What to Wear in France?

By Kathryn Walsh

Trés chic! How to pack for a visit to the world's style capital

What to Wear in France?

Do you know how to say "Where can I buy socks?" in French? Pas de problem: when you bring all the essentials with you, there's no need to waste your time in France shopping for everyday items. Instead, use your days to explore Paris at sunset and taste wine in Burgundy, dressed in clothes that are stylish and fabulous as a dream French vacation requires. The key? Packing your bags with simple pieces in dark, neutral colors. Traveling with black clothing makes it easy to pack, get dressed each day and maybe even pass yourself off as French.

Oui: black, black and more black

Okay, it sounds like a stereotype, but French people really do wear a lot of black. Now's the time to embrace that monochromatic style, because it's perfect for traveling. Black clothes don't show wrinkles and stains as do light-colored pieces. That means you can mix and match the same few pieces without clashing, and you get more wear out of them between washing. Just don't mix faded black with true black, or you risk looking dowdy.

Non: chunky athletic shoes

This isn't just about style. Wearing bulky white sneakers or other chunky gym shoes may attract attention to you because it's a distinctly North American look, and that makes you a target to thieves who prey on tourists. Walking shoes are a must, but try to pick a pair that are sleek, streamlined and modern rather than the pair you've owned since the '90s.

Oui: at least one dressy outfit

Certainly you can grab a casual French dinner in jeans without drawing glares. However, if you have any intention of dining in a nice restaurant, plan to dress the part. The same goes for Paris and other big cities as well as small towns. Women should bring at least one dark skirt, dress or pair of dress pants and blouse, and men should bring dress pants, a collared shirt and maybe a jacket and tie, depending on the fanciness of the restaurants you'd like to try. If you'd wear it to holiday services or a semi-formal wedding, it should be appropriate for dinner in a swanky French restaurant.

Non: a puffy parka

Some parts of France get a fair amount of snowfall, so a wintertime visit necessitates cold-weather outerwear. The kind of parka that you'd wear to ski will take up too much room in your suitcase, though, and you may not even end up wearing it much if your area of France goes through a warm snap while you're there. Instead, opt for a wool peacoat, which is warm, functional and appropriately stylish. Alternately, bring a lined raincoat to wear over a sweater for warmth. That way you'll stay dry on drizzly days without adding too much bulk.

The exception, of course, is if you're headed to France for a ski vacation... in which case, that ski jacket is a must.

Oui: scarves aplenty

For women, draping a brightly colored scarf around the neck is an easy and chic way to dress up even a casual outfit, and that's a very French style strategy. You can also drape it over your shoulders if you get cold or wrap it around your hair during a sudden rainstorm. Both men and women should bring warm scarves for a wintertime visit to France.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.