A trip to the city of lights is always a good idea, however, you might want to consider swapping your baseball caps and flip flops for something that’s a little more sophistiqué to help you navigate the streets of Paris in French style. Don’t get me wrong, men, a trip to the French capital doesn’t mean you should be packing for Paris fashion week. However, Parisian men have a street style that’s just a little more business casual than you might expect in many non-European countries.
Why is it important to avoid bringing along those comfortable but clunky tennis shoes, and your favorite pair of baggy cargo shorts? Let’s just say this, the French people appreciate understated classic styles, neutral colors, and a general dress code that says, “I try to look good, not too hard, but just enough.” While you might not sound like a local, you’ll at least look like one (and not like a tourist) if you plan your packing list with this in mind and with the tips I’m offering up here.
Having captured the outward approval of the discerning Parisian eye, you’ll be more likely to get better service, be treated with slightly better manners, and be excused in case you are caught fumbling through your old high school French while trying to order a coffee. Furthermore, Paris is filled with les pickpockets and the more you embrace the local dress code, attempting to dress like a Parisian man, the less likely you are to encounter problems.
So having established that it’s important for visitors to the city of lights to at least somewhat embrace Parisian style, how should you go about preparing your packing list? The good news is that I have lived in Paris, as well as traveled there more times than I can count for both work and pleasure. I am going to pass along some personal style secrets, while sharing a pro tip or two as I break things down for you, season by season. After reading this streets of Paris travel dress code post, your street style while in the French capital will ensure that you have more natural interactions with the locals, which is also a great way of ensuring that you don’t unnecessarily get caught up in some of the less desirable large city problems (pickpockets, aggressive panhandlers, and so on).
DISCLAIMER: fashion trends come and go, and while I don’t claim to have all of 2022’s most recent parisian street style fads at the tip of my fingers (are parisian men embracing the fanny pack trend? Are skinny jeans a thing this season?), the good news is that I can help you to make a packing list that includes a few classic pieces and Paris outfits that will be practical and make you look like you belong on the streets of Paris.
What are Parisian men wearing every day?
The good news, from one étranger to another, is that Parisian style is all about classical pieces, neutral colors, and bien sûr, a good deal of nonchalant attitude. It’s actually not too difficult to pick out a few travel essentials that are in line with Parisian fashion. Many French men prefer to wear suits to work, in fact, if you’re going to professional meetings of any kind, business casual isn’t really a thing in the French capital. You’ll want to include a high quality suit and white button up dress shirt on your packing list (doesn’t have to be Louis Vuitton or anything, but preferably dark colors and slim fitting). If your travels bring you to the city of lights for pleasure, then sophisticated casual is the best way to go (and mostly what I’ll talk about here). One of the most important things to remember is that Parisian men don’t just wear the clothes and accessories I’m about to discuss, they wear them confidently!
What to wear in Paris in summer
Most French people get at least 5 weeks of holidays per year, and so there’s always a mass exodus of people from the French capital when warm days arrive. Only in summer months do male tourists nearly outnumber the Parisian men (so if ever you want to rock your short shorts and flip flops, the peak of summer is when you’re least likely to get eye rolls and snickers from the Parisian style police). I still maintain, however, that it’s always a good idea to step up your dress code while in Paris, even during summer.
The streets of Paris can get pretty hot at the peak of summer. While the average high temperatures are around 25 degrees celsius (that’s 83 in fahrenheit), the reflection of the sun off the cobblestone streets and stone buildings make the warm days feel uncomfortable. Because of this, clothing made from breathable fabrics are a good choice. It’s also a good idea to reserve those otherwise very fashionable dark colors for the cool days of fall and winter. Think about packing clothes that will reflect the heat and offer a slightly more relaxed fit, after all, you’ll want to be out during the warm days without having to go back to your hotel to change for evening meals in the cafes of Montmartre or the famous quartier latin. It’s always a good idea to pack a few casual t-shirts, then make a good base layer, and you can even get away adding a little of your own style when it comes to color preference (you’re more likely to get away with something a little bit adventurous in the color department if it’s just a casual t-shirt). Consider adding a pair of simple white sneakers to your packing list, these will match well with all of your Paris outfits.
