Commuter Dressing


When I lived in a suburb, I drove to work and school. I couldn't wear anything that wrinkled easily- it wasn't uncommon to sit forty minutes in traffic- and had to keep a shovel, sunglasses, change of shoes, coat and umbrella in the car, because who knew what the weather would be like after an hour in Cleveland. Though the walk from my car to building spanned six blocks, I wore heels on a near-daily basis. One trip to Paris, these were the only shoes I packed; if I wore a bag, it was either too small or too heavy / large to carry around. Forget anything silky: one crowded Métro ride would surely, irreparably snag it.

Ballet flats seemed like a sensible switch. After thirteen kilometers, my feet looked like piranhas bit them, too swollen to fit once-roomy shoes. Recently, a lady at the bus stop slipped off lovely flats to reveal raw, pink flesh and bunions so severe, I could practically see the displaced sesamoid bone. My friend Elodie, a lifelong Parisian and podologue, thinks flats should be banned here, as in Cannes. "They don't provide the shock absorption city dwellers need," she explains. "This causes over-pronation, joint deterioration, and foot pain."

Shoes were the least of my problems. Skirts flew up over Métro grates, made biking impossible, and got caught in turnstiles. Last year, I sat on a park bench during lunch and a man sneezed on me, staining my white shirt so badly, it had to be recycled. Another time, two women fighting on Pont Marie bumped into me, bloodying my dress beyond repair. No wonder Parisians are practical about their wardrobes, gravitating towards easy, casual clothes. I had a lot to learn. Whether you walk, drive, bike, or ride to work, here's how to dress comfortably in Paris:

Six Tips for Commuter Dressing


  1. Dresses and a cardigan or coat with matching skirt are more comfortable than suits. "They don't require a belt, or tugging at your blouse the whole day," says my friend Alice. Dresses permit ease of movement, and soft sweaters can be folded when you don't need them anymore.
  2. Avoid too-tight styles and silhouettes. You can still enjoy a nipped-in waist or curvy skirt, but allow room to breathe so you don't rip a giant slit while running down Métro stairs. Try slightly flared or pleated models instead of pencil skirts- which I really only see on fashion editors- at a below-the-knee length you can bike in. 
  3. Wear tunics, raglan sleeves, knits, tie-neck, and wraparound blouses instead of fitted button-downs, which are less versatile and more apt to crease. "Only Americans and older women wear them," says my friend Margaux.
  4. Get a good coat. This doesn't necessarily mean an expensive one, but it has to be rainproof, something you'll enjoy wearing 400 days a year and won't be embarrassed to carry around. Light, easily removable layers are better than heavy coats, which turn into an inferno in a crowd. Lastly, invest in a portable, quality umbrella (such as these ethically made or renewable cork styles) that hides stains. Crook handles are easier to carry than straight ones because you can hook them over your arm, leaving hands free to do other stuff, like bat away pigeons. 
  5. Everything should be washable, or at least easy to clean, since you never know what you might sit or step in. A bird pooped on my shirtdress two weeks ago, and I was so happy to just throw it in the laundry after. Choose fabrics that resist wrinkles and absorb odors, such as wool, over flimsy, sweaty fabrics like acetate or satin, and durable materials for accessories, like patent leather.
  6. Keep bags to scale. The most you'll ever need here are a phone, Ticket Resto, Navigo, keys, and lunch or snack, so there's no need to carry around the mini-suitcases favored by fashion bloggers. They get very annoying on your shoulder after an hour or so. Many French women I know do not carry makeup in their bags, which was the most difficult habit for me to break- as my friend Claudine says unequivocally, "It's rude to apply lipstick in public." I always have a handkerchief with me, too, which came in handy when the bird pooped on me.
Some Parisians I know keep perfume, lipstick, a powder compact, and extra sweater or pair of tights (they love black tights, even in the summertime!) at their desks, never in a handbag. As I've mentioned before, the concept of day-to-night dressing rules here, but I've seen women carry something formal in a garment bag for after work. They don't wear a separate evening coat for even the fanciest dresses- a leather jacket does just as well. My acquaintance Tiphaine once topped a full-length Christian Dior gown with a Moncler puffer, and Lina uses the same Burberry trench she throws over jeans. I make sure I always have one nice red dress, adaptable, appropriate for both an office or Cercle Interallié, that I can throw a cardigan on or wear alone. I try to avoid wearing black to events, because everyone else does, and on me, it sort of screams "I'm from Cleveland." Click here to read what shoes to wear and pack for Paris.


