt anyone looking closely at me.

  20. March 22, 2012 / 1:16 pm

    Great choice, dear friend.

  21. Anonymous
    March 22, 2012 / 1:34 pm

    You are all lucky to be able to choose your shoes based on looks. I wish you wouldn’t be so scornful of those of us who can’t. You are one foot injury away from having your shoe choice taken away from you. I live in shoe #4 because of a serious foot problem that is not healing. And yes, I’ve tried every orthotic/cushion/comfort shoe there is. Even in shoe #4 my walking is very limited. Should I stay in my house to avoid offending anyone with my tacky fashion sense? Count your blessings and be less judgmental. The woman in the gym shoes may not be wearing them by choice.

    • Anonymous
      March 22, 2012 / 6:43 pm

      I am also fighting a foot problem and going to Italy in 4 weeks. I will take my most comfortable sneakers because I’d rather enjoy myself and walk than look fashionable and sit. I’ll try the alternate shoes I’m taking, but when the foot pain meets the pavement, I’ll switch to sneaks!


    • Anonymous
      March 23, 2012 / 12:31 am

      So true. I’m in my mid-60s and also have osteo-arthritis. But I was bitten by the travel bug when a teenager and have been travelling on and off ever since. I’m not about to give up and closet myself at home because now I have to wear comfortable safe shoes for walking. Also for those who are thinking of trying them on a trip, ballerinas do not provide the arch or ankle support necessary for older feet or for people with walking difficulties. Nor are they good on cobblestones or rough surfaces. They’re not a serious alternative to high heels (except maybe inside the hotel) for people like us. I have Arche sandals and ankle boots (depending on season) for days when I’m doing only a limited amount of walking. Many of their styles are very comfortable and they come in lovely colours, so I always buy some when I’m in Paris. But for serious walking it’s the sneakers every time.

  22. Anonymous
    March 22, 2012 / 2:01 pm

    I want to “tread” carefully here. No judgement,scorn or offense was intended. Just wanted to give my observations and offer
    suggestions when you can make a choice. If there isn’t an option then wear what works for the health of your feet.
    Thank you Pseu for this thread.

  23. mette
    March 22, 2012 / 7:13 am

    I dislike the look of sneakers. Of the models, the third pair passes my critical eyes ; ).

  24. March 22, 2012 / 2:50 pm

    I understand both sides of the coin here. I have a friend who is older and so wears something closer to #4 because she has no choice–perhaps the difference is that she is always impeccably dressed and groomed from the ankles up!

    I very well be one of the only girls on the planet that don’t like Converse–but I have big feet!–they look like boats! So again, to each his own. Now ballerines on the other hand…

  25. Chicatanyage
    March 22, 2012 / 8:36 am

    I adore converse and wear thm both in London and France and have for years.

  26. Paula
    March 22, 2012 / 9:07 am

    Am I the only one to have wet feet after a day in Converse shoes?

  27. March 22, 2012 / 5:16 pm

    I have a pair of black “low-profile” Chucks that I wear a lot in the summer, with a terry-covered arch support insole to keep the wet, owie foot problem at bay. And in Spain, of course, you see a lot of espadrilles in the summer, too. On both genders and all ages.

    Anon @ 4:48: No, you won’t have seen Chucks much on the streets in Europe in the winter and early spring — it’s too cold and wet, and fashionable still doesn’t trump practical when you have to walk outdoors.

  28. March 22, 2012 / 7:00 pm

    I spent most of Fall 2011 in Paris, walking around in a range of shoes. I had Lowa walking shoes in black suede (very comfortable and inoffensive) and a pair Chucks in the now-off the market Blondie line – a shiny gold and black leopard. W/my black clothes, and black tights they were smashing and I received actual compliments from actual French women. Very satisfying. (I had another pair of shoes too, flats from Icon Shoes)
    But I did walk A LOT, like hours every day, some days 5 or 6 hours. And I returned home w/a bad case of plantar fasciitis. I should have started icing and stretching my foot every single day and I didn’t. I am still recovering from my enthusiastic tourism.
    Make sure to take good care of your feet and knees when you visit Paris! You will want to use them after you get home!

  29. March 22, 2012 / 7:54 pm

    Thank you for continuing this discussion, and THANK YOU to the Anonymous commented in the thread below who answered my comment with lots of great info about Venice. What a great community here!

    To the commenter who reminds us that some people need to wear comfortable shoes due to foot injuries or problems – thank you, too. I spent one trip to New Orleans where I was brought to tears by my aching feet – and I was wearing good shoes with inserts!

