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Dressing for Paris – style rules in the city of cool

You’ve secured your visa and rented your apartment. You’re ready to live in Paris. The big question: what to wear?

It would be easy to be intimidated by the thought. Paris is arguably the epicenter of style, the sun around which the fashion universe revolves. But fear not. After several years of living here, I’ve learned from experience what does and does not work in Paris, especially in terms of wardrobe. So let’s get to the ‘Paris Rules’ of dressing well on a daily basis.

Here are a few to remember…

Dressing for the weather in Paris

Dress for the climate. Paris is a pedestrian city with cold, often wet weather. Instagram influencers may be stepping out of the SUV and into the Ritz with hardly a raindrop or chilly breeze in between. You’ll be walking the streets, hopping the bus, and taking the metro in a city that’s geographically located north of Boston.

With that reality in mind, a winter coat, a wool sweater or two, all weather ankle boots and sturdy sneakers should be on your radar.

Dress for culture

Dress for the culture. French—and especially Parisian—culture is more formal, reserved, and elegant than those of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, or Australia. Pay it sage and dress primarily in black. Yes, basic black. It’s versatile, timeless, and wears well. It does not attract undue attention. It separates you from the tourists and foreign exchange students. It marks you as someone ‘in the know’ if not exactly a Parisian.

Ladies: the little black dress (invented by Coco Chanel), or black suit with a white blouse is the classic go-to option. Gentlemen: the tailored black suit with white dress shirt and black shoes will be your go-to outfit more often than you’d imagine. Everybody: black jeans, a black sweater, and a white shirt is the casual, sophisticated uniform of Paris. Use this knowledge to your advantage.

If you choose to veer from black, choose garments in solid colors like grey, tan, and navy blue. If you want a pop of color, accessorize with the scarf.

Dress to invest

Dress to invest. Parisians have precious little closet space and perhaps a limited budget to work with. They treat clothes as investments, not just things to spend money on. Important considerations are the quality, how often you will wear them, and the life expectancy. These considerations trump price and determine the real value of each garment for a Parisian. It’s not about flashiness or trendiness and it’s how Parisians work to create their own style. 

Byron Tully is the author of The Old Money Book and the curator of The Old Money Book blog www.theoldmoneybook.com. He lives in Paris.

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