Collective Wisdom: An American In Paris

Collective Wisdom is our new series in which I cleverly redirect questions that land in my inbox to you, the illustrious commentariat, because someone seeking advice should have access to more opinions than just mine.

TJ writes:

I’m taking the family to Paris in a week. I really wanted to pack clothes that were neutral and close to fitting in with the Parisians. However, looking at the extended forecast, it looks like it is going to be hot. In the 80s and maybe a day or two in the 90s. Should I embrace my preppy style and pack madras shorts, polo shirts, etc, that scream American tourist?

Use the leave-comment feature to advise whether TJ should attempt to blend in or go full-on ugly American and purposely stick out like a sore thumb. — CC

Belt by Country Club Prep, which has a ton of patriotic gear in time for the Fourth

39 Comments on "Collective Wisdom: An American In Paris"

  1. Evan Everhart | July 1, 2018 at 7:55 pm |

    I say dress comfortably, sensibly, and stylishly and rely upon the gendarmerie to sort out the rest. I’d also say that there’s nothing intrinsically ugly about looking like a traditional American, merely in being inconsiderate of local customs and cultures in too overt amd conscious a manner, which of course none of the commentariat here would do, a few notable exceptions excluded….long and the sgort of it; don’t be ashamed of being American. America is great!

  2. Mitchell S. | July 1, 2018 at 8:25 pm |

    When in Rome do as the Romans. Please don’t wear shorts, a fanny pack, sandals, and a baseball cap as they scream “ugly American.”

    A striped shirt, anything black, and stylish pants are the way to go in the capital of style. Learning as much French as you can is the best way to prevent rude service in restaurants. The French are very proud of their culture, and rightfully so. Happy upcoming Bastille Day to all!

  3. john carlos | July 1, 2018 at 9:16 pm |

    @Mitchell S, are you kidding? Nothing black! Be proud to be an American trad.

  4. Don’t wear shorts unless you are on the coast. Other than that, just dress comfortably. Personally, I’d keep it simple and wear a navy polo and chinos during the day(or something like that). At dinner wear an OCBD and a blazer. Simple canvas sneakers, desert boots, and loafers will cover pretty much everything. If you have special events then pack the special clothes.

    You can dress Ivy and not stick out too much. Simplicity is universally appreciated.

    Also, black polos are underrated.

  5. john carlos | July 1, 2018 at 10:48 pm |

    @ZIP Yes simplicity is to be applauded but black is forbidden if you are a trad.

  6. Evan Everhart | July 1, 2018 at 10:52 pm |

    @Mitchell S:

    What reader of this site who would care enough to ask Chens, would actually wear any of those items which you’ve recommended against? They’re all atrocious.

    I’d also point out that there’s no point in going native either, from what was said in the prompt above; the inquierer was just visiting, not going expatriot.

    I say be a proud American at home and abroad, not cocky, but proud. Wave your trad flag high!

    I’d say Zip’s advive sounds reasonably sound, but to let your own elegance be expressed, as you will no doubt be visiting an extremely cosmopolitan city by way of Paris (I assume), and the well dressed are universally treated better when visiting anywhere civilized in the world.

  7. whiskeydent | July 1, 2018 at 11:08 pm |

    The forecast calls for Southern Trad — except, as others recommend, without the usual shorts. Long-sleeve linen or seersucker button-downs are an easy option. Euros embrace the fabrics, but you can retain your collar roll and remain comfortable in the heat. Even better, linen and seersucker hang-dry quickly, and nobody expects a crisp ironing job from either of them.

    Light-colored linen-cotton pants or light-weight chinos are another possibility. At night, add a blazer or linen-wool sport coat with some light gray tropical wool trousers.

    They’re gonna know you’re an American tourist regardless of what you do, but you can be a good representative. We need all we can get nowadays.

