Please sign in to post.

Dressing in France so we don't stand out as tourists

We will be in Paris for the last 5 days of September, then in Provence for the first half of October. In Provence, we'll stay with a friend in Villelaure (with trips to Aix and Frejus), then base ourselves in Arles and visit the Camargue, les Baux, Avignon, etc. I travel light, and I've reviewed Rick's suggested packing list. Still, I was thinking a pair of jeans might be a good idea for fall weather, but I heard someone living in France say that (in Paris anyway) the only people who wear jeans are teenagers. I know the French tend to dress up a bit more than I would, certainly while traveling light! But, since I'm going to be visiting both American friends living in Paris and French friends in Provence, I don't want to embarrass them by sticking out like a tourist. For those of you who travel a lot or especially LIVE in France, what do you recommend? Also, as to footwear, I would normally take my sandals and some good walking athletic shoes. I have orthodics and need roomy and comfortable shoes. But maybe I am going to need something a bit dressier?? Many thanks for your suggestions.

Posted by
228 posts

Jeans are so incredibly popular, if you held stock in any Parisian Jean company you would be a multi-millionaire! Darker colors, leather shoes, jackets and scarves. The Parisian women you would be comparing yourself to are working in a big-city, and walking from work to lunch...dinner, etc. So they are naturally dressed up nicely... they are at work, you are on vacation.

Posted by
11507 posts

Almost everyone in Paris wears jeans now, this is not 1975 anymore, lol but they are nice fitted jeans, not sloppy garden jeans .
Man or woman in nice jeans, a button shirt for men, a nice blouse for lady, can go anywhere and fit in just fine , your friend absolutely misinformed you. A nice sport jacket or similar is better choice then say a windbreaker if you wish to dress it up a bit . Seriously, wear whatever footwear you need for comfort, you will regret regret regret not bringing your comfiest footwear. If you are going out to a very fancy restaurant and choose to wear a dress, then yes, perhaps some dress shoes for that occaison, but keep in mind they take up room in your luggage for one meal,, and really unless you plan on visiting a starred restaurant you do not need to dress up to that degree at all. I repeat , jeans are absolutely fine. I have spent hundreds of days in Paris over the years, and I still have french family and friends,, and other then some of my very elderly friends( they are in their 80s) they all wear jeans. The only time I advise against jeans is july and august, and then only because they are hot and heavey to pack and sundresses, skirts and capris are cooler then denim , so its not a style thing just a being practical thing . Jeans are great for rest of the year though, they can be worn numerous times without a wash, and as I said, can easily be dressed up or down.

Posted by
11507 posts

Ps you will stand out as tourists , so don't sweat it. I can tell tourists from locals in my hometown, and I mean ones from SEATTLE,, lol Its not just clothes( you wear same stuff as we do) but the way people walk around , the stuff they stop and look at , the way the "stroll" instead of march ( like us locals running to work or appts etc) ,etc. .Do not even worry about it. Watch your purse, don't talk to strangers, have fun!

Posted by
1068 posts

You have already gotten LOTS of good advice. The only thing I would add is a something I got from Simon Doonan on slate.com - always dress like you are to someplace nicer in a little while. There is often a discussion on this board about how Europeans now dress just like their American counterparts - and I don't think that is true. I do notice better-dressed - more fashionably dressed - folks in Europe where a similar situation in American would be packed with folks in puffy white snakers and mom jeans. Since yes, you will be instantly recognizable as a tourist the minute you open your mouth, you can help yourself feel more appropriately dressed by "dressing up" - if just by one level - everywhere you go. Blazer instead of wind breaker. Dark, fashionable comfy walking shoes instead of puffy white sneakers (I have Flinstone feet and need wider shoes, and I recommend Doc Martens - they are excellent for walking, look hip, come in MANY styles, and will accomdate orthotics). Dark wash jeans, not mom jeans. Fast fashion t-shirts rather than boxy crew necks emblazoned with "Gators!" or whatnot. Dress in all black and add a pop of color in a casually wound scarf. I do the "going someplace better" trick by adding shine or sparkle (a glittery tank under a cardigan, for example) - wearing inexpensive but fashion-forward jewelry - making sure I have on make-up - getting my nails done before I go... makes me feel better and more like I fit in, even if I really don't! :-)

Posted by
425 posts

Outside of Paris and the big cities, ordinary French people are a lot friendlier than you might expect. Don't be surprised to hear a total stranger say "bonjour" to you in a small boulangerie or post office. In fact, if you enter a small shop and DON'T utter a general "bonjour", you WILL look like a stranger. Enjoy the politeness! :-)

Posted by
893 posts

Pat's advice is spot-on. The minute you take out your camera, or stop to point and look at something, or even just open your mouth and let English pour out, you'll be known as a tourist. If you really want to fit in, walk around like you're texting someone and ignore everything around you LOL. Seriously, just dress "nice." If you would sleep in it, or work out in it, don't wear it. Bring a scarf - or buy one as a souvenir. Whatever you wear, wear it proudly, don't slump over and walk like you feel inferior or are embarassed about your clothes.

