Welcome to Ask Me Anything—a new series here on the blog where I invite you to send me your questions (anything from dog travel to freelancing to “where should I go on my trip?”) and I do my best to answer based on six years of full-time travel experience, 15 years as a writer, and seven years as a freelancer.
Have a pressing question? Send it over.
My daughter and I are taking our first trip outside of the US to France. My question is what suggestions do you have for us to not stick out too much like the “typical’ American? We want to respect the people and the culture as much as possible. We also would love some suggestions on what types of things a “typical” French woman and girl might wear without being too much like slobs or wearing holes in our pants or our PJ bottoms as our pants. We will be gone for about two weeks and I really don’t want to overpack too much stuff…We will be going towards the end of June to around July 7…We will visit Paris and head up the coast towards Normandy via a tour company…Thanks for all your suggestions and advice that you give. Much appreciated. Merci! –
First: I LOVE this question.
And you’re so smart to ask it.
France in general (and Paris in particular) cares a lot about style, so running around in a sneakers or pajama bottoms will almost definitely get you labeled as a tourist (for better or worse).
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you can’t wear whatever makes you feel comfortable. But it does mean that the locals around you will likely be well put together and not wearing sandals with socks.
Tea at Mariage Freres wearing a black v-neck, red pencil skirt, & chunky black belt.
So, what should you wear if you want to fit in with the French?
My advice is to think classic and stylish.
You don’t need to take your fanciest clothes (save those for Taormina, Sicily), but do go for simple, well-fitting garments that make you feel cute.
Since you’re going in summer, this could mean:
:: Cute sundresses (perhaps with some sort of wrap or jacket in case the insides of restaurants or museums are cooler)
:: A simple skirt and top combo
:: Lightweight pants and a nice shirt
Parisians, like New Yorkers, tend to favor a subdued palette, so you’ll see lots of blacks and grays (though somewhat less in summer than winter) and it’s hard to go wrong with a simple, cute black dress or skirt.
If you do see sneakers, they’ll probably be converse or something a bit more stylish than your average hiking sneakers. If you see jeans, they’ll be well fitted and nice.
In June and July, Paris will likely be hot, but they do get an average of about 8 days of rain in June and 7 in July, so packing a cute umbrella or rain coat is definitely worthwhile.
So, now, let’s talk about packing:
For me, the tricks to staying stylish while living out of a bag are these:
:: Everything you pack should go together.
Instead of planning five different outfits that must be worn together, plan five outfits that can mix and match. If you pack a skirt, try to make sure every top you pack could go with that skirt. If you pack a dress, make sure all wraps and shoes would work with the dress. When everything works together, you have a lot more outfit options even when packing light.
For example: if you pack five outfits, but they can’t be mixed and matched, you have five outfits, each of which you’ll cycle through a couple times. If, on the other hand, you have five tops and five bottoms, each of which goes with every other top or bottom, you now have 25 different combinations. You’ll have the same number of items in your bag, but you can wear a different outfit every day if you want.
:: Choose non-wrinkling when you can.
You won’t always have an iron…and even if you do, you don’t want to spend your vacation ironing. When possible, choose fabrics that are forgiving and won’t wrinkle.
:: Pick a single color palette.
Choose a base color and then 1 – 3 complimentary colors, all of which should complement each other and all of which you should feel good in. This is the best way to make sure everything goes together. My current palette is a lot of blacks and deep, rich reds.
:: Make sure your undergarments work with everything.
If you need a specific bra with a specific outfit, that can make traveling a little more complicated. Instead, choose stuff that’s easy to toss on and run out the door, with every bra working with every top and every top working with every bottom and so on and so forth.
:: Only take things you love.
I used to travel with my least favorite clothes because what if they got lost? Or stolen? Or ripped? Or ruined? It took me years to realize that all that approach did was make me feel frumpy and deny me the pleasure of having good travel photos of myself. So now I try to only own and travel with things I love.
:: Choose shoes that you are comfortable walking in.
This is one of the trickier things about style and travel, but it can be done. In winter, I pick a pair of super comfy boots and wear them with everything. In summer, a pair of flats with cushy soles or stylish sneakers (again with comfortable soles) can work. Just make sure your shoes work with all (or as many as possible) of your outfits.
:: Jewelry is an easy, lightweight way to change up an outfit.
If your outfit is on the simpler side (a simple black v-neck, for example), taking a few pieces of jewelry (again, all should match everything) can liven it up and make it look really stylish.
:: Take one super nice dress (or skirt + top) that can work for evening events.
Paris in particular has some really amazing, fancy places to eat or have a drink. Give yourself permission to dress up at least one night.
Now, as for packing light: how much you pack really depends on you. If you’re willing to do laundry a few times during the trip, you could probably get away with 3 – 4 outfits. If you want to reduce your laundromat visits, go for more. The good news is that summer clothes are obviously less bulky and it’s easier to pack more and keep things light.
Finally, while France is normally quite hot that time of year, it’s never a bad idea to bring a jacket or shawl. You never know when a museum or restaurant will run cold or whether you’ll get an unseasonable cold spell.
Any other tips for Rebecca? Drop them in the comments.