The Paris Wardrobe: Pack the Black

I’ve recently received a couple of emails from American men who planning a move to Paris as soon as conditions permit.

Both asked about how to purchase/pack/plan for the weather and the culture with regards to wardrobe, so I thought a post about my experiences in this regard might prove timely, and helpful. Hindsight is 20/20, and these thoughts will hopefully reflect what I’ve experienced here in the last four years–and would have done differently given the chance.

First, I would have brought less with me. An itemized list of the New To Paris wardrobe would read something like this:

Three or four white long sleeve dress shirts, not button-downs; a black wool sweater and a grey wool sweater; black t-shirts to wear underneath the dress shirts; two pair of black jeans; white Adidas sneakers, for walking the streets; all weather ankle boots, for rain; black lace up dress shoes; and The North Face 3/4 length waterproof parka in black, with hood.

I’d also set aside about 800 to 1500 euros to purchase a black suit (or two) which you’ll wear for evening events of all kinds. You’ll purchase the suit once you arrive in Paris, with a black necktie, and if you want the shirts, too. You can also purchase tons of scarves at the street markets here, for not much money, to add variety and a dash of color.

Noticeably, I wouldn’t suggest a blue blazer, button down, khakis, and penny loafers for Paris. You’ll be obvious enough as a foreigner without advertising your status. Not that the Old Money wardrobe will hinder you here; you just want to blend in as much as possible at the start.

You also want to keep your wardrobe super simple because you’ll probably be living in a smaller apartment than you did in the states and have less space for clothes. You’ll want to look elegant, and not signal how much money you do or don’t have. Black is an easy, elegant way to strike that balance and keep things economical and efficient, especially when you’re packing to grab a train to London or Berlin.

I know this is antithetical to what I’ve advocated for clothing in the past, but this is Paris. Wearing a black suit, white shirt, with black lace-ups is a go-to look that will serve you well here for any number of occasions.

Furthermore, this is a cold, wet, and walking city, north of Boston if you care to compare its latitudinal position on a map. You’ll be walking the streets, taking the metro, and sitting outside much more than you’d think. You’ll also be mixing with all sectors of society all the time, and your day may start off casual and end up elegant, so you need to dress to be able to accommodate that, without running home for to change.

So clothing that always looks upscale, doesn’t show dirt, or attract unwarranted attention is a smart, economical choice.

Paris is about restrained elegance and durable, functional clothing. So pack the black, mes amis.

More coming soon…

  • BGT

 


20 thoughts on “The Paris Wardrobe: Pack the Black

  1. Great post Byron.

    You mentioned travel in this post. As an OMG I would appreciate a future post on the best items for a man to pack in an overhead for a seventy-two hour week-end. This assumes one will have an attire for nicer dining, the rest casual elegant. If you would have time for both, two would be appreciated. One, fall winter, one, spring summer.

    My OMG has her seventy-two hour list from an old issue of Town & Country. Never seen one for men though, an least OMG men.

    I always seem to wish I had not wasted space in my beloved but now shabby Burberry overhead on one item and used that space to pack something I wished I had at that moment.

    We live on the Gulf Islands on the Salish Sea in British Columbia and it appears we will be going through more severe lockdowns in Canada later this month. Still, one day, which cannot come too soon, we will be able to travel again. Having a packing guide whilst being housebound will give me a productive thing to do (something other than Netflix!).

    Thank you, Crofton

    1. Crofton, if your OMG has a ladies version, I would love to have it! Please entreat her to share the wealth… Of information of course.

    2. Thank you, Crofton. I’ll pull some thoughts together for a post. In the meantime, I’ll ask David to offer his thoughts. He travels frequently and is always well dressed, consistently in the OM manner. – BGT

  2. I’m wondering about those white Adidas . . . . to me, that screams American Tourist. Always best practice to buy the very best you can afford–and fewer items. Agree with Bethany: Crofton, we’d love to see a list for the ladies! Thanks for the post, Byron–gives us something to mull over while we get ready to travel again.

