Many countries claim to be the fashion capital of the world. London boasts its Cool Britannia look, Milan is devoted to trend setting high fashion, and New York turns city streets into catwalks of effortless style.
But there is another city to consider; one that is synonymous with chic, classy fashions and a refined, stylish lifestyle. No fashion house can consider itself successful until it has an office in Paris, or until its designs are sold in boutiques on the Champs-Élysées.Packed with recognisable landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, Paris can also boast a population of icons. Parisians dress well, walk gracefully and are discerning in their choice of bars and cafes. Meeting friends in a bar is a chance to see and be seen, showing off your most elegant fashions whilst mingling with equally dapper friends.
But the glamour of a night on the town is not suited to every occasion. Only the most uncouth Parisian pretender would appear at work wearing sequins or to a lazy lunch in a pinstriped suit. There’s a time and a place for every trend, and getting it wrong can be embarrassing.
Paris culture can be surprisingly formal; at worst it can be snobbish, with superficial style determining your social standing. No native would be seen popping to the shops in their pyjamas or wearing flip flops to anywhere but the beach.
The saying ‘clothes maketh the man’ applies in Paris like nowhere else in the world, with sartorial selection being an essential skill for all men, women and children. It’s not unusual to see an entire family looking like catalogue models in matching fashions. Of course, your personal style is expected to shine through, reflecting your personality with tasteful accessorising.
Expats often struggle to learn the language spoken in their destination country, but the unspoken language of fashion and etiquette can be the hardest of all. Avoid any embarrassing fashion disasters with our easy guide to stylish life in Paris.
Even behind closed doors, you need to be ready for the fashion police. Many of us may lounge around in childish onesie pyjama suits or in a tattered hoodie. But if the neighbours pop round or a friend drops by, you could both be embarrassed by your slobbish appearance.
That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort for style. Instead of lazing about in underwear with toast crumbs in your hair, jump into the shower and then slide into jeans and a cardigan.
Jeans used to be a taboo out on the streets, being an item of workwear more suited to the factory floor than the outside world. Not so any more; well fitting denim is a welcome sight behind closed doors and in the most informal of settings outside. Men and women should avoid torn fabrics, ill-fitting cuts or flashy designs.
A t-shirt with designs rather than ostentatious logos will also get you from sofa to supermarket without raising too many eyebrows, especially if topped with a stylish cardigan or scarf.
Out in the rain
Just when you think you’ve got Paris all worked out, she’ll catch you out. The weather in the city is changeable, and just when you’re looking perfect, the skies will open and drench you in a mighty deluge.
Even the shortest downpour can ruin a hairstyle or make a shirt go embarrassingly see-through. Make sure your day isn’t a complete washout by going prepared.
The classic rain mac can be thrown over most outfits, staying stylish whilst keeping you dry. But you don’t always want to carry one all day, just in case of rain. Instead, most Parisians will carry an umbrella with them.
Umbrellas are just another means to accessorise in Paris, either a full size umbrella that turns into a colourful cane when rolled up, or a handbag-sized version. Don’t see the rain as ruining your day, but rather an opportunity to break out another outfit.
The average expat will need to travel light, topping up their wardrobe with locally sourced clothes. But, even when out shopping for your first Paris-bought outfit, you’ll need to look like a fashion-conscious city-dweller.
It pays to pack smart, with a small but versatile collection of items that work well in any combination, allowing you to craft looks to suit every day. If you’re shopping in up-market boutiques, a shirt-dress over tights and small heels is the perfect blend of smart but relaxed. The same dress could be put to use in the more bohemian parts of Paris, matching with jeans or leggings and a fedora.
Ignore the latest headlines about whatever is the new black; black is always the new black and it will never let you down. Black t-shirts, a black dress and black jumpers are go-to essentials for any wardrobe, transforming any ensemble into an instant classic.
Lazy days at the cafe
Paris is a busy city, filled with culture and excitement, making for long days and late nights. Eventually, even the hardest partying expat needs to take a day and just lounge in a café, watching the city go by. Of course, even these lazy days aren’t free of the Paris fashion parade; you need just the right outfit for flaking out.
Luckily, Paris has a lookbook perfect for chilling out in the cafes, bars and galleries of Canal Saint Martin. Order up a coffee and a pastry, kicking back in skinny jeans and comfortable Converse trainers, finish the look with a baggy t shirt and oversized sunglasses.
You’ll fit right in with the artistic crowd in this neighbourhood, whilst being gloriously comfortable.
Exploring the streets
Paris has a world-famous metro system, but the best way to soak up the city’s unique vibe is to walk from place to place. Take the time to get lost in each arrondissement, duck into cafes and galleries as you wind your way to your destination.