A little closer to your departure date, check on the weather, if rainy days are in the forecast, you’ll of course want to pack a light jacket (once again, thinking of neutral colors). If the weather calls for warm days with no rain, then a semi warm sweater is a good idea, in my experience. Better yet, a merino wool sweater, which will be both cooler on warm days and warmer on cool days (they can even handle a little bit of rain, and they don’t get stinky as fast as fabrics like cotton or polyester – don’t ask me how it works, but merino wool is magical, one of the travel essentials on my packing list). In true French style, you can throw your warm sweater over the back of your shoulders and loosely tie the arms below your neck. You’ll look like you just stepped out of the pages of a French men’s fashion magazine! Last point about the necessity of a warm sweater (in case you haven’t noticed, the sweater is a key part of my Paris outfits), if you’ve stuck to a neutral color, it can be paired with just about anything in your suitcase. Whether you’re in a business casual mood, or you’ve thrown on a pair of jeans to head out to the bar with friends, chances are that the sweater is going to help you achieve a look that’s très chic.
While Parisian style is often seen as quite formal, the reality is that denim jeans are also a staple clothing item in the city of lights. Style can vary from skinny jeans to slim-fit (but it’s a little less common to see baggy or relaxed fit). In keeping with true French style, dark denim jeans are more common than the lighter colored variety. All the better for you, as packing a few pairs of dark jeans is a great way to make your travel wardrobe more versatile; the dark colors in your denim jeans will pair well with whatever you choose to wear on top.
One final comment about summer on the streets of Paris: there are so many heated discussions and strong opinions about shorts. To wear shorts, or not to wear shorts, that is the question. When I was younger, and living in Paris, I was always told that shorts were for the beach. Why on earth would you wear shorts in the city, in the summer? Absolument pas, it’s just not done this way in Paris (or so I was told, and so I read). In reality, Parisian men do mostly wear pants and shoes in summer. However, the French people also have a practical side, and if the average high temperatures are just unbearable, guaranteed that some will break out the shorts. As you would expect, however, they’ll be nicely fitted, neutral colors, and generally fashionable.
What to wear in Paris in autumn
Autumn is my favorite time of year in the French capital. Paris generally sees a mix of cool sunny days, with occasional showers. Parisian style takes on a renewed focus on dark colors, once again, with the warm days of summer now passed. Chances are good that you’ll be faced with unpredictable weather, dressing in layers is a great way to explore the parisian streets. It’s also a very common practice for Parisian men to go out wearing multiple layers. Full sleeve button up dress shirts are an essential part of my Paris outfits and make a good base layer. When I’m in the French capital in the fall, I always pack several dress shirts. Back to the importance of a warm sweater, once again, your sweater will make up the very important second layer (and on warm days, this might be your outermost layer, especially if it contains some merino wool). Lastly, a trench coat or leather jacket completes your layered look.
There’s not too much more that needs to be said about the dress code for autumn in Paris; dark jeans are once again your best friend. They will complete your paris outfits because their dark colors are so versatile.
With a new season, comes a new pair of shoes. Whereas summer was all about white sneakers and breathable fabrics, fall brings about leather. In addition to the classic leather jacket, you will see many Parisian men sporting shiny brown or black leather dress shoes (even with denim jeans) and on cooler days, lace-up ankle-high leather boots. The good news about a stylish leather pair of shoes is that they will keep your feet dry on rainy days. With unpredictable weather, it’s always a good thing to be prepared.
What to wear in Paris in winter
I can almost guarantee that you’ll experience rainy days in the French capital in the winter months. So when you’re preparing your packing list for a winter trip to Paris, remember that one of the most important travel essentials is a rain jacket. If this is your first time in Paris, I must warn you that wearing a winter coat that’s overly colorful is a big faux pas! While selecting what winter coat or rain jacket to include in your luggage allows for some expression of personal style (do you like a simple black shell rain jacket over warmer inner layers, or a dark gray insulated waterproof mid-thigh length winter coat), remember that this item of clothing is truly your Paris street wear. It’s what you’ll be seen in as you enter restaurants and shops, or as you ride the metro to the museum. So please think about selecting something that is understated and has dark colors (or at least neutral colors).