    1. Hey Katie, thanks for the comment, and you’re welcome. I know everyone’s ready to travel again. Surprisingly, the white Adidas with the black strips are kind of standard equipment for many Parisians. The solid soles help with the cobblestones, for me anyway. – BGT

  3. To Bethany and Katie: I will endeavour to do my best. And entreat her I shall. I have offered to walk to our local (i.e. the pub) for Scotch eggs and some fresh salmon to bring back. We have fine, albeit frozen, salmon from Scotland that we purchase from our village market, but she wants fresh BC salmon. Apparently, she, with a wink, told me she would not have time to cook tonight if she is looking for an article from donkey’s years back. We have snow here, more than usual as most years we do not receive very much, if any. Off to put on my mack and boots. More later.

    1. Thanks, Crofton. That menu sounds delicious! For what it’s worth, I subscribed to –and enjoyed–Town & Country for many years. Last year I let my subscription lapse; the people in the magazine seemed so . . . young.

  4. Hello Byron,

    I am in some way, confused. Referring to your sixth paragraph “ Noticeably (Notably) I wouldn’t suggest….” :

    This is an Old Money blog. You’ve espoused old money principles, habits, dress and even written a book about mens’ dress. Why would one want to dress any other way to ‘fit in’, in this case, with the French. I can understand the need to be unnoticed in cities or countries where there is a real physical risk but that doesn’t apply in Paris.

    I shared a story with you once about an occasion when I was playing pétanque in Luxembourg Gardens and a French lady player suddenly said to me “ You dress just like (them) “. When I asked who (them) were, she replied “ you know, those people from the northeast – Boston “.

    I’m not from ‘there’ but have visited and place ‘there’ and it’s habits in my top three places out of the thirty countries I have visited and fifteen I have worked in. Fabulous town, people and social mores.

    OMGs and Gs, be yourselves and stay the course. If you’re not accepted the way you are, so be it.

    As Winston Churchill said:

    “ You have enemies ? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

    Regards,
    David.

    1. Hi David, the two people coming to Paris are coming here to work. So I advised in a professional context (entertainment and finance), and in consideration of their personal situations. I probably wasn’t clear on that, hence the confusion.

      Love the Churchill quote. Thank you for that. Let’s talk soon. – BGT

  5. To Bethany and Katie:

    My OMG found her T&C article. She is a fine English rose and stills wears sets of her mum’s pearls, even when gardening. Had to chuckle when Byron wrote about not wanting to stick out in Paris. Years back when we made our first trip to Paris together (she had been there several times before, I had not), she UNPACKED my warm Harris Tweed jacket before we left. I asked her why and she said it was fine for wearing at our club in Victoria or a trip to Vancouver, but not in Paris. Never in Paris. Thought she was joking but she was serious. I was not happy and let her know it. She said I would thank her when we were there. Which I did. We do not like to stick out amongst the others.

    Her article is from the Spring 2005 issue of T&C. It was written by a Pamela Fiori. Will list the packs and the don’t packs.

    The packs: In-flight wearing: comfortable, fitted tops and bottoms in solid colours of navy blue, black or grey. Over that a light weight jacket in the same colours. Carry with you a heavier jacket to put in overhead or wear. On your feet Tod’s loafers ot Chanel flats.

    Clothing: The warmer the weather where you are going the lighter the load. Slacks (rolled), knit tops, a Chanel or Chanel-like jacket (carefully rolled), black dress. For shoes, one pair of midsize heels and one pair of the high ones.

    Fine Jewellery: Wear it or leave it at home. For the record my wife keeps hers at home and wears what she calls her better costume jewellery.

    The Rest: iPad and mobile phone, watch, one to three lightweight colourful cashmere scarves, cotton socks, long sleeve cashmere sweater, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, moisturizer, small amount of make-up, small umbrella, pad of paper and a pen or two, book to read.

    The Don’t Packs: Anything made of linen, pleats or ruffles. Jewellery with great sentimental or monetary value, a hair dryer, a travel iron, big glass bottles of anything.