Paris to Go

30 comments:

  1. First time commenting and I just want to say; I have completely different lifestyle (I'm a stay at home of 2 kids (4 and 1) in the suburbs in the southern coast of America), however your blog is SUCH an inspiration and a real treat to read. I'm always too lazy to sign into my google account to follow you so instead I find myself checking here everyday to see if you've posted. It was fascinating to hear how much a walking/public transport commuter's wardrobe differ from us folks that car commute.

    Thanks to weeks of reading every post you've made (for real, I'm pretty sure). I've scaled back my wardrobe to 20ish items, donated 2 bins worth of stuff to charity,re-re organized my bedroom, crocheted myself a produce bag (which confused the heck out of the poor bagger at our grocery store, sigh) and am in the process of cleaning up the rest of my way too giant house. Our family was already planning on downsizing to less than half our current square footage in the next year and I'm looking forward to it even more as I read your posts.


    Even though we couldn't be more different I just want to say (again), it's a pleasure and a joy to read your blog. Please keep it up, when you can. :)

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    1. Wow, Samantha, your comment made my day! That is so awesome (I would just love to see the produce bag, maybe you could do a tutorial?). I have so many questions for you. What made you plan on downsizing? How did you figure out what to get rid of? A lot of readers ask about wardrobes for mothers and I was wondering what was possible for parents of little ones. So great that you're doing 20 pieces. You are an inspiration!

      Thanks for the encouragement. I'll try to be more regular about posting. I love hearing different stories from people and how living with less stuff works for a variety of lifestyles.

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    2. Oh, and once I brought my mom's lingerie bag (you know the netted kind for laundry) to the grocery store for produce and all the cashiers giggled. I was young. Again, so cool that you crocheted your own.

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    3. Awww, I will answer gladly! .:)

      I followed this tutorial on making the produce bag. I know the very basic crochet terminology and had to google a few things but it came together just fine in the end. (http://suzies-yarnie-stuff.blogspot.com/2008/05/june-go-green-market-bag.html)

      As for downsizing, its a concept my husband and I have bee drawn to for years now, not only is it usually more environmentally friendly, long term it's usually cheaper, and gives one more free time (since we wouldn't spend so much time cleaning ect.) We currently live in a 1600ish sq ft house and we are looking to be somewhere closer to 850-900 sq ft. We are slowwlllyyy getting rid of things, it's been going on for the past year or so. Just recently I tackled the kitchen, dishes were getting out of control, and we had bowls and cups and things that just didn't get used. I was tired of looking at them so out they went. I generally keep a running tab in my head of what isn't getting used and evaluate why, and if I think we will use it before I get rid of it. With the bins we recently took, I set them in the entry way for 1 month before hauling them out.

      Since I'm on my feet running, playing, and cleaning defining my wardrobe was actually simpler than I thought once I got over what I wanted my lifestyle to be and accepted what it actually was. I'm a "girly girl" and would LOVE to twirl around in dresses and skirts but that currently doesn't work for me, maybe in a few years. Instead my plan is casual, classic, clean, girly Indiana Jones.(Sounds dorky, but I'm a pretty big nerd.)