  8. blend in

  9. Mitchell S. | July 2, 2018 at 12:12 am |

    Rene Lebenthal is a Paris-based blogger with a focus on American/British ivy style. His latest Instagram feed is the best advice on how an American should dress in Paree. One photo shows him wearing a seersucker blazer and madras tie. Tres chic!

  10. Grey Flannels | July 2, 2018 at 2:33 am |

    The point is not to try to hide the fact that you are an American, but to avoid offending local sensibilities by looking like a caricature of the American Abroad.
    My suggestions:
    Shorts: Only on the coast, and then bermuda-length and solid khaki, navy, or olive.
    Shirts: Daytime: solid white or light blue linen. Also navy polos. Evening: long-sleeve, buttondown collar, broadcloth or pinpoint Oxford cloth.
    Trousers: light chinos or linen.
    Hat: khaki, olive, or navy bucket-hat. No baseball caps or hats with outlandishly-wide brims.
    ZIP’s comment “simplicity is universally appreciated” deserves to be memorized.

  11. Clothes should be one’s least concern in most western European cities.

  12. René Lebenthal | July 2, 2018 at 3:11 am |

    Thank you @Mitchell S.
    I feel honored to be cited by you !!!
    Advices I can give:
    Be casual chic. Which means, Long trousers during day, polo Shirts, canvas Sneakers, boat shoes.
    Wear a Sports coat when you go out for dinner and put in a pocket square.
    And in the evening please wear socks. 🙂
    Avoid black, wear Khakis, OCBD’s and be a trad and well dressed american. That should work perfectly.

  13. René Lebenthal | July 2, 2018 at 3:30 am |

    Ah yes…and prepare the best you can in french language…
    Très apprécié !!

  14. Grey Flannels | July 2, 2018 at 4:42 am |

    My apologies to René (et tous les autres Françaiş) for omitting the sports coat and the socks.
    Mea culpa.

  15. Grey Flannels | July 2, 2018 at 4:44 am |

    This time my apologies for the “ş”, which should have been an “s”.

  16. Richard Meyer | July 2, 2018 at 6:00 am |

    No shorts. Casual loafers fine. No fanny packs. Khakis fine. Take along a nice, light weight blazer. There will be scads of tourists, as many Parisians will be en vacances.

  17. Unless you are on he water or beach, you’ll find only wear shorts in Europe.
    Break out the Lacoste- that should be safe-

  18. René Lebenthal | July 2, 2018 at 8:59 am |

    @Grey Flannels
    Of Course j’accèpte vos excuses 🙂
    And the “s” correction.
    I wished that all americans were as “bienveillant” as the Ivy-style Readers.
    Bonne journée à tous!!!

  19. Le Moomin de Londres | July 2, 2018 at 10:05 am |

    I defer to the wisdom of our friend Rene, and I think you can’t go too far wrong with what he recommends.

    As an Englishman, all I can say is that the last time I was in Paris I was disappointed to see that many a Parisian man dressed like many a London man, i.e. badly.

    There are of course noble exceptions, and I think that you should be one of them. So wear whatever you want dear boy. Personally, I’d be thinking smart casual, with the emphasis on smart. Therefore I’d have a nice cool unlined jacket for daytime (seersucker if you have one, or maybe a brass-buttoned navy blue affair) which I’d mix with madras shirts, and light coloured polos or maybe t-shirts. In the case of the latter two items, I’d also be tempted- VERY tempted, to act a bit of a dandy since I was on holiday, and consider wearing them with a plain cravat (that’s ascot to you, my US friends) or a large knotted handkerchief. This’d serve two main purposes: First it’s help you cut a dash a la the Duke of Windsor in his sartorial prime, but secondly it’s serve the time honoured purpose of keeping you cool, keeping the sun of your neck, and mopping up stray beads of sweat. I’d have to wear a hat as well, and for me it’s a light coloured, large brimmed fedora every time.

    For trousers (i.e. pants it’d be linen for me all the way. You can crumple them all you like in your suitcase and not bother. Linen in cream and grey. Grey (grey, as you write of course) as we know, is the great matching colour.

