Packing for Paris and Provence: les vêtements

When traveling with only a carry-on bag, making smart clothing choices is crucial. I try to get smarter about my packing each trip, so went back and reviewed my notes after last year’s Italy/Paris vacation, just to refresh my memory. Weather is always the catch; had temperatures not been unseasonably warm hot, my batting average with the clothes I’d packed last May might have been even higher. Taking into consideration the probable weather conditions for late April in Paris and Provence, I’ve begun narrowing down the pieces I’ll take, with the intention of keeping the total number to 12, not including sleepwear, underwear, hosiery, accessories, or outerwear. (Shoes we covered last week.
First Round Draft Picks:
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 knit pencil skirt
  • 1 pair ponte knit pants
  • Babette palazzo pants (if weather forecasts skew warm/sunny, replaces ponte knit)


First Round Draft Picks:
  • Silk/cotton 3/4 sleeve jacket (if weather forecasts skew warm/sunny, replaces black cardigan)
  • Linen 3/4 sleeve tunic (if weather forecasts skew warm/sunny, replaces either black or teal cardigan)
Wild Cards
  • 1 or 2 Karina dresses (one with some color)
  • 1 additional silk jersey tee or tunic, grey
  • cashmere hoodie (if weather forecast looks unseasonably cool)
  • 2nd pair jeans
Two or three days before we leave, I’ll make final selections, and do the Polyvore on the Floor.
I have no plans to take any outerwear other than my Eileen Fisher raincoat, as it’s an incredibly versatile piece. 
I can’t rave enough about the Eileen Fisher silk jersey pieces, especially for travel. They layer beautifully, can be hand washed and hung to dry overnight, and are comfortable and flattering. And I’m looking forward to giving my Karina dresses a true “road test,” as I can already vouch for their comfort, versatility and washability.  In fact, everything I’m planning to take can be washed and nothing requires pressing. (Yay, knits!) The pencil skirt and black cardigan (or jacket) or a dress will be as formal as I’ll need, so I’m not taking anything specifically “dressy” this time as those garments were the most under-utilized on our last trip.
What are your favorite items of clothing for travel?  Do you have a formula when planning a capsule wardrobe?
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  1. I’d definitely take a bit of color, teal, or newly-unfurled leaf green. Not only do they leaven the grey/black nicely, they are also very au courant this spring and you will look smashing. My capsule packing routine is to do all the neutrals and then add the one color I cannot live without, whether purple, turquoise, etc., and then grab a couple of scarves that work with that combo.

    The weather here in Madrid has been all over the place, so I’d expect more of the same in Paris and Provence. It’s the general spring pattern. “Hasta el cuarenta de mayo, no te quites el sayo,” as they say. (Don’t take off your cloak until the 40th of May!)

    I’d forgotten how big a temperature difference we have from day to night here in the spring — from 40F or so in the morning, to 70F plus at mid-day. If we have clear skies overnight, the shifts are even more marked. You may see that in Provence, too, depending on which part you’re in. Rather than the cashmere hoodie, you might want to pack (or buy in Paris) a gossamer-thin wool shawl to layer on top during the chilly part of the day, and fold and tuck into your bag once it warms up.

    1. Hi Rubiatonta, hope your furniture assembly is going well. I guess last spring was unusually warm everywhere, but even the day-to-day weather forecast in Italy didn’t prepare us for how HOT it would be walking around in the sun. Our last day in Rome I finally relented and bought a paper parasol from one of the street vendors. I probably will keep the teal sweater in the lineup, regardless as the color just works so well with everything.

    2. As une femme d’un certain age I am more often too warm than too cold. I say pack for the warmer temps, then layer on if it’s colder, and bring a pashmina or cashmere shawl. As long as your colors are neutral rather then too spring or too summer, you will be fine even it turns cool, rainy or gray.

  2. I’ve been looking at those Eileen Fisher silk tees for some time, but every time I feel them up in Nordies, they feel rather scratchy. How do they feel and drape once washed?


    PS – I spent two months one summer in Europe & Russia with a single carry-on suitcase.