      Everything is thrifted, I also love the thrill of getting stuff for cheaper. I've got 3 pants all the brown-camel-beige color family, all are linen or linen/cotton. Easy to wash, comfy, cute, and if I get dirty, no panicking or dry-cleaning. I have 1 pair of shorts as we like to hike and get dirty out in nature and we live in a super hot state, linen/cotton blend as well. 11 tops seems like plenty, 5 tshirts (1 is long sleeved), 2 silk shirts, 3 button downs, 1 fun bright blouse for when I'm feeling feisty. I used to wear heels but now I stick closer to the ground, ha! I have a pair of worn in, much loved Clarks low wedges that are leather, some black sandals and 2 pairs of slip on flats. 1 causal dress for the occasional family church invite, or a nice dinner when I don't want to wear pants, 1 fancy dress for weddings and any other special occasion. Phew! What a novel!

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    4. Ugh! I few typos slipped my eyes, dang!

      I meant to drop this in that babble and forgot! Here's my current polyvore set for my wardrobe. :)

      http://www.polyvore.com/22_32_item_wardrobe_in/set?id=165052192

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    5. Hello, Ariana and Samantha! My first comment didn't go through so I apologize if this shows up twice. This is my first time to comment but I've been following your blog for a few months and have been very inspired. Like Samantha, I'm a stay at home mom. We are also downsizing and moving to a much smaller house next week. It's felt great to simplify and I haven't missed anything I've let go. And the extra cash from selling things has been awesome! Ariana, I'd love to see a post featuring simplified wardrobes from different women. I find your wardrobe to be beautiful and very flattering and would love to see how women in different seasons of life tackle this challenge. Also, I'd love to see a post about living in a city that is a vacation destination for many. I live in New Orleans and definetly roll my eyes at tourists. I don't want the Parisians rolling their eyes at me when I visit at the end of August! Samantha, you said you live in the coastal south. Do you wear long pants through the summer?

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    6. Amanda, how awesome and exciting!! I agree, I'd love to see a post like that. I'd contribute too, if you needed it Ariana. :)

      I do actually wear pants year round, I picked linen/cotton for that very reason and I generally stay comfy and not too sweaty. When I know we are going to be outside for more than a few hours I wear shorts.

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    7. Hi Amanda and Samantha! Thanks so much for sharing. It is so great to hear that you haven't missed what you let go. Thank you for the post ideas. I'm actually planning on featuring three wardrobes, two maternity and one from reader Tracey. I'm waiting on a few pictures, and I lost other pictures- more on that later- but I'll send an email today asking for the rest and hope Tracey will not be too upset with me (I would be) and send me a backup of her photos...

      Samantha, your wardrobe looks great and your style clearly defined. I would just love to feature you! When you have the time, could you email pictures to ariana@paris-to-go.com? I was just telling my husband yesterday... I am so bored writing about my stuff so this is perfect :) Amanda, if you would like to share as well please feel free to do the same! I'm very excited! It's nice seeing wardrobes from different climates, plus I love thrifted and linen clothing...

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    8. Look, I logged in! Yes, I will happily take some photos this week and send them! :)

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  2. hi, ariana,

    i've just found out your blog and i'm trying to read it all, from the very first post. i'm completely fascinated by your lifestyle and writing, and so motivated by it! i'm brazilian, living in paris for the last year, and i've always been a little too much of a consumer, though i've been trying to live a more conscious life lately, in every sense. i think your exemple will be (well, it IS already) very important to me. you're really inspiring, i'm glad i've found you <3

    love, ana

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    1. Hi Ana! You are so sweet! This comment makes me so happy. How do you like Paris? Do you think moving helped you live a more conscious life? Thank you for reading, and reaching out, I love hearing stories like yours, you are so brave moving to a new country :)

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    2. hey ariana!

      thanks for your reply, i was very happy to hear from you! well, i do think moving to paris made me a more conscious person, but i'm not quite sure if that's because i'm getting more mature over the time or if the city influenced me somehow. it's true i just love it here, i first came for a year of studies on literature and now i decided i'm gonna settle and stay indefinitely, so much that i like living here.
      last night i tried washing my hair water only for the first time, really much inspired by your experience. well, i have short hair, it wouldn't be quite the same, i thought it could be even easier for me. i can say it felt really good and i want to make it an everyday habit :) i think it will work for me like this: step by step, little by little, in order to live the life i'm aiming :) thanks for you support!

