Every time I return from Paris with a suitcase full of clothes and shoes, my friends marvel at how I can afford to shop in Paris. So let me tell you a few of my little secrets. I am not wealthy and I do not spend tons of money when shopping for my clothes. I manage to buy a year supply of accessories and shoes, plus a few pieces of clothing at each trip.
The Seasons Sales.
Here is how. First I try to be in Paris during the bi-annual sales, which are taking place in January and in August. The sales at the beginning of the year are meant to get last year's stuff out the door and make way for new collections and items.
In August, stores really need to get rid of their summer lines to be ready for the more somber back-to-school collections, as schools are back in session the first Monday in September. Who wants bikinis in the window displays when you're ready to buy mittens and other colder climate inventory? Of course, a lot of things are no longer available, so if you're going to be picky, forget it.
You need to buy what's left, and if you wanted a particular silk skirt in Indian prints in shades of rose and lavender, well, you may very well end up buying a green cotton one with geometric pattern
But that's the fun of it, you never know what you're going to get! Just like Forrest said, "life is like a box of chocolate."
But if you are flexible enough and open minded, you will get great bargains. Stores do need to get rid of stuff and what would they do with it? Pay somebody to haul it to trash? Better make a Euro or two, and have a customer take it out of your hands! Heck they would almost pay you to buy the thing!
One summer, I was not sure which to take between two dresses at 5 Euros each, a blue and a red, and the store owner said, take them both! For 5 Euros! No hesitations there.
If you shop in January, the better deals are for what is called "Le Blanc", which means anything linen, for the home, but also for the beach or winter. You can get down comforters and sets of sheet for next to nothing, and even have it shipped back home for less than the price it would cost you to buy it in your regular stores. I did it.
In January you also find great winter sweaters and coats for almost half price. The bulk of the winter sales were done back in September and October, when colder air hit the city, so if anything is left in January, the stores want to get rid of them.
Last month I shopped a lot, I mean, way a lot. In the streets climbing up to Montmartre, you can find the most beautiful fabric shoppes and plenty of vintage stores. My niece and I spent one rainy afternoon trying on designer dresses from the 60s and the 70s. I bought a white Courrèges dress and she bought an original Burberrys trench coat for $20.
In another nearby store, we each bought black Huggs boots for $25, even in Australia, there're not that cheap! The popular quartiers all have good addresses for smart shopping. Near Montparnasse, Saint Lazare and in Belleville, you can find dirt cheap wardrobe finds. After our visit to the Père-Lachaise cemetery, I found again the little Chinese shop that I have been buying clothes for years now. Always on the same spot.
The store itself is just about the size of a walk-in closet, but the outside racks offer ten times as much merchandise as the inside. We found leggings for 2 Euros, skirts for 4 and dresses for 5. This is at the métro station by the cemetery. Okay, the quality might not be superb, but who wants a pair of leggings to last for years?
In the Arab area of Belleville, many stores offer really cheap shoes, espadrilles, ankle boots. I do not use leather, so those knock off material suit me just fine. A corner boutique carries all the knick-knacks we always need to bring back to the States, such as gray nail polish, Celsius thermometers, souvenir tee shirts for friends, square pillow cases for my bed.
I love square bed pillows, I travelled back one year with two in the plane cabin with me, people were laughing. But I always have a hard time finding square pillowcases in the USA, so I buy them in Paris.
Paris is not known for being a cheap city, but if you know where to go, the hunt will bring you good deals. One chain of stores called "Paris Affaires" (Paris bargains) carries tons of cute little things you want to bring back. I bought a new French press (that we do no call French, but simply une presse à café) for my morning coffee. Plus nice little coffee cups stacked up on a metal holder - 5 Euros each item.
I don't shop rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré or in the other expensive boutiques Paris is so known for, but then again, I also do not shop on Rodeo Avenue in Beverly Hills, or Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. And yet, I always have a full wardrobe of authentic Parisian-style clothing.
In Paris, there is no stigma about going to a thrift store - it's chic to find bargains at bargain prices. There is no Goodwill-type of store, only vintage ones. The only thing close to a thrift store is near La Bastille, it's called Emmaus. I once found there a new original UPLA messenger bag for 3 Euros, and sold it right away on eBay for $350. They clearly did not know what they had!
There are also a few consignment stores, called dépot-ventes, and they work just like the ones in America, although I find them better for furniture and décor things than for clothes. Of course there are plenty of flea markets over the weekends, usually situated at the "doors" of the city, where clothing piles are not always in good shape, and certainly not clean. Better stick to vintage stores there too.
For the extreme thrifters, there is one store in Paris where you buy clothes by the weight. You fill a shopping bag with as much as you can and pay a deep discounted price for everything that fits in it, by the kilo. It's a new concept in the capital - I never tried that one, but it's on my list! It's located in a wonderful neighborhood of Paris, Le Marais. Details: Kilo-Shop, 69-71 rue de la Verrerie in the 4th Arrondissement; phone +33-9-67137954; http://kilo-shop.fr/. From 14 to 45 Euros per kilo of clothing.
Danger Zones? What Danger Zones?
Now, if you don't shop during the twice-a-year traditional sales periods (called Les Soldes), like I did last month while in Paris in March, you can still find good bargains all over the city in places most city guides don't even mention in their books.
As far as the so called "no-go-zones" of Paris mentioned earlier this year in some American media, let's be clear: they do not exist. P.E.R.I.O.D. Not for religious, race nor otherwise crappy reasons. The only places to avoid are the obvious ones in any city of the world. Late at night subway lines, hot-areas of known iffy cabarets and other sexual late night shows. Woods around the perimeter of the capital. A few deserted neighborhood in the middle of the night.
I am not saying that Paris is the safest city, but to me, it seems that every large metropolis contains sensible areas where you do not want to be walking around alone at night, especially if you're a girl. In New York, I never take the subway after 10 p.m. on lines going out to the far suburbs - same in Paris.
In London, I don't stroll alone on certain banks of the Thames. In Marseilles, some hot pockets of drug dealing business are to be avoided at all times. I think it's only a matter of common sense as to where and when to visit some locales, and no guide book will ever tell you where those are.
Living in Miami for 20 years, I have seen more mugging and more crime in the most touristic spots of the city by the sea than anywhere in Paris. Even the Miami airport surroundings are not safe places. And in my native city of Paris, in 31 years nothing ever happened to me.
While one of my daughters was mugged at gunpoint walking in her street at night in New Orleans. I hear that Rio, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Detroit, Los Angeles, Bangkok are all very dangerous cities - should we stop going?
Of course not. So rest assure that Paris is a mild one compared to others - and remember that street weapons are not easy to get and the young French are not armed to the neck, like some in other parts of the world. There is absolutely no gun culture in France; you simply cannot get a gun!
Euro vs. Dollar.
Also, remember that in Paris, or in all of France for that matter, sales taxes are always included in the prices, so if something is advertised for 1 Euro, it will be 1 Euro at the cash register, unlike in America where $1 is never really a dollar! It's $1.05 or $1.08 or other amount, depending in which state you shop in. This is valid for restaurants as well. Taxes, tips and service are always included in the requested amount at the end - no need to add anything else.
And lucky Americans, the Euro is practically de par with the dollar nowadays, hovering around $1 exchanging at a little under 1 Euro, so you don't have to make difficult mental calculations to figure out how much your item actually cost.
Next: the Parisian flea markets.