    PPS – I wore my cashmere hoody to pieces this winter…well, at least, with a giant hole in the elbow. It was my 3rd in 8 years.

    PPPS – I’ve been looking for a gossamer-thin shawl or cardigan for some time now, and can’t find one. Any suggestions?

    1. EM, I don’t find the tees scratchy but they do soften up a bit with wear too. I never realized when I bought that hoodie on sale 7 years ago that I’d still be wearing it regularly during cooler months, but it’s a winner! Have you checked J.Crew for lightweight cardigans? They seem to specialize in “tissue weight” fabrics during the spring and summer months. My favorite very lightweight silk/cashmere long fringed scarf was purchased from their fall collection a couple of years ago. It’s held up VERY well, getting frequent wear and occasional washes with Laundress.

    2. I found a very pretty grey and cream plaid lightweight wool shawl/scarf at Lands’ End Canvas, of all places. It’s been a lifesaver during these crazy days when I can’t figure out what to wear!

  3. Unless I have a specific event that requires a dress, I’ve learned to skip dresses altogether in favor of palazzo pants or other styles that can transition to evening–that saves me packing dress heels as well. Pants just seem more flexible for travel, when plans may suddenly change. I also don’t pack jewelry any more (again barring special events), instead choosing one set of super comfy bi-colored silver and gold pieces that I wear throughout the trip. Silk scarves or print clothing pieces add color so I don’t get bored. (btw the weather here in Paris at least this week is rather chilly, not heavy coat weather but definitely layer-friendly.)

    1. ParisGrrl, good tips. I don’t take much jewelry anymore either, but feel naked without earrings, so always have one or two pair (and they don’t take up much room). I didn’t notice women wearing print scarves very much on my last two visits to Paris; but would love to know they’re coming back out of hiding…

    1. ellen, I’m so envious of people who have learned to knit! I have trouble keeping shawls on, so these days prefer a sweater or jacket, and a smaller scarf around the neck. But many women do prefer them.

  4. I’d take a pair or two of footless tights for under the dress (or even under the pants) if cool at night. And I take only pants like your Babette, jeans take forever to dry and bag after one day (unless I’m in an apt. with washer/dryer.) And you have the advantage of being able to pick up whatever you need given your destinations.

    1. Duchesse, good suggestion! I’m planning to take tights and leggings (which I don’t count against my clothing tally). The thing is, though, I can’t just shop for most clothing on the fly. Being as short as I am means pants, sleeves, hems have to be altered before I can wear them. Now shoes…that’s another matter. 🙂

  5. The weather! I packed for the forecast 45 degrees in Nov 2010. I took a down vest and a zebra-print jacket, which, in retrospect, was not one of my finest purchases but I am drawn to animal print like a moth is to flame.

    It was below freezing. It snowed. I was cold.

    I wore my long underwear, a t-shirt, a sweater, and the vest. And the zebra-print jacket. And my pashmina. And my gloves.

    I looked like the Michelin woman.

    But I wasn’t cold.

    1. Gold Digger, had a text from Karen this morning, she says it’s COLD there now, and she’s really glad to have her Uniqlo down coat. I think a lot of people scoff at the idea of long underwear, but many seasoned travelers swear by it.

  6. I’ll be going through the same process in the next few weeks. The weather is the challenge, of course, as we’ve been in Paris when it’s rainy and quite cool in May, but there’s often days worthy of sundresses and sandals. Your layering seems to allow for those possibilities, especially for the adjustments you’ll make once you see which way the weather’s skewing.

    1. materfamilias, I tend to underestimate how warm it can get, and have tried to learn from past mistakes, hence the lighter pieces, dresses and sandals. I think I’ll be covered for all but snow…

  7. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I just kinda pack when I travel. I think it’s because my wardrobe is already a capsule:). I believe I must move through life as thought I’m always on a trip somewhere…Hmmm.