      love, ana

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    3. That is so great to hear! I'm glad you've adopted a new city and that you liked water only :)

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  3. Hi Ariana, I think I tried to comment earlier but the blog ate my comment? Anyway, your blog is addictive reading for me. I love your Cinderella story of moving to Paris and meeting a prince and marrying your husband! I even ordered the Mixte article you wrote to see your take on minimalism and I really enjoyed reading about your life in the suburbs. I would just love to see a post on what you carry in your handbag. I think it's so interesting seeing how possessions define a lifestyle and how little a person living in a big city can manage with. Thank you for all of your interesting work!

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    1. Hi Susanna! I saw it but when I tried to reply it disappeared, this is maybe the third time this has happened to me so I need to check what's happening with the comments, I'm sorry! Thanks for getting the MIXT(E) issue. It's a really lovely magazine. A few people asked me to write a post on this but it would be very short- I only carry the few things listed above, and actually less than that, because I don't have a Navigo. Thanks for getting in touch! And my husband is better than that prince haha :)

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  4. This was a fascinating post. Having just spent a few days in Paris, I think you're pretty spot - the (few) well-dressed women of any kind I saw followed these rules. Most other people, French or tourist, did not seem well-dressed to me, at least, not in the sense that seems to generate worldwide wonder - I go to Zurich for that ;o
    Being a little older and now suffering some foot pain, I will ruefully confirm that flat shoes are not your friend in cities like Paris (or cobbled streets anywhere in Europe!) and I am just discovering that a small heel or wedge is far better suited, as well as looking better… byebye ballerinas and flat sandals, no matter how cute or pretty.

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    1. Oh, did you come for Fete de la Musique? I hope you enjoyed the weekend. I was surprised at how "normal" French women dressed here. I expected them to wear more skirts and heels but no, everyone prefers pants and sneakers. Well I'm sure you looked great in your heels and wedges!

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  5. Ariana,

    Thank you for another wonderful post. This post has been the most relatable to me, since i bike everywhere.

    Also, loving the new design on the website. I see you are putting a lot of effort into the blog and posting often. Really enjoy reading it all. If I were living in the same city as you, I would totally volunteer to be your 'street photographer'.

    - Archana.

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    1. Archana, that would be amazing! You have a real eye and artistry, I love your photos. Let me know if you and the husband ever decide to pick up and move =) Ah, so when you bike to work are there certain staples that you find more comfortable / work appropriate? And thank you for the kind words, I realized it wasn't fair for me to be so inattentive, if that makes any sense. I hope posts are easier to find now and that the new design encourages me to post more...

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  6. Ofcourse not. I didnt mean to say you are inattentive. I love making pictures and wanted to make a few of you.

    I have a briefcase but its a pain to carry on the bike. My backpack ( not at all madame like ) gets so much use for that reason. Also, I have been caught in rolled up trousers and ill tucked button ups ( my uniform ). I get to work and straighten my clothes a little after my commute. Also, ballet flats are life savers. I have one of those racer bikes and hence pedals that chafe my shoes. I am looking into solutions to upkeep my shoes from my pedals. Not found one yet.

    May I confess as to how I enjoy how the ruffles of my skirt move around when I bike ! Its such a great feeling : the wind, the city and me in a skirt.

    yes to clothes that encourage you to move. Cheers to that thought.

    - A.

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    1. I love the swishy skirt feeling too! I'm fortunate that my bag fits in the basket of the Velib here. Have you ever tried one of those Dutch bikes? They are super different from any bicycle I've ever been on. Hard to keep my balance. You must laugh at all the French women in heels on their bicycles here. My friends claim they can't bike in normal shoes because the heels help them pedal harder! I have not had this experience...

