Travel Wardrobe Planning for France

travel in style: wardrobe planning

Travel wardrobe for Paris and Loire Valley

Hoping to see lots of scenery like this!  Links to items shown at bottom of post.

Yikes! We’re less than two weeks out from our departure, and I’ve hit that frustrating stage of travel wardrobe planning: too early to get an accurate weather forecast, but late enough in the process that I need to hone in on which pieces will best work together.

I know from past trips that there are a few types of items I can rule out right off the bat.

  • No-close cardigans…while these are often my go-to’s at home, they are harder to make work as an intermediate layer, and often not warm enough as a top layer.
  • Dresses. While knit dresses are GREAT travel pieces for many people, I find they often require specific footwear that won’t be worn otherwise.
  • Anything too warm or bulky. I’m much better served by multiple lightweight layers than a single heavy piece.
  • Clothes that are only appropriate for dressy venues. It’s tempting to want to have something “just in case,” but I’ve learned not to pack pieces that may be worn once or twice at most, or not at all. I’ll be bringing some dress-up/dress-down options that can go from day to dinner.

I’m planning to take at least one pair of ankle boots, as I’ve found them to be comfortable and versatile. The other pair (or two) of shoes will depend, again, on weather. We’ll be spending the first week in the Loire Valley, which will include lots of time outdoors visiting chateaux and gardens, local open-air markets, a winery or two and hopefully some lovely strolls through the countryside. Then we’ll have a few days in Paris. (!!!)  This means I’ll need shoes and clothing suitable for both rural and urban environments and activities. Though I’m mentally building the wardrobe around 12 pieces (plus “underpinnings” and outerwear), I may end up with more or fewer pieces, depending on weather forecasts and what my carry-on bag will accommodate.

How do you handle packing for a variety of activities and levels of formality?

Sweater: Eileen Fisher // Tee: Eileen Fisher, similar // Scarf: Halogen // Jacket: Sandro, similar style // Jeans: Eileen Fisher // Bag: Givenchy // Boots: Gentle Souls

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39 Comments

  1. Duchesse
    April 10, 2014 / 3:50 am

    I am confident you know how to do this by now! Unless one has been invited to a special event, day casual clothes work fine, with the same “tricks” you use at home to dress up an outfit for evening: a necklace or elegant scarf or shawl.

  2. Susan
    April 10, 2014 / 3:27 am

    Many times when we travel, there are quite a few more formal events as our travel often combines business and pleasure–or includes a milestone event for a family member or close friends. I’ve found that simple knit dresses (yes, they are EF) that can be dressed up or down work well. For casual wear, more knit–tops and pants (that zip) work well. And then, a combination of comfortable waking shoes (not lace up) and low heels for the more formal events. And yes, to layers!

  3. Deb
    April 10, 2014 / 5:12 am

    You are absolutely right about no close cardigans. They are pactically a daily staple at home but never work traveling. I also totally agree about dresses– they require another pair make of shoes. When I need to crank up my style, I now take a knit peplum top that I wear with regular skinny black pants and add a double strand of faux pearls I picked up at Monoprix. I found that foowear choices are especially important visiting the chateaus. There is even more walking than you might think and often on gravel or grass. And get ready for someof the best meals you’ve ever had. Best of all, no weight gain b/c of all the walking. My one piece of advice is to be sure that the sleeves of the top waterproof layer are wide enough to go over several layers if the weather is especially cold and damp. Bon Voyage!

  4. April 10, 2014 / 4:21 am

    I think you can wear the same clothes in Paris as the Loire Valley. The outfit you show with jeans and ankle boots will be perfect for pretty much any activity. Maybe bring a pretty top in case you want to dress up your jeans. Tourists either tend to be too dressed up or too dressed down. Parisians are pretty casual.

  5. April 10, 2014 / 5:01 am

    Oh I always have a meltdown over packing, now I am made to do it well in advance to avoid histrionics.