  8. The issue of course is that Provence can be quite a bit hotter than Paris in April. So the layers in your bag sound about right, for layering up in Paris or off in the south. Or simply from a cool morning to a warm afternoon and early evening, when you’re out all day. What kind of daybag will you carry so that you can pack up a light tunic or sweater or raincoat “just in case”? And in accessories I’d add a lightweight pashmina shawl that can be thrown over your shoulders if it gets cool, but won’t weigh you down if not. Of course you can easily find those in rayon in Paris–I have a few in various colors I’ve bought in Paris out of necessity. I’m planning my packing too:

  9. Thank you for letting me know about the Eileen fisher silk tees. I now have five and they’ve been great because it’s been cold (well, by California standards). I’ve been layering them under everything, but will probably abandom them until November when the temperature reaches above 75 degrees. If I were lucky enough to be in your shoes, I”d probably mix in one or two cotton tees (even lightweight wool tees are cooler than silk), and maybe take only two sweater/cardigans. I typically don’t travel with dresses abroad because I wear a security pouch with my money, credit cards, passport and so on when I travel out of the country. I have a small purse with a small amount of cash for the day. I once reached in to my pouch for my credit card in Nice, and the proprietor said, “Vous avez raison,” He thought it was a good idea. So, I generally travel with skirts and pants instead of dresses. That said, those Karina dresses are very nice, and at least one should work if you handle your valuables differently. As for jeans, washing is not a problem if you will be somewhere with a washing machine (say in an apartment rather than a hotel), if there are washing services that aren’t too expensive, or if you are gone for only a short period of time.

    1. Anonymous, I’m glad you like the tees! Have you tried the short-sleeve version? I’ve always found a cross-body bag with a zip closure to be secure enough for what I carry about with me. In crowds, I just keep one hand over the bag.

    2. Pseu- My first was short sleeve teal, and the other four are 3/4 length 70% silk/30% cotton in grey, cranberry, smoke blue, and indigo teal (my descriptions, not the official names). I just get very warm in silk. One would even say I glow to use an euphemism. Since they are part cotton, they might work for me when it gets a bit warmer, but I don’t know how you wear them in 90 degree weather. I’d be sweltering, but I guess we all have different chemistry.

      I wear a cross-body bag always. A drunk guy reached across the aisle on the metro in Paris for my bag, but didn’t get it because it was cross body. He made fun of my accent when I asked him to stop, but at least I didn’t have to wrestle him to get my bag back. I also had someone reach into my backpack on a crowded San Francisco bus, but my bag with money was securely in front of me. Unfortunately, he did manage to snatch another woman’s wallet before running off.

  10. Well, now, I just realized I’m a simple lunch-time walk away from the Babette store. I will check out the pants. At first glance, palazzo pants don’t seem to be my thing, but since you found them so successful, I think I will check them out.

    Our trip is three weeks in June/July to Venice, Paris and London. I am not willing yet to make it a carryon, but I do plan to check only one bag.

    1. Aunt Snow, the Babette pieces are definitely unique, and not inexpensive but they do travel brilliantly. Hope you get by there, and let me know what you think!

  11. @deja pseu: So happy to hear EF pieces will be traveling with you to Paris and Provence! You’ll be très chic and comfortable. Bet you’ll have an incredible story about your travels. We’d love to hear about it on our Facebook page here where other EF customers are sharing stories about their fave pieces, the places it’s been, the adventures, etc.:!/EILEENFISHERNY/app_137240656402946

    Bon voyage!

  12. As much as I have enjoyed my EF pieces, I have never purchased any of the silk jersey. I have silk jersey dresses from another company , but no t-shirt type of garments. Are they hot? Living in Dallas, it gets terribly hot and fabric is often important. I tend toward cotton and linen in the summertime here. EF has a knit linen. My complaint is that it is very sheer. Evidently she intends for a tank to be worn underneath. In Texas, the fewer layers in summer, the better.

    I think you are well on your way to a great capsule wardrobe. I think it is more difficult in transitional weather than in fall/winter.

    1. Susan, I honestly don’t know how the silk jersey would be in Texas heat. But I wore it last year in Italy with temps in the low 90’s and was quite comfortable.