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  7. Great post as always, Ariana! I have to say though, that the more you write, the more Paris seems like a rough place. Bloody women fighting? Sneezes ruining clothes? Constant racism? You must be a tough cookie to put up with it all!

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    1. Thank you Rachel! I need to write more about the positive stuff in Paris because it's giving an inaccurate picture I'm afraid... it really is a safe place. I feel more comfortable walking around here at night alone than in my small hometown and I feel like women can travel here alone very safely. Plus it has such a friendly and welcoming vibe normally- like today on the street I just started talking to a man who turned out to be the owner of Papy Bio and he invited me into the atelier, and a few hours later I talked to a couple on Rue Cremieux and they told me all about the history of the street and showed me their house and their cat :) To be fair, the racism is everywhere.

      But as picturesque and beautiful as Paris is, it still is a city, and all the nasty things that come with city life get lumped in with the good. In three years, only a relative few nasty things have happened to me, and they're already all listed on the blog. I need to strike more of a balance between cautioning about the downsides of city life, and talking about all the positive stuff that makes me love living here!

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    2. Thanks for the perspective. I guess human nature is the same everywhere--racism and kind strangers coexist all over the world, don't they? I appreciate your honesty though--I've seen such a romanticized view of Paris for so long (I'm American and love old movies), it's good to remember that Parisians are just people, same as everywhere.
      Your day on the street sounds lovely. :c)

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    3. Exactly, I grew up with that romantic version of Paris. I thought it was all macarons and pastels and small dogs :) I actually like this version of Paris much better, but I understand why people don't want to talk about or show that side of the city.

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  8. Dear Ariana, I stumbled upon your blog a few days ago and I love it. I live in Italy and have more or less the same lifestyle as you do. I have a question for you though, related to the coats you own. I wonder how you survive the Paris winter with that coat ??? do you use thermal underwear. I have been to Paris several times in Fall and it was very cold. Where I live in Northern Italy it does not get as cold as Paris but still I need a Down coat ..

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    1. Hi! Thank you so much. I use wool underneath and tights or leggings! I have a very thick winter coat and it helped me in a -40° degree winter when I still lived in the US. Many many women wear down coats here, though, as you probably saw. For work my husband and I are going to the Arctic soon and I think I might get one, plus two pairs wool long underwear. If you have any recommendations I'd love to hear them!

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  9. Well I have a few solutions, but they are not very elegant. The first one is using Patagonia base layer underwear. I usually wear skirts and knee length boots so usually they are not visible. I also carry the merino wool legwarmers that I wear to ballet classes in my bag, so I can add an extra layer if I am still cold ( I also sometimes use them as an extra layer on my gloves or even wrap around my neck or wear as a headband around my head). I also have a Montura windstopper neck gaiter that is really nice and fluffy and can also be worn as a hat (with the help of a drawstring). I have had many neck gaiters over the years but the one from Montura has been the best so far.

    But I really loved that picture of you wearing a long coat without boots, like the olden days when all women actually dressed like that. I often wonder why we need to cover ourselves up so much. Winters were definitely not warmer back then. I guess it is a matter of habit.

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    1. Your solutions sound great! Thank you. I've been looking at the Patagonia underwear, they seem to be the most sustainably produced as well as most durable (there's not much backing Icebreaker's sustainability claims, although people swear by the products). A friend who spent three months in the Arctic said Patagonia was the warmest and that merino wool is much warmer than synthetics, which he thinks are made more for athletes who will be outside in short bursts of time and not sitting around collecting data for hours. It sounds like most people in the Arctic Circle wear woolen long underwear anyway.

      Thank you for that nice comment about the picture, I only wear boots if it's raining or snowing :) I was probably wearing two pairs of tights and socks in that picture. Maybe people were more used to the cold because they were exposed in the elements more? We have better heating and air conditioning and cars now so maybe our tolerance is lower.

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