What to Wear in Paris in Winter

Seine River circa 2010. To see what to wear in Paris in spring, click here

Buying a grown-up coat is a big moment, up there with getting your ears pierced or wearing your first pair of heels, and Paris is a city of coats. If you're a commuter, staying warm without dressing like a Kamchatkan whale hunter- or boiling while smushed between eleventy people on the Metro- is a challenge. I'm from Cleveland, so I can wear flip-flops well into December. Still, I need to look professional while running 7 km+ around Paris daily, and I don't want to be sweaty and gross when I arrive at my destination. It snowed this weekend, so now seems as good as time as any to share what I've learned after spending four winters in Paris. Spoiler alert: You don't need a ton of new clothes! 

1. Don't wear black. Black says "fashion student" or "mid-level retail employee," and, according to my chic retiree neighbors in the 7ème, an elegant French woman still never wears black in the morning. All the born-and-bred Parisians I know have colored coats, albeit predominantly in muted shades of grey, navy, green, camel, and red. Pale colors are especially fashionable- though risky- for a city winter. Nothing is more luxurious than a white cashmere coat with silk lining, which may initially be more expensive than a flannel coat, but is actually more economical because of its longevity and appropriateness for every occasion. So long as nobody shoots you with a paintball gun, spills wine on you in the Metro, or flings feces at you on the street- all things I've witnessed during Paris winters.

2. Layer. If I'm going to be outside for long periods of time, I wear a silk slip and wool-silk undershirt, since HeatTech is chemical-intensive and contains pesticides. Thin, close-fitting layers won't show, and wool / silk / cashmere absorbs sweat and odors (slips should be 1.5-2 inches shorter than hems). The ladies at Dior advise against covering dresses with cardigans, but if you must- I always do- it should be a proper buttoned cardigan, no chunky knit, wraparound, or shawl styles. Wear lined skirts and pants, and tights instead of stockings, or two pairs sheer stockings in the same shade. Pact tights and Swedish Stockings are ethical options, along with secondhand silk pantyhose. Otherwise, try organic wool or cotton blend, and upcycle (tawashi!) or mail old pairs to No Nonsense's recycling program. I wear my grandpa's old wool socks over stockings, and on really cold days, leggings- my skirts are long enough so they don't show under knee-length boots. When overheated, remove a layer.

3. Try a doudoune. French women love waterproof, easy-to-pack doudounes, from classic Moncler to Canada Goose, Uniqlo, and K-Way. The most elegant Parisienne I know, Tiphaine- with her perfect Bonpoint catalog children and Christian Liaigre-filled house- wears a Moncler puffer over formal gowns. I hear bad things about the quality of Moncler though, like they rip easily and the fabric is delicate. Another friend layers a light, whisper-thin Uniqlo doudone under a wool coat or trench, and snaps a removable fur lining in and out of everything. Note: You can find vintage coats with fur linings in Paris- apparently very warm, but prone to shedding.

4. Fit is key. There's no denying Parisians love a good full-length coat, but hemlines hit just below the waist, for the most part. Same thing with sweaters. Some people wear capes here, which is okay if you're in a Taylor Swift video, but not very warm for my purposes. If you do end up with the doudoune recommended in #3, be sure it's super thin, close fitting, and zipped up all the way- a somewhat severe look, but "classically French," as my husband says.

5. Accessorize. It's always sunny in the 7ème, even when the rest of Paris is grey and rainy, so bring sunglasses. Silk scarves are somewhat popular, as in the case of my Scandinavian acquaintance Lina, who drapes leopard-print silk over her hair and ears to stay warm. The height of Parisian elegance is not a Maison Michel topper (priced to equal 1-2 months of groceries), but a beanie. I never see anyone wearing berets. Rain boots chafe when walking, while waterproof leather lets feet breathe- people live in ankle boots all year long. Lined gloves are a must, and don't forget to pack an umbrella.


Coat, Celine. Dresses: Dior, LK Bennett. Cashmere undershirt/sweater. Cardigan; Givenchy shark boots, Silk slip. Jeans, J Brand. Hat, Maison Michel. Gloves, Silk leggings, Longchamp bag, and cashmere socks (Tabio removes cashmere by hand with a comb, no shears). These affiliate links are intended to serve as examples. If you click on them, I make a small commission. It's better to shop your own wardrobe or local thrift stores.



Here's how my wardrobe looks every winter. It meshes nicely with the stylish non-style of the 7ème, and makes me stick out like a sore thumb in Oberkampf or Jourdain (arrondissement-specific garb is one reason many Parisians never really leave their neighborhoods). Granted, everyone's needs, body type, and occasions are different, and I don't want this to turn into a blog that encourages people to buy less but spend more. As a reference point, though, if you're a working woman, walk a lot, can't afford insane dry cleaning bills, and run up and down stairs every day, the items depicted above will serve you well on cold, slushy days. Before moving to Paris, my winter packing list looked something like this:

1-2 shirts (I didn't believe in t-shirts back then)
Pajamas
Coat
Two dresses
1-2 sweaters
Jeans
Leggings
Tights (one pair)
Socks (2-3 pairs)
Gloves
Boots 

I didn't carry a purse, and everything fit in a carry-on. Bien s'habiller pour combattre les saisons froides!

P.S. Going skiing? Click here for suggestions.  
Paris to Go

8 comments:

  1. i would love to see a post like this for spring, I'm going next month and have no idea what to pack. does it rain? is it really hot? thanks in advance!

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    Replies
    1. Hello, it does rain, it can be very cold but it can also be very hot- the weather changes so rapidly here, it's better to be prepared for anything! If you bring a rain jacket and umbrella you will be fine with just about any clothes.

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  2. Hi, Im from Bangkok, Thailand. Im going to Paris on Jan,16. This info is really help me. I never been there before so your advice is helpful. Thank you.

    Bee, Bangkok

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Bee! I hope you have a wonderful time. I love Bangkok! Have a safe trip and let me know how you liked Paris :)

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    2. I hope to have a really good time in Paris. So how about the weather there on Jan,16? Snow??

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    3. It doesn't snow much here, it can rain a lot though. The temperature is usually around 6° in January. I'm sure you will love the city!

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  3. I am from India and I would be in Paris January Month and how the weather would be? and what type of clothes to be packed? any suggestions plzzz

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  4. Hi!

    I will be going to Paris this December, and I'm from Canada and I found your article very helpful, it really grabbed my attention with "Don't wear black!" and I just kept on reading.

    ReplyDelete