Posted by
4535 posts

As always, it depends on the context. If you're doing touristy things, everyone will know you are a tourist anyway and you'll be surounded by people wearing all kinds of fashion faux-pas... If you are shopping at nicer boutiques, dress like you actually wear that clothing. If you are out at a nice restaurant, the French are unlikely to be wearing causal clothes. The French do wear jeans, but not as habitually as Americans do and are MUCH more likely to dress nicer for occasions that are more than just very casual. Many of the French you will see nicely dressed during the day are working, and they DO still dress more formally than we do now for work.

Posted by
2030 posts

All the above advice for dressing for France is very good. I would just add that you cannot go wrong wearing black.

Posted by
524 posts

Sue Ann I agree totally with Kira. One clothing item to bring which is easy to dress up or down is a pair of black, preferably knit pants that hold their shape and wash/dry easily. These pants will carry you through any situation. As mentioned, a scarf with a jacket will dress you up. You can even buy a scarf inexpensively at one of the outdoor markets as a souvenir. I unexpectedly was invited on a trip at the last minute. I brought 5 pairs of black slacks. No problems coordinating at all! I would not take athletic shoes. Except when you are in the car or in transit. Look for more stylish walking shoes which can accommodate your orthotics. I, too, have problem feet which get worse when I walk or stand for even an hour. Go to a specialty footware store and have them fit you with a more stylish walking shoe. Actually anything is more stylish than white puffy athletic shoes. As a last resort, even black athletic shoes are better. My next trip I am also going to take a pair of shoes that are 1/2 to 1 whole size larger than I usually wear. So if your feet are permanently swollen when you travel, you might think about this. It doesn't take much to dress up to the next level and still be comfortable. If I have to buy a clothing item, I find I wear it at home too. Good luck packing and on your trip! Bobbie

Posted by
2916 posts

Plenty of good advice. I've travelled to France about 20-25 times over the years, and I used to bring a sport coat and a "nice" pair of pants. The last few years I ditched the sport coat, and my "nice" pair of pants is just a 2d pair of khaki jeans to go with my blue jeans. Everyone knows that I'm a tourist, even when I speak my best French, but it doesn't matter. The French are incredibly friendly as long as you act respectfully, and we've made many friends in France. If my "nice" pants days hadn't ended by then (10 years ago), they would have ended the Friday night we had dinner at probably the finest restaurant I've ever eaten at, in a small village in the center of France, where the maitre d and staff were impeccably dressed and I was worried that we'd be snubbed because I only had khaki jeans and we had seen the suited businessmen going there for lunch all week. We were the first arrivals that night, and as I watched people arrive, every single male was wearing jeans.

Posted by
3050 posts

Kira's advice is PERFECT. Seriously, totally dead on. And Pat is right about the jeans. It's true that a lot of people on this board say "wear whatever you want" but there's a lot of people (obviously, judging by the number of times this comes up on this forum) who don't want to appear sloppy or look like the stereotypical "ugly american" because dressing a bit nicer gives you extra confidence. I think this is true for any large, fashionable, world-class city, not just say, France. I worry about my appearance more in Los Angeles and New York than I do in Sacramento, you know? What a lot of Parisians do so well is to dress up a nice pair of jeans. Jeans + fitted blazer is an awesome combo. Add a nice blouse or dressy tank under it (or a fitted tshirt if you're going a bit more casual) and you're stylin'. The shoe thing is tricky, it's not that they don't wear sneakers in Europe, but unless you're going for a specific "20 something hip hop kid" look it's generally not puffy athletic sneakers. Sandals, espadrilles, or even light canvas sneakers (without visible socks) can dress up those jeans and still be comfortable. There's H&M stores in Seattle, yes? That's a good place to buy a few items and accessories that will fit the bill and not break the bank. They're incredibly popular stores in Europe, too - everyone here shops at them. A good place to pick up a $25 blazer and a $5 scarf.

Posted by
296 posts

I always wear my beret on my Night Train customized Harley. A little bit of class goes a long way today no matter where one is located.

Posted by
10402 posts

Hey Sarah, what are you trying to say about how we dress in Sacramento?? :-) Sue Ann, as many others have told you, jeans are not unusual in Europe. Just dress them up with nicer tops and you should be good to go!

