Friday, March 23, 2012

Packing for Paris

With my trip to Paris less than two weeks, away, I can finally indulge in one of my favourite activities - Packing for Paris. I am subconsciously always packing for Paris from the Holt Renfrew Boxing Day sale to my monthly scouring of the Gap's clearance rack.

Can I wear this in Paris? How will I wear this in Paris?

Comfort isn't important when planning my Paris wardrobe. Those of you who read by blog regularly know that one of the things I love best about Paris is that every day, every outing from vegetable shopping to LV shopping is an occasion. Dressing for Paris is an event and I pack accordingly. Paris demands elegance, thoughtfulness and sacrificing comfort is necessary. After all, I am dressing for the city I love.

The only concession I make for comfort is the red-eye flight to Paris: black leggings, baggy t-shirt, oversize cardigan, flattest flats, fleece sleep mask, and orange foam industrial strength earplugs for jewelry. Unflattering but necessary.

My upcoming trip to Paris coincides with the first few weeks of spring and what I consider to be the most difficult season to dress for. While springtime in Paris is indeed the Paris of blooming, romantic fantasies, a spring wardrobe for Paris is a complicated problem. The weather is non-committal. It never feels warm enough to wear your above-knee, flirty black dress yet it's still too cold to cover the same dress with your perfectly worn-in belted trench. And I am never sure what to do with my legs in the spring. It's not as though they ever get St. Tropez tan, not even in the height of summer, but in April they will be glowing white. I know the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton) brought nude stockings back into fashion for her Sloaney sisters and their North American wannabes, but I doubt that chic Parisian women are running their errands in basically light brown coloured hosiery.

Spring clothing doesn't have the same structure I love in my fall and winter clothing. It's all flimsy material in alarmingly vibrant colours that stay in fashion for less than ten minutes. Surely I can't be the only woman over 30 who has recently wasted hours in clothing stores that share names with strip clubs trying to find a flattering pair of hot pink jeans. Spring means spending too much money on a wardrobe that I can realistically wear for about two weeks.

So what do I pack for Paris in the spring?

Even though I wish I didn't have to, I do shop in Victoria throughout the year. Typically, it's for basics, Gap and Banana Republic clearance rack items, clothing for work and not the special pieces that I save for and splurge on in Paris. Sometimes I get lucky though and find something in Victoria that falls into the "only-to-be-worn-in-Paris" category of my wardrobe. Often these items are impractical and I can only justify them because I know they will have a life in Paris: my black merino wool backless dress and a blush pink, tulle mini skirt are just two of my favourite only-to-be-worn-in-Paris items.

In Paris, I am more confident and feel less ridiculous, less self-conscious about my fashion choices. Paris is alluring and sexy. There is an ease about Paris that I think makes it easier to embrace your look and your body. There is a freedom to dress in a way that is daring and more interesting. Understand that daring doesn't mean overtly sexual or age inappropriate. It's not about wearing your daughter's cut-off jeans shorts and Hollister tank top. Paris is a grown-up sexiness. Less is more. Paris is Chanel red. Paris is wearing beautiful lingerie under your oldest Petit Bateau t-shirt. Paris is tying a scarf around your wrist and carrying a chomped off baguette in your LV.
With these things in mind, these are my Paris essentials...

Ballet flats - I stock up all year on ballet flats and save them for my marathon walking days in Paris. I don't want to pay too much because I can easily wear through two pairs a trip. What I do splurge on is cushy insoles and I always have an extra pair of flats and insoles in my bag. Ballet flats look good with almost everything. Way better than giant white Nikes or Rockports and they are great for a speedy trip through airport security. On my Paris shopping wish list is a pair of Repetto ballet flats but I always blow my budget on boots. Even in the spring. Paris has spring boots (You can read about my experience of returning a pair of "spring boots" in 2009).

Heels - Seriously you need to have one pair. On my past five trips to Paris, I have packed the same pair of well-worn in, classic black, 2-inch heels. I have them resoled before every trip. Typically, I carry them around Paris in my bag in case I need to change into them for a spontaneous cocktail at Hôtel de Crillon.

Trouser Socks-So not glamourous but absolutely critical for shoe shopping. Nothing is more embarrassing than trying on beautiful French shoes if you have stinky, red swollen bare feet. I tuck a few extra pairs in my bag and then slip into the cleanest pair when the inevitably chicer than me salesperson has disappeared to retrieve my latest pair of Paris boots.

Scarves -Mais oui! I pack at least three and end up coming home with at least double that amount. And they don't have to be Hermès . I love the accessories departments in both Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. If you don't know how to wear your scarf, just sit at any café for an hour and watch the Parisians. You will get enough inspiration for 100 scarves. If you want a pre-Paris scarf tying lesson check out this fabulous blog, My Little Scarf Blog. There are even "how-to" videos and step-by-step instructions for scarf tying.

Bags-Not a fanny pack or some hideous, over one shoulder waterproof canvas thing with hidden Velcroed pockets to hide all your things that no Parisian wants to steal but a proper, close-to-chic as-you-can-come bag. For everyday Paris, I carry my many years old Longchamp Le Pliage sac shopping. It's large enough to carry my extra shoes, insoles, a day's worth of baked goods, packets of Haribo candies, a bottle of wine, ibuprofen, a map, lip gloss and a notebook. It's also authentically French and doesn't look out of place in restaurants or boutiques. I also pack a classic black clutch for going out at night.

What about Louis?