  6. Shannon in TX
    April 10, 2014 / 5:32 am

    I went to Paris and the Champagne region last month. Your wardrobe planning articles really helped me pack for the 8 day trip. It was still cold at night but 60s in the day with some rain. With some evening events I had to check a bag. I have a taupe belted trench coat with taupe ankle boots that worked really well especially with the Eileen Fisher ankle skinny jeans. Plus large gauzy scarves! I ended up wearing everything I brought at least once which is a first. I agree with you on not managing a dress as I didn’t think I wanted to bring tights etc.because of the cold. The only thing I wished I had brought was an additional pair of shoes for the events – something with a short heel. I ended up wearing my black patent ballerinas and they didn’t seem festive enough. Thanks for all of your tips and enjoy your trip.

  7. ArgieBargie
    April 10, 2014 / 5:57 am

    No dresses for the reason you mention. Plus my luck — the day I would want to wear it will be windy. I also pack to wear layers although sometimes our visits to England have required bulkier items. Wish I could wear wool. I have yet to find a good stylish walking shoe that doesn’t kill my feet

  8. Julie murphy
    April 10, 2014 / 5:57 am

    Having arrived in London this morning I’ve already realized that I’ve packed too many warm knits ! Although the temps say 15c it’s sunny and feels much warmer the shops are full of summer clothes and people are already dressed for spring I went for a walk in a light jersey tunic and lightweight jacket and was adequately warm ! Be warned !

    • April 12, 2014 / 8:49 am

      Don’t worry, Julie. Tomorrow it’ll be cold and everyone will be back in their winter things!

  9. April 10, 2014 / 6:04 am

    I totally agree about the layering. I nearly froze to death on my last trip to Provence. I didn’t bring a dress for the very same reasons you mention. Shoes are my biggest challenge so I’ve learned to plan my wardrobe from the shoes up. Always tons of scarves and wraps. Accessories change up my look.

  10. Linn
    April 10, 2014 / 6:08 am

    For me, casual clothes in dark (formal) colors meet the travel sweet spot — jean-like pants in black and patterned blue/black, for example. I may not make it to the embassy ball, but can dress up with a necklace or down with a more casual scarf. Last trip, I overdid my scarves, but otherwise got through with a very pared down wardrobe (one carry on) for four weeks in Europe.

  11. April 10, 2014 / 6:28 am

    I’m also going to bring short boots–even though I won’t be traveling till June. I never bring a leather bag because they are too heavy.

    A few years ago, we were in Paris in July and the temps really dropped. All the locals were wearing boots and puffer jackets. I was wearing ALL my clothing, plus some of my husband’s. It was freezing!

    • Laurie
      April 10, 2014 / 6:39 am

      I could use some of your advice as I will be there in July for the month. Worried about the heat and what to pack.

  12. April 10, 2014 / 6:30 am

    I just came back from a day of wandering the gardens at Versailles. It’s really warm so I was taking off layers but my Eileen Fisher linen T-shirt with jeans, camisole and my no close Eileen F. cardigan
    were certainly suitable. I probably in retrospect would not use that cardigan because the weather could
    be variable. Dressing for the Loire Valley would be pretty much the same as in Paris. Lots of ankle boots around here…

  13. Laurie
    April 10, 2014 / 6:50 am

    Need some planning help as I will be there in July. No idea what to wear for heat. I am very warm anyhow! All advice needed!

    • une femme
      April 10, 2014 / 5:38 pm

      Hi Laurie, last week I offered some suggestions for warm weather travel here. What works for me are linen knits and clothing that doesn’t fit too close to the body.

  14. April 10, 2014 / 7:11 am

    I am so bad at “packing light” and always take a whole lot “just in case” stuff 😉
    Regarding dresses I also wear them when I travel as jersey and especially wrap dresses are so comfortable and can easily be dressed up for the city or going out for dinner. And I always take ballerinas in neutral colours.

    Annette | Lady of Style

  15. April 10, 2014 / 7:22 am

    For me it’s worth the space to have one killer dress and pair of heels. The joy I feel if we go out, dressing like that, merits a little adjustment elsewhere.