Whether you’re strolling along the Seine or promenading around Place de la Concorde, it’s important to match style with practicality. There’s no point tottering around on 8-inch heels trying to pick your way through the cobbles and steep lanes of Montmartre. That doesn’t mean donning clunky hiking boots; the French of course have an elegant solution.
Parisians have embraced flat shoes with gusto, giving ladies a range of elegant styles that should match every outfit, but also free them from the tyranny of towering heels. From a light summer dress matched with ballerina slippers, to riding boots with jeans and chunky knits, Paris fashion lets you adapt your look from top to toe.
Gents too can invest in light desert boots or mirror-shined dress shoes to match their outfit, always avoiding the dreaded trainers or flip flops. It’s almost considered rude to appear in public wearing footwear that’s assigned to the gym or beach alone, as outrageous as wearing your underwear on the outside.
Being out and about is not just about the fashion on your feet. Parisians are used to walking in the shaded avenues and then the dazzling sunshine of the wide open squares. Be ready for the brightness of the City of Lights with designer sunglasses and a chill breeze with a smart blazer or comfy jumper.
At the gym
The French are famous for enjoying the good life, with a devoted love of food, drink and chatting with friends. They certainly aren’t famous for having a health craze culture or a gym on every avenue. Spinning classes, tum-toning and even the humble treadmill may all be alien to the average Parisian.
That’s not to say that you have to become a couch potato whilst living in the city. There are a few gyms, plenty of places to try bikram yoga and there are thousands of streets and parks in which you can pound the pavement.
It does mean that your fellow runners may not have their latest and greatest in sports fashion. Parisians are as happy to work out in baggy T-shirts and saggy tracksuits as they are revolted by the idea of gym kit on the streets.
Men and women alike may struggle to find the latest workout kit, from gym leggings to muscle vests, so embrace the sweaty, scruffy look for as long as your workout lasts. Just make sure that you go back to respectable street clothes right away.
Out on the town
Partying in Paris can mean anything from the refinement of opera to a sweaty, bass-pumping basement nightclub. Obviously each requires its own special outfit.
Either way, remember that understated sophistication trumps gaudy over-the-top fashion every time. Leave the glittery make up and neon mini skirts at home, instead stick with shapely dresses or well-cut trousers alongside simple tops. Avoid obvious logos, lettering or artwork; stick with simple colours and patterns.
Men can’t go far wrong with a crisp white shirt and black or navy trousers in most venues, adding a jacket for upmarket venues or sweater, scarf and cap for more bohemian places.
Dinner with friends
Even when hanging out with your best buddies, there is a way to dress. If you’re out in a restaurant, make sure you know how smartly to dress, but even if eating at theirs, turn up with smart-casual in mind. When you visit a Parisian’s home dressed in scruffy clothes, you suggest to them that they aren’t worth making the effort for.
Men should think about a smart shirt with a blazer or smart jumper with chinos and leather shoes for restaurants and friends’ houses. Ladies can plump for anything from little black dress and heels to trousers and blouse.
When heading out to eat, it’s safer to err on the side of overdressed, but for friends most faux pas will be forgiven if you turn up with a good bottle of wine.
At the office
One place more than any other places more importance on your choice of clothing; get it wrong here and you’ll face more than a raised eyebrow.
Workplaces in France are formal, with a strict divide between the boss and her troops. Everyone is expected to speak respectfully to each other and to dress like serious professionals.
You may be used to a relaxed workplace, where jeans and T-shirts are part of the dress code. But in France, even if you aren’t meeting clients or customers, you are expected to dress like you are.
Spending money on a good suit is rarely wasted; see it like an investment. A good, classically cut suit will stay classy for years, putting timeless style over short-lived fashion trends. Dark colours, simple designs and natural fabrics will yield a suit that looks the business, even after years of meetings. Suits are standard business dress for men in Paris, and women too can be expected to don a jacket over a pencil skirt in the office. Add a little flair with pocket squares and a matching tie to add colour to a chic black suit.
Belts, cufflinks, watches and briefcases can all be used to liven up a look, yet keeping professional. Matching the leather of shoes, belts and watchstraps tie an outfit together, failing to get a full set makes even the smartest suit look like it’s been made of spare parts.
Women may also be able to get away with conservative, neutrally coloured dresses in summer. Shoes should be smart and serious, with heels kept practical rather than flashy.
The same can be said for hair and make-up. Most Parisian women keep their make up to a minimum, using it to cover up small areas or highlight others; usually a little mascara and a touch of lipstick is enough. Hair in Paris is always clean and well-groomed, but that doesn’t mean it needs to have constant maintenance. With both hair and make up, aim for ‘natural beauty’.
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer