Paris is a city of easy pleasures. Wine, cheese, croissants. What’s not to love? Isn’t that what Netflix built the popularity of the très unrealistic “Emily in Paris” on? Except the thing about Paris is that it seems like a foolproof place, but it’s not. Rather, it is a city that rewards research.
Prioritize idiosyncratic shops. Paris is still the kind of place where you can stumble upon a boutique that sells only gloves or umbrellas. There is nothing better than being able to announce to anyone listening that you got some supple belt or slipper or lamp or toothpaste in Paris.
Definitely check on the hours that shops are open because they can be highly unusual from a New Yorker’s perspective. Some require appointments, but don’t be intimidated by that. Be enticed at the potential, the uniqueness, the fun.
Strategize your day by neighborhood groupings. In the morning, go to a few stores around, say, Place Vendôme, capped off with a lazy lunch and some of the all-time great people-watching at Hotel Costes. (A fun game: “Is that his daughter or his girlfriend?”) If you’re a real demon, move on to another neighborhood. Otherwise take a nap, then go to a small museum like Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, which is like entering into a Wes Anderson film set.
Paris has many of the same designer boutiques as New York and other large cities, so you might skip them. However! Between the exchange rate and the VAT return (a.k.a., tax refund), designer goods can be significantly cheaper. You’ll need your passport in store. At the airport, remember to scan the forms or have them stamped before you check in and go through customs, as sometimes they ask to see the goods in person. Basically, this is a crucial way to justify buying things.
This is an online consignment store, but you can make an appointment and send links of what you like, then try it all on at its showroom. Allow Matt, who runs the showroom, to bring you a coffee, and try on a Jil Sander paisley dress from when Raf Simons was the designer or an ivory Chanel jacket like the one in “The Devil Wears Prada” or a ruffled Prada blouse consigned by Catherine Deneuve.
Le Bon Marché
All grand (and less than grand) department stores owe their existences to this place. Émile Zola used it as the setting for “The Ladies Paradise,” in 1883. Here’s how I navigate it. I go to the lingerie-swimwear section. The Empreinte lingerie brand for large busts and plus sizes is hard to find in the United States but has the most comfortable and beautiful collections.
The second floor has a beauty section for niche brands, where you can buy hair masks and dental floss from brands you’ve never heard of. Then do a loop of the designer collections as an overview to see which ones speak to you. Go to, say, Dries Van Noten for an immersive experience. Go to the Buly counter for souvenirs, like a lip balm that comes in a box that can be embossed with initials. Buy snacks at the food hall across the street, which sells things like carrot-passion fruit jam and has at least three aisles dedicated to yogurt. Open Sundays!
If your ideal look is ’90s off-duty supermodel, this is your heaven. There are exquisite but extremely expensive handmade slips here. Everything can be custom-made, which is dangerous. Do not skip the satin mule slippers with the bow.
Monoprix is basically the French equivalent of Target. The organic cotton underwear comes in a ribbed culotte — a bikini style — or culotte haute, which is more like granny panties. They’re not dissimilar to the handmade underwear from Zimmerli or Hanro but around five euros. Stock up on Savon de Marseille hand soap and filet à provisions, those net market bags.
This new vintage showroom made a cameo in the Blackbird Spyplane newsletter. On a recent visit, it had at least one oversize Donna Karan blouse, an Hermès blazer, Comme des Garçons flats from 1997 and several pairs of Jil Sander trousers at extremely competitive prices.
There are several flea markets in Paris, but the largest is the Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen at the northern border of the city. The place is gigantic, so you absolutely need some kind of strategy. Choose a category (a friend had great luck looking for antique tablecloths) or pick one area to browse. The Marché Paul Bert Serpette is my favorite and has a mix of furniture and clothes.
Will you find a deal? Maybe. Will you want to buy a chair and ship it home? Absolutely! There are shipping companies on site, or just build it a box and check it as oversize luggage on a flight home. For something easier to take home, De Laurentis has late ’80s and early ’90s European and Japanese minimalist designer clothes, and Chantal has beaded flapper dresses reminiscent of the first Bode women’s collection.
Who doesn’t want to authentically dress like Lydia Tár these days? This is a multistory palace of tailoring. Get the slippers, get a striped nightshirt that can be worn as a dress, maybe get a rosette brooch made out of necktie material. Then cross to the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz for a cocktail. It’s sort of like the Bemelmans Bar of Paris.
Maybe its stern but direct Instagram bio says it all: “Finest of handmade tableware. MADE IN FRANCE. International shipping available.” Do you want a vase with a jellyfish on it? Or how about a marbled tray? Maybe all you need to know is that Ina Garten was recently photographed there.