    2. Susan – Although my 3/4 sleeve silk/cotton EF tees are very sheer, the short sleeve version is not. I don’t have any of the silk tanks, but they look less sheer in the store to me as well. If you generally feel comfortable in silk when it’s warm, then you should have no problem. I just prefer cotton in the warmer months. It’s possible that EF has linen that is less sheer. I’ve noticed that I’ve found different pieces in the department stores and boutiques than in the EF store, so you could try looking around. Note that unless you like your clothing very loose, I’d go a size down.

  13. Linen, especially in summer. In Europe we prefer linen not ironed (it will not stay ironed more than 10 minutes anyway) so I always travel with linen. I have trousers (palazzo) and skirts and shirts. Lovely, as they are so fluid and really helpful when going to Egypt or Cyprus (45C with 150% humidity in Larnaca, August 2010). The secret is to balance bottoms and tops – never both linen, otherwise it is too baggy.

  14. I’m curious about what type and brand carry on bag you use. I’m in the market for a new one to replace my 10yr old Tumi. Have not yet found a winner. Current airline size regs restrict to 22″ for a carry on. Do tell, Femme!

    1. Maguerite, I’m going to cover this next week, but I LOVE Eagle Creek bags. I have their 20″ rolling “Tarmac” bag, and I pack le monsieur’s stuff in the 22″ version. We bring a folding duffel to help get souvenirs home, and check one or both of our bags on the return flight.

  15. Have just arrived on the cote D’Azur and weather very changeable. On minute rain then hot sun with a sharp wind in the shade. I find thin layers useful like 2 t shirts together. Also a warm scarf/shawl is good for day and evening.

    1. Chicatanyage, thanks, that’s good to know! One thing I love about the EF tees is that they’re light enough to wear one right over the other if need be. We’re still hoping to take a day trip from Provence over to the seaside.

  16. Other than for an event (in which case I take a small separate suitcase with those dressy clothes and Fed-ex home after the even) I take pretty much jeans only. Black, blue denim, and white. Tee shirts, 1 blazer, 2 cardigans, comfortable ankle boots and oxfords with a rubber sole for walking, and a trench (except in the summer) – I find I can go anywhere with this. And, I only take the jewelry that I want to wear while traveling – no extras. I lose things too easily. I know I’ll probably go against the grain for this, but I don’t care much about washability. If I need something cleaned, I let the hotel do it. It’s such a small percentage of the cost of the trip. I do wash my own undies though 😉

    1. kathy peck, I’ve finally convinced le monsieur that he doesn’t need to pack a separate fresh button-front shirt for every day of the trip, that we can have the hotel wash if absolutely need be. One of the plusses of denim is that it doesn’t show dirt easily, so unless I lose an argument with a glass of red wine, I can usually get several days’ wear out of a pair of jeans. Not all hotels offer this service, though, which is also something to keep in mind.

  17. It’s already skewing sunny and hot, much hotter than usual. Think 24o in early March, and worst drought in decades. You can at least replace the sweater and hoodie with just a scarf. In fact I’d almost advise skipping the raincoat this year..

    1. Marie-Christine, I’ve noticed that, but apparently now it’s turned seasonally chilly again, and I see some rain in the forecast in the next few days. It certainly is unpredictable! I’ll probably take the coat even if there is no rain in the forecast, as it’s turned out to be a lovely lightweight topper for cool days and evenings.

    2. It’s still spring (ie justifying a jacket at night) and you have another month to go.. Sure, you need one warm thing, if only for the plane. But something to cut the wind and a couple scarves are a lot more practical even now. Anyway, don’t take published averages over the past 50 years as any indication of the future, just as for the stockmarket :-).

  18. Traveling very seldom, I don´t make packing plans.
    I´m fascinated though by the great interest these ” what to pack ” posts receive!!!
    Tell me, what´s the secret?
    If I´d happen to make a small trip, I´d like to try, how I´d manage with only the clothes + jewelry I have chosen to wear on, the toiletry and extra undies+ nightgown. So this would mean only a largish handbag and a clutch inside it.
    Then I could shop whatever extra I need overboard.