    That is the list. Looking forward to seeing the MEN’S version. When we travel we usually take in a historical museum, a play, drinks after, things like that. When she goes clothing shopping, I spend time in a book shop. Sometimes we are on foot, sometimes we will hire a car and have a lunch in the countryside.

    Here’s to the end of Covid when we may all travel again.

    Crofton

  6. Very good article, the last time I was in France the people reminded me of New Yorkers. I saw a lot of jeans and New Balance. I was there on business so I wasn’t in a tourist area. On the other hand the Germans love Levi button fly whereas America I see a lot of sweat pant and tights on women.

    It really is the “little things”. I had a very traditional boss and when I was at the home office he would go to each of his staff and shake their hand every morning. Every morning a bottle of sparkling water and a glass (real glass no paper cups) would be waiting on my desk. Coffee was served in cups with saucers with real cream and nobody was fat. In the US I really can’t drink cola but overseas it’s milder. I was told it has real sugar.

    Back to the wardrobe. A pair of black slacks and a black t-shirt (not baggy) would be fine for the continent whereas in the US I usually where my well broken in Bills chino’s and 100% cotton Lands End “Hyde Park” shirt. I don’t wear the chemical treated no iron. In terms of shoes Merlot makes a nice ones, which are good for walking.

    Also during the pandemic my wife and I decided to “dress” everyday and avoid the temptation of staying in pajamas or wearing sweats (really meant for working out).

    1. I love the real glass and the cups and saucers details! In a world where soda is inhaled from 20 ounce plastic bottles . . . . . What a day brightener, Bob!

      1. Thank You, Mr. Tully in his book writes about how to buy furniture and we applied the principle to our dishes and coffee service. We went to consignment shops and purchased stunning bone china and coffee service, for a very small amount. The WWII generation received such things as wedding gifts and never used them and the generations that came after cared more about flat screen TV’s so they tried to make a few dollars by consigning them. Saucers protect the table from coffee rings. Soda is a once in a while treat and we usually opt for the glass Mexican Coke. My wife is from another culture that enjoys drinking sparkling water and we usually have a case of San Pell. in glass bottles in the pantry.

      2. Thanks for your comments, Bob. If I may . . .decades ago, my grandmother bought a very good set of dishes. They saw the light of day on Thanksgiving and on Christmas–otherwise, they were stored in the buffet in the dining room. She passed in ’69, and I inherited the dishes. I use them every day. All these decades later, there is still that frisson of delight–memories of long-ago holidays and loved ones. I’m so glad to have them. And your mention of San Pell is prompting me to pick some up when I next go grocery shopping!

  7. Thanks for the article Byron. As a 26 year old who visited Paris right before the pandemic, I did feel like I stuck out wearing blue OCBD’s and khakis. The white dress shirt and black sacks was spot on for young Parisian men at clubs and bars. I’ll know better next time. Do you have any recommendations for brands or boutiques for this list? Similar to how in Old Money Style you recommend Brooks Brothers, O’Connell’s, LL bean, Ralph Lauren, etc.

    Bryce

    1. Hi Bryce, Great to hear about your experience. I’d recommend Berteil for ready to wear traditional clothes with a French twist. Their suits hover around 1000 to 1300 euros. But you really go there for the sport coats, coats, vests, and pants. (Their website does not do the merchandise justice.) I’m also looking at Scavini in the 7th arrondissement. For the made to measure classic black suit, prices start at 1800 euros and bespoke at 3500 euros. Charvet starts at 5000 euros for the bespoke suit, and there’s nothing off the rack there. Ouch.

  8. If you’re interested in ‘le style Anglaise’ you might also try the following two places: Comptoir des Chemises at 10 rue de Seze in the 09th – which is close to Madeleine and also a place called Au Petit Matelot which is at 27 Avenue de la Grande Armée in the 16th. Similar stuff to Berteil with slightly lower prices and less pretentious sales personnel. I have jackets from both and trousers from Comptoir.

    Regards,
    David.

  9. I always travel in navy & white. Loro Piana slacks, sweaters, and jacket with a crisp white shirt from Charvet. I can Jetset between any sophisticated city in the world, and look like a local. Black in my opinion is still just for black tie.

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