Posted by
33 posts

Thanks for all the great comments and suggestions! I'll definitely include jeans--probably my fitted black ones, as well as knit black pants and black walking shoes, and I'll add a scarf or two to change things up.

Posted by
517 posts

Good discussion. My two cents: It is not that Europeans dress "nicer", it is that they are more conscious of wearing the right clothes for the occassion and venue. If they know they are going to an outdoor market and then to a restaurant, they will dress for the restaurant rather than the other way around. I think Kira hit it right on the head. Good advice from all!

Posted by
12040 posts

A good apples-to-apples comparison would be to observe not what Parisians coming to and from work wear, but what Europeans wear when on holiday. Hint: You will often see people wearing many of the same things that some of the fascionistas on this website claim only clumsy Americans wear. Shorts, T-shirts, sneakers, baseball caps, and yes, YES, FANNY PACKS! Bottom line- you're a tourist on holiday. Wear whatever makes you comfortable and you find appropriate. Bling it up as much or as little as you want. Just don't expect to blend in.

Posted by
2916 posts

I'm enjoying some of the latest comments. Very humorous and right on the money. I've spent a lot of time in France, and while the French in cities do dress very well in general, in rural France people tend to dress the way most Americans dress, although in restaurants they tend to dress more neatly than we do, if not necessarily elegantly. And if you've ever gone to the typical large outdoor French market, you'll see stall after stall of clothing vendors selling stuff that would enable Bozo the Clown to equip his entire wardrobe for the year.

Posted by
375 posts

Some of the comments have been funny, but to those who advise that it doesn't make any difference what people wear, I'll say this: Some people don't care what they wear on vacation. Some people do care. Sue Ann, the OP, obviously cares or else she wouldn't have posted the question. I will point out that she didn't say she was trying to convince anyone that she is not a tourist; she simply said she didn't want to stand out. There's a difference. So those who are advising that she wear whatever makes her comfortable may be missing the point that what makes some people psychologically comfortable is to feel that they are dressed appropriately. Looking well put together and being comfortable don't have to be mutually exclusive. There's plenty of nice looking clothing out there that is quite comfortable. Sue Ann, I agree that the advice you've received, as well as your own idea, about fitted jeans and walking shoes would be very appropriate. When I travel I usually take several nice knit tops to vary the look. A cute cardigan sweater or a lightweight pashmina is a useful and attractive addition.

Posted by
1806 posts

All I can say about the person who lives in France who told you that in Paris the only people who wear jeans are teenagers is...Huh??? The beauty of YouTube is that you can actually go online before you travel and take a look at any number of videos shot outside on the streets of a particular city to see exactly how people are dressing. A decent Paris one to check out for it's extended length (17 minutes) is "A Stroll Along the Rue du Bac" posted by Mxsmanic. For every woman wandering past in dress pants or a skirt, you'll see half of them wearing jeans, cargo pants, capris, tank tops, cardigans, tees (and those aren't all tourists as you'll hear snippets of their conversations in French as they pass by). And for sure not every one of them is a teenager rocking a pair of skinny jeans. Go ahead and pack the jeans for October - you can still pack light as you are visiting friends who live there and will likely have access to a washing machine you can use (and the jeans don't need to be washed every single time you wear them as long as you don't spill something on them). I'd leave the sandals at home mostly because it's October, not that warm, and I'd stick with your athletic shoes for daytime when you walk the most, and maybe an ankle boot, loafer or other type of flat (like ballet flats or a mule) for when you may want to dress up a little more for dinner or a night out. No one expects you to outfit yourself in Chanel and Dior to tour the Louvre, but you can wear nice jeans, a long sleeve tee and a lightweight jacket, "dress it up" with a scarf or simple earrings, be comfortable, yet not look like you just got dressed to weed the garden, move furniture or make a pit stop at Home Depot to pick up a few extra cans of stain for the back deck.

Posted by
3050 posts

I find it interesting that a lot of the dissenters here are American dudes coming from a military background, right? (Not that every American living in Germany is connected to the DoD, but the majority are...) Sometimes I wonder if some guys don't join the service just so they don't have to think about what they wear each day! ;)

Posted by
10363 posts

Sue Ann, i travel for weeks and weeks with only 3-4 pairs of Chico's black knit Travelers pants, in all seasons. As others have said, you just dress them up or down, add or take way scarfs, earrings, and you're good to go anywhere from hiking to Michelin starred restaurants. They're a very saturated black, and fairly slim. I don't bother with jeans, though my husband wears his for traveling. For my tired old feet, flat, black shoes.