    As for shoes, it’d have to be a nice pair of light suede desert boots. Maybe a pair of penny loafers to change into when I’m there. But hell, I’d be in Paris and looking to ADD to my wardrobe once there, so I’d have the bid the wife and kids ‘au revoir’ for a couple of hours one afternoon to hunt down and buy a pair of nice French shoes, preferably Paraboot.

    Re-reading this, it seems I have arguably strayed way outside the limits of Ivy, but ‘tant pis’ as the French say.

    Just be sure to send CC a few photos so we can see how you scrub up dear boy!

    Toodle pip!

  20. René Lebenthal | July 2, 2018 at 10:40 am |

    @ Le Moomin de Londres
    Ou Parfait, une paire de paraboots….Avignon or Chambord model…
    Des modèles éternels.
    Vive French-british-american Ivy!!

  21. I concur with most all the advice here so far. I’ve been to Paris twice recently: once in 2015, and again in 2017. On both occasions, I visited the city in the second half of May, so not too different (in terms of season and climate) from when you’ll be there. This last time, I was only passing through for a day on my way to Berlin. I was dressed in what I’d describe as a “Riviera meets old British money look” on account of our dinner plans that evening, as our agenda that day that was not going to allow for a wardrobe switch between museum and restaurant. Navy pinstripe jacket with white trousers; blue Oxford shirt with contrasting white button-down collar; navy club tie; white linen pocket square; yellow socks; white and brown saddle shoes. My anecdotal observation is this: I would say that I was very dressed up compared to most everyone else we came across in the city that day, the exception being, of course, those men and women we passed who were on their way to and from work. I didn’t mind feeling over dressed. I think I was well treated all around town, but this could have more to do with the Parisians simply being decent and less to do with my attire. Hard to say. I will say that, like London, the idea of Paris being a more fashionable than average city is no longer true. In my opinion, I run across more fashionably dressed people walking around NYC than I have on both my visits to Paris.

    So, after all this rambling, I’d say that if you’d feel comfortable wearing what you’re packing around NYC in similar weather (within the confines of your style, which I’m assuming matches up closely with the ethos of this community), then I think you’ll be fine in Paris.

  22. Bravo and bien dit, M. Le Moomin de Londres. Was just in Paris and London with the kids for spring break and can attest that your advice is not only spot on sartorially but that it’s also practical if you’re going really get around and enjoy all that the City of Light has to offer. Passez un bon sejour a Paris!

  23. Fortingale | July 2, 2018 at 12:53 pm |

    Jim F:

    This link will allow you and others to write séjour instead of sejour and à instead of a:

  24. Tobias J. Roberts | July 2, 2018 at 1:55 pm |

    This is all wonderful sound advise.

    I guess my dilemma is comfort/practicality v. blending in with the locals.
    Our itinerary is packed with museums in the AM and an outdoor activity in the PM. A day trip to Versailles. Bastille Day events on Saturday. Tons of walking and being outdoors in the heat. I’m a boater and live near the banks of Lake Saint Clair in Grosse Pointe, MI. My summer uniform when not at work is; shorts (varying colors, red, khaki, etc), polo shirt (with yacht club burgee), hat (yacht club burgee, Mt. Gay regatta or Goslings regatta) and boat shoes (no socks!). It’s comfortable and works in the heat. Boater chic!
    I plan on taking the wife out to dinner w/o kids and will dress accordingly.
    I have:
    polo shirts (Lacoste)
    Canvas sneakers (Tretorns)
    Lightweight khakis
    Linen Shirts

    I just don’t think I can give up the shorts!