  16. Lea
    April 10, 2014 / 7:27 am

    To dress up, without dressing up:

    Ditch the strap on the purse.
    Fresh socks in dressy boots
    Larger earrings
    Dark Denim

  17. Nancy Karpen
    April 10, 2014 / 7:51 am

    I find that traveling for vacation and travel for an event are different and I need more clothing since I’ll need to change from daytime clothes to evening attire. We are going to a family wedding in California in June with Friday night event, Saturday night wedding and Sunday brunch. There’s also lots of outdoor walking and hiking available in the area. Much more clothing than I’d usually pack.

  18. April 10, 2014 / 8:29 am

    Unless I’m going on a cruise, or attending an “event”, I generally don’t pack dresses or anything formal. I find that I almost never use it. Also, my husband and I are huge walkers so comfortable, but nice looking footwear is a must and generally I don’t want to take the kind of shoes that look good with dresses, because they aren’t comfortable enough for daytime walking. My J. Crew utility jacket that you mentioned a few days ago is a great travel item. I pair it with a light turtleneck or sweater or just wear it with a shirt or tee. Like you, I travel with a few pairs of pants, including jeans and maybe a pair of cropped cotton pants in the warmer months. I like to think of my travel wardrobe as casual but elegant.

  19. Liana
    April 10, 2014 / 8:47 am

    I’m leaving Apr. 15 for the beginning of my month long trip. Looks like I’ll be in Paris around the same time you are – Apr. 25-May 7. I too am looking at the weather report for some ideas. I find these tips very handy as I’m wondering if my layering will be warm enough if necessary. We are also taking an 8 day riverboat cruise throug Burgundy and just got the ship’s schedule for a few dressier evenings. You are correct, dresses require yet another kind of shoe. I’m leaning towards a few tunics and leggings that can be dressed up and my ankle boots have a slight heel and will serve as footwear for the dressier occasions.

  20. Julie
    April 10, 2014 / 12:39 pm

    I will be about a week behind you in Provence, Burgandy and Paris. I am obsessing about a cross body purse that will deter pickpockets! How did you choose the Givency? I am also unsure of temperatures.

  21. April 10, 2014 / 12:51 pm

    I build around footwear. Unless I’m going somewhere hot, I am taking a pair of my most comfortable boots, and I will wear those on the plane so I don’t have to pack them. Which means I will wear outfits that have skirts, primarily, so I pick skirts that complement the boots I most want to walk in. And then everything else follows from there. This works really well for most of the kinds of professional and personal trips I go on and every kind of day from casual to more formal, but if I’m in a situation where I am going to need sporting goods (hiking boots, shorts, sweat gear) then it sort of falls apart.

  22. Noel
    April 10, 2014 / 3:19 pm

    I leave tomorrow for 2 months – going to Brazil, from there on vacation for 3 weeks in Italy, Greece and Turkey – which includes 7 days on a sailboat – then back to Brazil. I’m all packed! Shoes are really important – dressy sandals with high heels and flip flops for Brazil, lots of lightweight tops and cropped pants, plus a couple of slacks for work days with the same tops.

    For Europe I really have struggled with the shoe issue. I finally settled on 3 pairs of really comfortable Munroe shoes, and have been able to take 3 mile walks in all 3 without issues. A black almost closed shoe with a slight heel, a pair of pewter-colored sandals, and a very “practical” (Ie boring) Mary Janes in taupe which I think I’ll wear anytime I’m out for an entire day. I’ll have a suitcase, but only have it half filled. I used E-bags for organizing and they’ve worked well. Navy, black and off white pants, one EF black knit dress, an anorak in case it rains or gets cold and some very light weight tops which I can wear with a camisole for extra warmth. I’m betting on warm weather. Bathing suit, a caftan which I can wear as a cover-up or for dinner on the boat and a couple of cardigans.

    This entire thread has helped me enormously with coordinating clothes/suitcases/carryons/totes.

    My husband will think about what he’s going to pack about an hour before we leave and still look great !

  23. Ellen
    April 10, 2014 / 4:52 pm

    I travel with my no-close cardigans often. I bring along an inexpensive pin, or a shawl pin, or two, to fasten them if I need to. Try yarn shops or fabric stores for pins which won’t damage your sweaters. A favorite, which I bought at a local boutique, uses a magnetic closure. But I’m also fond of Grandpa style cardigans which button; if they are long enough, they can double as a robe in the hotel room.

  24. Christine
    April 10, 2014 / 5:57 pm

    I’m in the midst of a different kind of trip in the southeastern US. I tried to follow a capsule protocol even though we ‘re driving. Trip started in sunny 60s, then 2 days of chilly rain followed by gorgeous 70s in Savannah. Dark jeans and topsiders perfect early on, now I’m into khakis and cropped Zenergy by Chico ‘s. Beige anorak was a godsend in the rain. Now, I’m layering a light jacket over jersey tops. Shoes? Arche sandals. Easy Spirit lightweight athletic shoes (with Peds). Even though I brought a few options on jewelry. I’m wearing the same pieces every day. Advice? Simple, classic, comfortable.

  25. April 11, 2014 / 7:06 am

    How exciting! I think for rural areas, I would take some kind of low closed toe shoes, personally either a trainer or brogue style for comfort and durability. If the weather is warm, they would still look good with pants/skirt/tee worn with socks. For Paris, your ankle boots would be smart enough for sightseeing and the other shoes would be the alternative. I would definitely pack a 3rd dressier pair of shoes which would be a pointy toe flat that would dress up pants and the most basic top but equally important, would go with a dinner outfit or dress – I like to pack at least one dress that’s simple and easy to wash and wear (a tunic or shift shape) or a skirt that does the same thing. I like the idea of day to night options but in reality I always prefer to change out of my outfit after a day out into something else for the evening. Bon voyage!

  26. sybes1
    April 11, 2014 / 7:34 am

    Love your ensemble! I like avoiding dresses unless it’s hot. I tend to get cold easily so I prefer pants 99 percent of the time. The Gentle Souls boots should be great–they tend to be The Most Comfortable Shoes Ever (although I’ve never worn Arche shoes.
    I’m wondering, Susan, are you and Le Monsieur going on your own, or on a tour? If a tour, which one? (looks fabulous!)
    And I love love love the Sandro jacket!! I’m so jealous–it’s unavailable and I don’t see anything remotely as nice….
    Bon Voyage! Sally

  27. April 11, 2014 / 9:15 am

    Unless I have a particularly dressy event to attend (like my niece’s wedding last year!), I usually avoid dresses. I include a pair of smart trousers and shoes that I can wear during the evening with a statement necklace and clutch bag, plus lots of coordinating separates so that I can add or take off layers as the weather dictates. I also take a couple of pairs of comfortable shoes for all the walking that we do.

    I’d just like to add that when I first looked at this post I read it as Love Valley!

  28. April 11, 2014 / 2:41 pm

    You could wear your boots with leggings and a dress if you wished to. But that’s bringing along a piece you won’t wear much.

    For variable weather I really depend on leggings and a 3/4 sleeve scoop neck silk long underwear shirt. The fine gauge means you can’t detect it under street clothes. If I get too warm I’ll sneak into the ladies room to remove it. I’ll then stuff it into a quart sized zip lock in my purse. Yes, it does fit in there! I even wear the long john top with sleeveless shells if I have a cardi on. I can always remove it later.

    Why not take advantage of the latest Paris fashion trend – colorful or printed sneakers? I’m thinking something like Keds or Vans. They’re great for walking in rural areas.

    I’d take a pair of black jeans and black dress pants. A luxurious cardi, some lovely tees and tops that I know you have. I think it’s important to go with light fabrics. It’s easier to layer. If the fabric is heavy and it warms up there is not much to be done but go shopping.