    I was lucky when I had plantar fasciatis that the shoes that worked for me happened to also be pretty nice looking, but it’s really tough to find the right shoes. Sometimes you have to go with what works, fashion be damned.

    OTOH – Manufacturers – how about making nicer looking shoes for older women who need good arch and ankle support and padding?

  30. California Girl
    March 22, 2012 / 3:20 pm

    I often wonder if I’m the only person to ask myself questions like this. But no! In fact, I’ve agonized many times over the types of shoes to pack.
    Developing degenerative osteo-arthritis disabused me of my desire to be chic vs my comfort level. I think I always thought it was an either or choice. I now have a pair of very cute skateboarding DC tennies that are super comfortable. I receive compliments all the time. I do have a variety of ballerinas, mostly thanks to you and Tish Jett, although the bulk of them have soles much too thin for rugged wear. You are correct about that.

    My first trip to Europe was at the tender age of 19. I invested in a fairly expensive, leather tie up moccasin by Bass. My GF and I backpacked 3 mos and they were almost my exclusive wear. No such thing as hiking boots back then. I never had sore feet. I think of them often and it’s been, gulp, 40 years.

  31. March 23, 2012 / 3:08 am

    Funny I read this post as I was just at the mall today, looking into shoes for my Paris trip. As a french woman, I have no idea what sneakers are… what? A type of candy bar I perhaps?

    In the end I gave up. I’ll have to wait to get there and see what’s in fashion and then get terrible blisters wearing that. ‘Il faut souffrir pour être belle!’ (one must suffer in the name of beauty.)

    P.S: Converses are beloved in Paris, especially sexy-ed up, with cropped pants that show a bit of ankle and no socks.

  32. Maureen
    March 23, 2012 / 3:32 am

    How about making nice shoes for size 4 women! I’ve been to Paris a few times, going again in September, and I’m forced to wear…white runners as we call them in Canada. Not a lot of choice. 🙁

  33. Anonymous
    March 23, 2012 / 6:10 am

    I agree that comfort usually wins over style for me now that I’m 60. I agree with Aunt Snow’s comment to “Manufacturers – how about making nicer looking shoes for older women who need good arch and ankle support and padding?” I would love to own a pair of ballet flats with arch support and cushy soles. The closest thing I’ve seen to waht I seek is Mephisto “Bayka for Women” which have padded soles and elastic straps to keep them on. So far the price has stopped me from trying them. Has anyone any experience with them?

  34. Terri
    March 23, 2012 / 12:38 am

    I must have missed the controversial post. I know that when I have walking in store, it is either my converse or the much uglier, but accepted in the US Shapeups.

  35. March 23, 2012 / 12:43 pm

    Why not a pair of leather brogues, if you want to lace your shoes? Chucks are “in” but you need the whole look, they work with, say, jeans and a jacket but kind of weird with flowy Babette stuff.

    I’m 63 and wear Paraboot (sold in Paris) and Arche. Unbeatable and I’ll say again, you can wash Arche.

  36. Anonymous
    March 23, 2012 / 2:24 pm

    Many Paris women do look very chic and attractive but the ones who are pictured in fashion blogs and magazines are not always truly representative of French women in general. Also if you look at the blogs by Scott Schumann and Garance Dore, you will see street fashion that is often quite exciting, very different and innovative from the very conservative (dare I say boring?) styles advocated as the only acceptable way to dress when visiting Paris by many contributors. There seems to be a feeling that one must always try to do what people believe the French do. Why? Developing personal style and self confidence to dress to please oneself is far more productive that slavishly dressing the way one believes French women do. On one visit to Paris I was wearing a hand knitted jacket designed by an Australian artist, it was quite colourful and very unusual and very different from anything I saw on the streets. Heaps of French women ran after me to say how much they admired it and sales staff in Le Bon Marche and Galeries Lafayette also stopped me to compliment the jacket. I was also wearing Rockport sneakers at the time! But probably some of your contributors would have said that it would “not do” for Paris. On another working visit I was there with a delegation attending a major international conference (our varied evening receptions were hosted by the French President in the Elysee Palace, the Mayor of Paris in the Hotel de Ville; there was even a reception in the Pyramid of the Louvre with a couple of the galleries open to reception guests). All our delegation women wore colourful jackets, including red, fuschia, emerald, often toned down with black pants and white or cream shirts but with interesting silk scarves. We certaily looked different from the European conference delegates who mostly wore navy, black, dark grey. Our delegation was deluged with compliments from the European men in particular who all said how lovely it was to see some colour and how beautiful we all looked (our own male delegates were also very complimentary). However, the most beautiful ensemble was worn by an elegant French woman, the chair of the women’s assembly in the conference. She wore a wonderful deep/bright pink suit (not quite lipstick pink or fuschia) with pink shoes and great pink lipstick. She looked amazing and so different from most of the other French women who looked quite drab.