Street style in Paris in winter revolves around accessories. Hats, gloves and scarves are all classic pieces of clothing worn by just about all Parisian men. That’s right, Parisian men wear scarves in winter (and they look pretty stylish while doing it). Not only is a good quality scarf, or a pair of leather gloves a good idea according to the unwritten rules of French style, but these fashionable accessories can keep you toasty warm on the chilliest of winter days.
Beyond the outer layer and winter accessories, much of what the everyday Parisian man wears in winter resembles what he was also wearing in the fall. The average high temperatures are typically above freezing, and while it’s chilly, it’s far from being a winter deep freeze. Snow is rare, think Seattle or Vancouver in winter (possibly a little bit colder) for those of you reading from North America.
What to wear in Paris in spring
As the cool days of winter recede, so do many of the French capital’s dark colors. Accessories begin to disappear, the occasional Parisian man will still be seen wearing a scarf (although made of lighter material). If you’re thinking of traveling to Paris in spring (it is, after all, the most romantic time to be in the city of lights), your packing list will be a little shorter than if you’d gone for the rainy days of winter.
Once again, dark jeans are a good start. Comfortable shoes are also very important, especially later in spring, as warm days become more frequent and the streets of Paris will be calling your name (I’m always amazed by how much I walk while I’m in Paris). In the earlier weeks of spring (March and early April), you’ll want to travel with a light jacket. Come May, however, I am sticking with my advice about a warm sweater (preferably one that’s made from Merino wool).
Spring in the city of lights is the time when you will have the most freedom to express your personal style. You can get away with lighter tones when choosing your neutral colors. But it’s also still perfectly acceptable to stick with dark colors, and even accessorize a little bit with scarves, hats and gloves.
A final pro tip…well actually, a few pro tips
Whether you’re a first time traveler to Paris, or you’re looking to experience the city of lights with a twist, here are a few fashionable suggestions:
Pack lightly! Following my advice above, put together a few winning Paris outfits so that you can immediately hit the streets of Paris with style and confidence. However, make plans to go shopping after you’ve settled in and had a chance to observe the locals. Gauge what it is that you like about the style of Parisian men, and then hit the shops, shopping for the look that suits you. However, you’ll want to keep home in mind while you shop. If you’re from the relaxed West Coast of North America, for example, where yoga pants and a casual t-shirt make for good fashion, then you might want to shop for a Paris wardrobe that’s understated.
Take at least two (if not three) pairs of comfortable shoes (white sneakers, casual leather, etc). It’s nice to have a few options at your fingertips, to allow for both formal and casual activities. If you’re travelling with carry-on luggage only, consider wearing your bulkiest pair of shoes on the plane, and packing the smaller pair(s) in your suitcase.
Half of what happens in Paris, happens at night. The city of lights has a very active nightlife. The dress code for restaurants and nightclubs is very strict. A button up dress shirt with casual jeans and a nice sweater or jacket is fine. A polo shirt is also fine, but you wouldn’t want to go more casual than this. Yet another reason why you want to dress with the style of a Parisian man!
While it’s acceptable in many cultures to go out in flip flops, sportswear, or yoga pants, this is not the case in Paris. A Parisian man (or a Parisian woman) would not be caught dead wearing this type of clothing off the beach or outside of a gym.
A trip to Paris is a long way from ordinary for the average guy. You definitely want to experience what the French capital to its fullest. One of the best ways to do this is by levelling with the locals; taking something that Parisian men value (style and fashion) and showing that you understand and appreciate its value as well. At the same time, remember to be realistic. You’re traveling, and as you’ll be living out of a suitcase, probably from a very compact hotel room, you’ll need to stick to the most important travel essentials. These items should leave you feeling both comfortable and stylish; striking the perfect balance between these two elements is the key to mastering the dress code of the French capital.