  25. Merci à M. Fortingale! While my responses in English will often want grammatically due to their slapdash writing, it’s good to now know that my French spelling will not. 🙂

    To Mr. Roberts, I’ll only add, as an avowed Francophile, that his shorts v non-shorts dilemma illustrates why Parisians generally get the heck outta town during these summer months. So he shouldn’t have to worry TOO much about being surrounded by the locals…

  26. Le Moomin de Londres | July 2, 2018 at 5:17 pm |

    I often think the best way of avoiding looking like a tourist (and to avert getting too hot and tired) is to not carry a backpack/ daypack around if possible. That’s why I like a blazer: five pockets for your essentials, plus you get to look good.

    If you are a sailor, can I suggest you try wearing a Breton shirt? Right on trend for this year, comfy and good sun protection. Plus you’ll be in France so that’s every excuse you need. Think Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief rather than Kurt Cobain.

    For headgear, white flat caps and Gatsby/ Baker Boy baggy caps are in vogue again. There’s a brand called City Sport who do some snappy hats.

    Your itinerary sounds great. I personally love the Mussee Rodin. A bit off the beaten tourist track but a true gem of a place.

    Have fun!

  27. Vern Trotter | July 2, 2018 at 6:18 pm |

    It is always hot this time of year. I wear an LLB fisherman’s vest with a short sleeve light weight polo during the day. The vest gives you the pockets you need as a tourist. A blazer at night.

  28. Henri Leclerc | July 3, 2018 at 1:48 am |

    Le Moomin de Londres:
    The Musée de Rodin is an excellent suggestion.
    For those who insist upon wearing shorts, there’s always the Rodin Museum in Philly:

  29. How many American tourists wear madras shorts, surcingle belts, penny loafers, and polo shirts these days? I’m afraid, very little, which means that your style will unlikely be perceived as “American”. That being said, if you forego madras shorts specifically, and belts with American flags or seafood embroidered on them, you will certainly stand out less. Have a great time in Paris!!

  30. Le Moomin de Londres | July 3, 2018 at 6:42 am |

    @Vern Trotter

    A fisherman’s vest? My dear boy, he’s living it up in gay Paris, not salmon fishing in the Scottish Highlands.

    Zoot Aloors! Sacrifice les bleus! Mange tout! And other French oaths! Somebody call le police de fashion, s.v.p.

  31. Jonathan Sanders | July 3, 2018 at 12:20 pm |

    thought I’d check the Faconnable website before replying but it’s changed since it 1980’s heyday (lloks like J. crew now). So hear it goes:
    1. candy or butcher striped buttons (broadcloth, not oxford)
    2. light weight cotton trousers. Bring the shorts and make make a judgementcall when you are there.
    3. polos in three colors: Navy, white and red (think: french flag)
    4. shoes – topsiders or docksiders (sebago is bigger in france), and white sneakers alla stan smiths. BTW – cole haan has a lot of great looking sneaker styles
    5. Rayban Wayfarers
    6. American clothes look great in Paris. It’s just that your approach needs to be “Gallic”

  32. Old School Tie | July 3, 2018 at 12:39 pm |

    Wear what you would normally wear under such meteorological circumstances. When you see what people are actually wearing these days, well, you are not going to be received badly whatever tou wear…

  33. Dutch Uncle | July 3, 2018 at 1:28 pm |

    Jonathan Sanders certainly got it right when he suggested broadcloth (rather than oxford).

    You may find it so comfortable, that when you get back to the States you’ll stick with broadcloth.

  34. Tobias J. Roberts | July 7, 2018 at 10:21 am |

    Know any good places to watch France in the World Cup in Paris next week? Since I’m going to be there.

  35. elder prep | April 14, 2019 at 1:50 pm |

    Our German friends (yes, I know, we’re talking about Paris) once mentioned they could spot an American a mile away by their brand new spanking white sneakers. The locals call them marshmallows.

  36. I dont think the French mind people who look American. They just mind slobs. Dress neatly in the same way you usually do. Low-key and refined.

    When in Europe, I find people enjoy meeting an American as much as I enjoy meeting a European. To them, you are the exotic one. Why disappoint? 😉

    Learn a little basic French and be polite. You will be in the top 10%.

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