I don't take LV to Paris. I worry that LV would want to stay in Paris after I have exposed him to months, sometimes years, of yoga pants and fleece separates and after I have forced him to eat at a mall (a mall!) food court, me eating one-handed so my other hand can protect his monogrammed beauty. More importantly for the fashion-obsessed, none of my LV's, perhaps with the exception of "Dirty Louis" (my first bag, a Speedy who is ageing ever so gracefully), look worn-in enough in the way that truly classic, gorgeous Paris LV's do. You know the LV's that have been passed down by Chanel clad grandmères. My LV's are too clean and look like I just bought them on the Champs after standing in line with a busload of Japanese tourists.

DVF Wrap Dress- I pack a lot of dresses for Paris and they are all black. Even in the spring, black is the colour I associate most with Paris. However, I make an exception to my all-black dress rule for my favourite, go-to-go-anywhere dress: a silk black and white print DVF wrap dress that I bought for $110 at Nordstrom Rack in 2006. It doesn't wrinkle, I can shimmy in and out it quickly when I am trying on clothes and I always, always feel amazing in it.

Blazers- If only they were Chanel! I pack one black and one cream and wear them with everything. I may add a pin striped one for spring.

Skirts-More black, on the knee and not super tight so I can enjoy my three favourite Paris things: walking, eating and shopping. I also love anything pleated and for some reason, maybe not the right one, I think pleated skirts are very French.

Jeans-By now you may have guessed that denim isn't my favourite fabric. I think jeans look best on men and supermodels. If I wear jeans in Paris, they have to be skinny and dark. And always, always with a blazer and scarf.

And a few of my other essentials...

My Lucky Travel Monkey, sterling silver horseshoe necklace, Kashi granola bars, The Little Black Book of Paris, pink Moleskin notebooks, camera, travel umbrella, and TUMS.

And what you will NEVER find in my Paris suitcase...

Yoga pants, flip flops, shorts, any pieces from my beloved Eiffel Tower jewelry collection, hoodies, and a Canadian Girls Kick Ass t-shirt.

I have some packing to do!


Cassie said...

What a great post Erin! I feel the same. I buy things just for Paris and never wear them in California. It always amazes me when US tourists show up in a Lakers jersey, denim shorts and trainers. The French take fashion seriously and I find that when tourists show respect for that, they are treated so much better.
This might be too much information but...I always pack my old underwear and throw them away in Paris AFTER I have bought all new ones at Printemps.

Brandon S. said...

I'll admit... I believe that every piece of LV I own either came from Paris or has been to Paris. I kinda feel like its a pilgramige of sorts for the various pieces of Damier and Taiga (including my amazingly not for walking but so awesome shoes) to go back to the mother land at least once in their life. Sure they might want to stay in Paris but certainly we have all come to that conclusion in our own lives.

Erin Hallett said...

Hi Cassie and Brandon,
Thank you for reading and for the comments.

It's so true that how you dress influences how the French treat you. I'm not saying it's right but it certainly improves the Paris experience. And I am going to try your underwear strategy. That never crossed my mind, but I love it!

I am so with you about every piece of LV coming from Paris. I amended this rule a couple of years ago when Vancouver opened a LV Maison. Now I buy accessories - scarves, wallets, etc. - in Vancouver and save my big splurges for Paris.


Henri Loves Paris... said...

HI Erin!
Great post...I agree, you can never go wrong with black in Paris. I am in the process of pre-packing mentality and I found a great pair of booties at the new Topshop here in Las Vegas. I will be wearing these every day, I am sure!
Last year I took several pairs of heals and I never really needed but one pair. I am going to get this packing thing down to a science this trip!
Enjoy Paris and I hope to see you while we are both there!
Au revior,

MCW said...

You made me laugh out loud when you wrote about over 30 something women searching for hot pink pants. Looking forward to your reports of what they're wearing in Paris - I always see something, be it boots, long skirts, that somehow in Paris doesn't look trendy but provides inspiration for back home.

Erin Hallett said...

Hi Henri,
I am so jealous that you have a Topshop. Do you know that in Victoria, we don't even have a Banana Republic? It's no wonder I don't shop here very much. I am just starting to plan our precious 10 days in Paris and I hope I get a chane to meet you while there. Happy packing and safe travels, Erin

Erin Hallett said...


I seriously want hot pink jeans so badly but cannot find a pair that work on my 30-something frame. It's so true about somehow the trendiest of trends in North America look classic in Paris. Maybe it's all in the attitude. Anyway, I can't wait to add to my wardrobe and I will be writing from Paris. Thank you for reading.

Karyn said...

Even though I spend 99% of my time in Lulus or some other form of spandex workout wear (and the other 1% in denim) I appreciate that you can look past this and that we are friends. I must be slightly classier by association, right?
Anyway, I loved reading your packing list. Have an absolutely fabulous trip! I can’t wait to hear/read all about it. xx

Suzy said...

I love packing posts! These are great items, even just for Europe. I feel like you have to dress up more over the pond. I have a few blazer-coats I would be lost without. They jazz up any outfit and make me feel more put together.

Kieu ~ GQ trippin said...

Totally with you, Paris deserves a packing list like no other. I love ballerina flats - it's versatile and so chic. I'm thinking of Paris in the Fall and already know I'll need another suitcase. LOL :)

Sam said...

Haha you definitely pack differently to me, but that's probably to be expected. Have fun in Paris!

MimiNi said...

Hi Erin:
I love this beautiful and informative post! Any suggestion for only traveling with 1 suitcase? I have adjusted my packing list based on your article and my first long-term stay in London in 2011. I would love to be better prepared! Any suggestion?