    The waterproof trench is a key item in the spring. I also bring a pair of light silk bike gloves in black. It keeps the chill out on rainy days.

  29. April 11, 2014 / 3:44 pm

    Pseu, aren’t you taking your Josef Seibel Caspians 06? I have a pair of the laced style, and though they aren’t clunky looking trainers at all, I can walk for hours in those. I’m going to try on the model you have; they’d be easier to manage for travelling. But I want a red pair.

    Funny how everyone seems to prefer trousers. I’m usually in skirts in la belle saison, and wear leggings or tights if it turns chilly. I love ankle boots, but wouldn’t wear them in the summer. Perhaps because up here, we are sick of boots when spring rolls round at last.

    I’ve never been to the Loire Valley; it is also a nice place for a cycle tour.

  30. Susie
    April 11, 2014 / 9:41 pm

    This post is perfect timing! We are visiting for the first time at the NSD of the month, and I too have been watching the weather.
    Your tips and advice have been invaluable!! Thanks

    • April 12, 2014 / 8:55 am

      Yes, a good reminder for me too. I’m off to Venice for five days next weekend and I haven’t started thinking about packing yet (eek!).

      I don’t have an anorack but I do have a short shower-proof trench coat. The only problem I find with that is that it’s often too chilly with just a light wool cardigan and the trench coat. I think I’ll take a heavier coat to Venice (worn on the plane) ‘cos I find being cold makes me miserable!

  31. Jeanne
    April 12, 2014 / 8:20 am

    Your clothing selection is right on target for your upcoming trip. I can’t wait to read all about it in the future. Guedelon, Bourges, Loire Valley, Chateau Chennonceau (have to go back here), Amboise, Normandy Beaches, and Giverny and of course Paris are my favorites so far in the northern part of France. My black EF washable crepe slacks serviced me well. They are great when it was warm and great when it was cool. Like you I like to wear light layers. I take a backpack for carrying my layers, books, purchases, and camera. I like having my hands free and have tried cross body bags but can’t seem to find one that works for me. My booties were Clarks and I was surprised that I could actually walk in them all day. They worked well with a pencil skirt and tights or skinny jeans. My shoes are Cole Haan Nike Air and are soooo comfortable.

    I will continue to check in and see more of your packing tips. The preparations and research are always much fun. Have a great trip!!

  32. April 13, 2014 / 5:21 am

    I think your choices are on target for your trip. And my plan was always something along those lines. I like to have one dress and a pair of heels though. Perhaps this is because I spent many years combining professional travel with fun excursions. Perhaps it is because we always liked at least one extravagant evening, perhaps I just like to dress up a little bit. But who knows what my future travel will look like.

  33. April 15, 2014 / 11:06 am

    I’m with you on the florals looking like a pair of draperies or upholstery when worn on the body, but lovely in a scarf. You have the greatest taste in clothes and I think you’re all set for your trip. Love those boots today, they’re so cute. I usually bring a black knit skirt that I can wear with t shirts and/or a dressy top and sweater, with flats on the flight. It’s my latest travel outfit, comfy, yet nice enough to wear when you get off the plane and head into town without looking like a slouch. Have a fabulous trip. I was in Paris last spring break and everyone was wearing scarves and glasses — you’ll fit right in! Or shall I say stand out proudly, with style.

  34. M-C
    April 20, 2014 / 2:12 pm

    You know all too well how unstable the weather can be in France around that time.. You may not be aware that the Loire serves as a definite climate border, with everything to the South distinctly sunnier. So you can’t go wrong preparing for rain and coolness, but with layers that can sing in the sunshine. The one place where I think you can save a lot of weight is that it’s safe to forgo sandals for the next month or so, especially in this particularly cold year. I’d also just bring a raincoat, and leave any other coat at home, counting on cardigans and scarves to provide all necessary warmth. A pair of fingerless mittens can add both a contemporary touch and the last smidge of cold-day comfort. And wool socks would be a good idea of country/city walks if you’re unlucky. Don’t stress, you’ll have fun :-).

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