    1. mette, I think “what to pack” takes on greater importance when one is going to be thousands of miles from home, and for extended periods. But it’s also just a fun part of planning a trip, and so fun to think and talk about.

  19. I love my Eileen Fisher silk jersey too, however, I find them to have nicks easily during travel. I wore my favorite silk T shirt on my trip to China last year and when I got off the plane, there were many nicks and pulls. I do not know why this happened, may be because of activities such as pulling luggage, carrying bags?

    I think I would wear only cotton on the plane and wear the silk jerseys when sightseeing.

  20. I’m with Susan about the issue of dressing for extreme heat (I’m in TX too, but Houston which is even hotter than Dallas.). This is why I don’t have white jeans, as much as I love them; by the time it’s ok to wear white, it’s already too hot for jeans! We need to have very thin, breathable fabrics, and loose fitting styles. I have a couple of EF linen pieces but haven’t tried the silk knits. It’s tricky to dress here! I don’t find capris to be terribly flattering on me, but they are supremely practical here: they cover up the thighs, but aren’t as hot as long pants. I’m going to be searching for knee-length Bermudas this summer though, they suit my figure better and are still pretty covered-up.

    1. I don’t look good in capris either, and stopped wearing shorts a long time ago. Like Susan, I love dresses and skirts when it gets hot. I have white jeans for winter (why not?), and lighter weight white cotton pants for when it gets warmer.

    2. Jill Ann, heat+humidity is probably the most difficult to dress for! I would think easy-fitting linen pieces would become a staple for the warm season.

  21. BTW, that picture of Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina is one of my all-time favorites. For years I’ve been searching for those earrings she’s wearing with that outfit.

  22. Jill Ann, I hear you about Houston being even hotter than Dallas. Sundresses and lightweight skirts are our salvation and of course cotton t shirts. I did buy an EF linen dress yesterday–sleeveless, fairly loose. The EF shop is filled with items that are going to be too hot to wear in Texas.

    Deja Pseu is so fortunate to liver in a more temperate climate!

  23. You’ve got packing down to a “t”! Wise choices.
    When I pack for travel, I check the weather obsessively because I don’t like being caught unprepared.
    When traveling to weather cooler than 80F, I pack my Acne black jeans. Other than that, I only pack knits…Converse low top sneakers if the trip includes lots of walking around…Also a folding umbrella for city walking…One versatile shoulder handbag and a nice black backpack (again, for urban trekking)…One set of yoga wear, just in case. I only wear black or white clothing, which makes packing much easier.

  24. I will be perusing your list when I start packing for a 2 week trip coming up soon. I think I have mentioned it before, but I am a horrid packer. I need all the help I can get!
    So excited for your trip! Can’t wait to read all about it.

    1. Adrienne, I used to be terrible too, until I got some help from Karen. (She’s the champ!) The biggest thing is to pick one or two neutrals and build the rest around that. Unless you’re attending a wedding or other special event, leave anything really dressy at home. I look forward to hearing about your trip too!

  25. When I travel for 2 weeks or less, I go to a cheap department store (think Kmart) and buy underwear and socks that cost roughly $1 a pair. I wear them once and leave them behind. This works with tank tops too, to wear under cardigans / scarfs. I don’t have to do laundry, always have clean clothes, and my bag gets lighter as I go to make room for new purchases.

  26. You finally convinced me. Just recieved my EF black silk jersey tshirt today. It is gorgeous and will work so well in my wardrobe and for travel. Now to order the off white one. Wish they came in more colors.

  27. I always pack for warmer than expected temperatures and so far this has worked out well. I figure if I’m wrong I can always buy something to layer on. I keep meaning to buy that Eileen Fisher raincoat. I almost did when I last posted comments but instead, based on your post showing the Jones NY York leather jacket you got at, I meandered over to the site and found a perfect leather jacket there for $25 I’ve been wearing 24/7. Thank you! I wish I’d worn the jacket to Paris instead of my unstylish Lands End trench. Oh well.