    Finally, I read in Australian Vogue only the other day that Jane Birkin who has lived in Paris for many years wears as her favourite clothes: linen pants and sneakers (she did not say Converse)with cashmere sweaters. And many French regard Jane Birkin as an icon.

  37. Anonymous
    March 23, 2012 / 5:29 pm

    Thank you for such a useful post. I know sneakers are not usually considered the most aesthetic choice, but they are certainly practical. We present ourselves balancing practicality and aesthetics and we all draw the line according to what suits our needs. There is no right or wrong and it is important that we remember to inject a bit of fun with our choices rather than approach them with trepidation.

  38. March 23, 2012 / 7:56 pm

    Anon@ 7:24: Jane, age 66, wears Converse; you can find many shots of her in them. She also wears leather Repetto jazz oxfords. Yes, you and your colleagues would look different in your “colourful jackets” but it is mostly the quality of your clothing and accessories that the French will notice.

    • Anonymous
      March 24, 2012 / 3:04 am

      Dear Duchesse
      Many French people also love colour. If you think about it some of the greatest colourists ever were the French Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Fauves, artists like Monet, Manet, Matisse, etc – and Van Gogh and Picasso, who while not of French birth spent their most productive years there where most of their best works were painted. Yes they were painters, but great colours have also been used by the most brilliant French fashion designers.

      In 2010 I was in Paris for the Yves St Laurent retrospective at the Petit Palais. It was magnificent. There were certainly neutrals and blacks (including the Smoking – which one of my dear friends bought in the season it hit the runways and she nearly always wore it with a fresh red rose on the lapel or at the collar of her beautiful white shirt – she looked fabulous!) but the outstanding aspect of the exhibition was his use of glorious colours. Most of those there were “les francaises d’un certain age” and a few smart Japanese women. The French women mostly looked splendid and in homage to YSL were wearing some of his colours.

      I’m not trying to say that everyone should wear interesting colours (and/or sneakers), just that those who wish to do so someimes should not be treated with thinly veiled contempt. Not that the bloggers themselves do this, as far as I’ve seen most fashion bloggers are offering helpful suggestions, especially useful for women who are not confident about their clothes choices, or the bloggers are confiding their own personal favourites, all of which is absolutely fine. It is when people respond who try to impose their personal beliefs and tastes on others that I feel the need to speak up. We all have our own ideas of style and not everyone wants to clone themselves on what these people believe the French do. Even if a lot of French do wear Converse it doesn’t mean we have to. In fact for those of us who enjoy being free spirits it’s more likely to make us want to do something completely different, especially if the something different is more comfortable and doesn’t leave us with wet feet in summer. We don’t want to impose our choices on others – but neither do we enjoy having others impose their beliefs on us. Let’s hear it for variety and accept the right of women to make other choices without disrepecting them.

    • March 28, 2012 / 5:20 pm

      As much as I like the chic ‘French style’ ala Inès de La Fressange, and as much as it is very much my style, reading about all those supposed rules, makes me want to go to Paris and rock white sneakers and colorful top…

  39. March 23, 2012 / 9:13 pm

    Thanks everyone for the thoughtful and fascinating responses. While we all find our own balance between style and comfort, the bottom line is that health trumps all, and accommodating any problems with feet, legs or balance needs to be top priority.

  40. March 23, 2012 / 11:32 pm

    I bought Ugg Evera sneakers in black suede for my trip to Paris. They were super comfy for the loads of walking, and I think they looked chic, too!

  41. March 28, 2012 / 4:39 am

    My sentiments precisely! How I hate seeing athletic shoes worn with regular outfits, especially when there are so many comfy and stylish shoe options out there. Your posts are timely, as I’ll be heading back to Paris in a few weeks!

  42. Ellie
    March 29, 2012 / 12:56 am

    I love the look of Converse, but can’t wear them. For me, they have no arch support and the vamps are cut too high–they cut off my legs in a really unattractive way. Last year, someone put me onto the Italian equivalent, Supergas, which have a lower-cut vamp. Wore them all over Paris all summer and found them far more supportive and much better with skirts and capri pants.

    • Paula Brink
      August 13, 2013 / 6:53 pm

      i love Supergas too, and can even get my orthotics into them.

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