I don’t often publish guest posts, but this one was so charming and useful I just had to share it with you guys. Here Alex from Bon Voyage Mon Chéri breaks down her Paris packing list for all those who want to look stylish in the City of Lights. Vas-y, Alex !
Swishing skirts, clicking heels, and chic Parisian ensembles may clash with the typical image of childcare. I would know; I changed quite a few diapers in Paris.
After living in la ville lumière for a year, I understand the irresistible urge to replicate the Parisian look. I still remember the sinking realization that every child around me had more fashionable outfits than I did. Granted, I’ve always had a “you do you” attitude. If you’d like to strut around Paris in flippers and a rainbow poncho, I commend you.
But either way, deciding on what exactly to pack for Paris can send anyone into a tailspin.
While I maintain that you should feel comfortable looking as Parisian, or as touristy, as you desire, I hope my personal mistakes and regrets help you in your packing endeavors.
So without further ado, I give you: Paris Packing Tips.
Never underestimate the power of une écharpe.
Besides being fashionable, a scarf is the most practical item you could possibly bring. With eight colorful scarves, I thought I had ever so slightly surpassed a healthy scarf limit. A little secret? Such a limit does not exist. With an array of colorful scarves, you could create brand new outfits using the same black pants and sweater.
Besides, many buildings in Paris are quite drafty. The central heating system may or may not work, and you’ll be grateful for your neck sweater.
There’s a reason why the French wear black.
My au pair mother embodied the typical Parisian when it came to her fashion sense. While I dripped in sweaty, dull sweaters from running after her adorable children all day, she appeared as an impeccable vision in black, complete with perfectly painted nails.
Very few people can replicate her effortless fashion sense, but I did pick up on some habits, including her affinity for black dresses.
Black is flattering, simple, elegant, and matches everything. My black skirts and sweaters transitioned seamlessly from work to after-work glasses of wine. Parfait.
Bring machine-washable clothes.
Machine-washable items are your friends. You may even fall in love with a dress you previously hated. [Author’s note- YES. I brought a lot of dry-clean only clothes and it was a nightmare- dry-cleaning in France costs a fortune and is a hassle. Just no.]
For example, sophomore year of high school my mother convinced me to buy a black dress I swore I’d never wear. The “boring” cotton garment hung in my closet for years, untouched and neglected. I think I once managed to spill toothpaste all over it and even then, I couldn’t care less.
Then I planned to move to Paris. The dress that had been abandoned for so long looked nearly pristine due to lack of wear. It was simple. Black. Comfortable. It matched all my scarves.
This little black dress I had once shunned became the single most important element of clothing in my Parisian wardrobe. Why? Along with its versatility, it was also machine washable. A true gift.
Regardless of what you bring, make sure you can easily store and wash your clothes. Anything else is a waste of valuable packing space.
Bring outfits, not pieces.
Before you fold and roll every last item of clothing into your bag, lay everything out, and determine which pieces work with multiple outfits. How many outfits can you make out of your bright skirt? Which sweater is comfortable enough to wear with kids? Would it also work on a date?
I’d recommend leaving behind any piece that simply doesn’t work with multiple items. My general rule is that the article (shirt, skirt, pair of pants) must work with at least three outfits, or I don’t bring it.
But bring your favorite piece.
With that said, bring that one item of clothing you know is entirely impractical, but you love nonetheless. I own this completely wild South African print, v-cut romper. It is the least work appropriate item in my closet, and certainly not black, subtle, or Parisian. But I love it. With some black tights and ankle boots, I had the perfect “going out” ensemble, and I never regretted my last minute decision to stuff it in my bag.
Some of my friends packed nothing but jeans, leggings, and sweaters, and regretted their overly practical ways.
No, don’t go overboard, but allow yourself at least something that’s undeniably “you.”
Something from home.
I suppose this tip just boils down to knowing yourself well. Some people sell everything they own to move abroad, and are happy to pack an entire life into a suitcase. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with such minimalist genes. If living in a homey space matters to you, allow yourself one tiny piece of your life.
You don’t need more than five pairs of shoes.
Actually, I’m sure some travel bloggers would balk at five, but considering I brought nine pairs of shoes to Paris (excuse me while I hide in shame), I believe five is quite an improvement.
This is what works for me:
- Comfortable walking boots
- Sneakers (mostly for exercising)
- Flats/walking shoes
- One pair of cute shoes for going out
- Sandals (if you’re planning on staying through the summer)
*Some people bring flip-flops for hostel showers, but they’re generally cheap, so I’d suggest buying a pair once you’re set up in your new home.
Don’t forget your bathrobe.
My petite chambre de bonne barely fit my bed, let alone a shower. Instead, I shared une douche with a couple of neighbors. The shower lacked sufficient space to store clothes, so I would scurry back and forth from my room to the shower in just my towel. Most mornings, people didn’t notice.
Unfortunately, I’d have the occasional run-in with That One Guy I Dated Three Months Ago, or an awkward 70-year-old who never spoke. In those instances, I felt desperate for a bathrobe.
Then construction season began. Every morning, strange men wandered the halls, hammering and painting, and gawking as I scuffled towards the shower. At that point, the bathrobe became a necessity.
Yes, you could buy a bathrobe, but prices are steep in Paris; I would suggest at least researching your living situation ahead of time.
To be Parisian is to be nonchalant.
If you envision yourself blending in with the Parisians, remember that less is always more. They wear neutral colors with occasional standout pieces and minimal jewelry. With tousled hair, liquid eyeliner, a bright scarf, skinny black pants, and a grey sweater, nobody could mistake you for a tourist.
[Editor’s note- nobody does black liquid eyeliner quite like a French girl. They’re masters.]
You don’t need more than one suitcase.
Simple piece of advice? Don’t bring more than one checked bag. During my high school foreign exchange semester abroad, I packed two checked bags, plus a backpack, and a carry-on. I resembled a cartoon character, to be honest.
Some people need five pairs of pants and one dress; some people need six dresses but two pairs of pants. The numbers are up to you. But know that if you need more than one checked bag, you’ve gone too far.
You’re you, no matter where you are.
At the end of the day, this is by far my most important rule. I adore dresses and skirts. While some of my friends shook their heads in disbelief as I ran after a toddler in my dress, I never blinked twice. I neglected to wear the clothes I brought to be “practical” because I didn’t feel comfortable in them.
Conversely, you may despise tights and skirts, or the Parisian fondness for black. Maybe you’d simply rather wear a sweatshirt all day. No matter what, you’re you; don’t change your whole wardrobe in preparation for a trip if you don’t feel like yourself in your new clothes.
Of course, try new styles, step outside your comfort zone, and maybe you’ll fall in love with and entirely different look. But that’s why we shop.
Fellow francophiles- what would you guys recommend packing for Paris?
Alex is a traveling writer, ardent reader, and perpetual expat who studied abroad in Bordeaux, taught English in Paris, and is currently preparing to move to London for grad school, where she will write her first book. To follow this book-lover’s adventures, check out her blog, Bon Voyage Mon Chéri, Facebook, or follow along on her Instagram at BonVoyageAlex.