Your Challenge: How to Dress Like a Parisian

a girl in a striped top in a vintage image of paris

If you’re headed over here and wondering what not to wear in Paris, we can help. Paris really is as fashionable as its reputation suggests. I used to work one floor below Vogue, and I can honestly say that the people who go down my street every day are just as well-dressed as those going to the Vogue floor. My sister and I were walking in my neighborhood once, and a girl passed us wearing such a casually perfect outfit that we both stopped, turned around, and stared. Everything — the fit, palette, balance, everything — was perfect.

I don’t see much fashion used as a means of true personal expression in Paris — the way you might in Tokyo or London or New York — but in terms of mastering the rules of fashion and making them work, no city does it better.

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That can make dressing here a stressful thing. Tourists stick out a little in New York — but you can spot one from across a crowded café in Paris. Helpfully, the things that give them away are easy to fix, if you want to fix them. If you’re wondering what not to wear in Paris, here’s your starting point: Leave the ten things below at home. Bring your best-cut jeans, and your best fitting black top.

One of the thing I love about the American ethos is that there’s a sense that you can choose not to follow the rules (ideally, once you understand them). I can say that I routinely violate #2 (if I’m walking out of a workout and it’s hot out), #4 (Havaianas or death), #5 (I’m writing this in my athleisure), and #6: I have plenty of clothes — particularly shapeless jeans — that don’t fit as well as they should. But in my experience and estimation, there’s a social price to pay for not heeding the dictates of good fashion (which the French might call good sense): This is a place with ideas about how things should be done, and violating those rules will get you a second (not entirely approving) glance.

Ignore all of these if you like. Come to France in red, white and blue leggings (I would love a pair) and Adidas shower slippers and a Rutgers sweatshirt and double fanny packs (one for the front, one for the back). As Americans, we have the right to pursue our happiness, and I can say that my happiness definitely is enhanced by wearing hooded sweatshirts to lunch. The Parisians, have the right to judge me for it. The questions about how to handle it, then, are real and deep: Is my experience in a foreign country enhanced by adopting, or experimenting with, some of their ideas? When in Paris, should you do as Parisians do? I think there is value to trying it.

This list below, of what not to wear in Paris, will get you started.

1. Fanny packs
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. No. Never. You could make an entire list of what not to have in Paris and only have fanny packs on it. Nothing could give you away faster. And weirdly enough, lots of people wear them. Don’t be one of them!

2. Too much skin
Not a judgment. But Parisians rarely show much skin — or at least, not in Paris. (What happens in Porquerolles stays in Porquerolles.) Choose between bare arms and bare legs — it’s one or the other.

3. Socks with shorts
Unless you’re a German dad (in Germany), wearing socks with Birkenstocks is not an acceptable look. For this we can cross-reference “what not to wear in Paris” with “what not to wear really anywhere, except possibly at home.

4. Flip-flops
Honestly I don’t understand the hate for flip-flops here, but suffice it to say, most Parisians think that the only good reason for flip-flops is evacuating your apartment in the middle of the night due to fire and being unable to find any other footwear. Just do flat sandals like Jeanne Damas, above.

5. Athleisure wear
For sure, you might see women in Lululemon immediately outside of yoga studios here. (In fact, we just got our very own Lululemon a couple years ago.) But while athleisure is more popular than it used to be, that’s not saying much. That thing where you’ll see women walking all over town in leggings on a Saturday afternoon? I’ve never seen that here. Same goes for hoodies, shorts, tank tops, etc.

6. Anything that doesn’t fit
They are really, really good about only buying clothes that fit, and tailoring what doesn’t. Baggy pants (that aren’t philosophically supposed to be baggy) are a dead giveaway.

7. Brand names
There are plenty of Chanel and Dior bags on the streets of the Marais, but they’re matched by the number of giveaway Sézane tote bags, and they’re rarely the sort that blare CHANEL in sparkling letters.

8. Too much makeup
It’s illegal to sell foundation in Paris. Ha, no, that’s not true — and plenty of the brands making the big bucks from it are French (l’Oréal, Dior, Chanel, etc., etc.). But nobody wears it. The vibe here is way more about freewheeling natural beauty … and of course, obsessive attention to skincare, facials, and the like. Just take a look at Caroline de Maigret, the model/Karl Lagerfeld muse — she actually looks worse with makeup. Bring your serums, leave the heavy stuff at home.

S9. Athletic shoes that look like athletic shoes
White sneakers — whether Vejas (above — see where to buy them from the U.S. here), Stan Smiths, or similar — are required wear for Paris’s coolhunters. Athletic shoes that look like they might have seen the inside of a gym, though, haven’t made similar in-roads.

10. Baseball caps or college sweatshirts 
Wear these on the subway and you might as well enter waving an American flag, while singing “A Grand Ol’ Flag.” Frankly I would enjoy this, the French maybe less so.

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Hi, I'm Diana. I've written about travel for The Wall Street Journal, Buzzfeed, The Cut, Travel + Leisure, Outside, and lots of other places. This is my blog.