Why I’m “Soldes” on Shopping in Paris

When I was living in France, I used to count down the days (and save my centimes) to two exhilarating periods of sales in the winter and summer. Winter soldes typically begin in Paris the second week in January and last through the first week in February. Summer soldes usually begin the third or fourth week in June and last through the first or second week in July.

Le Bon Marche, ParisIn France, retail sales are state-regulated, so virtually everything is on sale during these six weeks. Department stores, boutiques, specialty shops, outlets, and even some hardware stores clear out items from the previous season, as they reduce prices more and more over the course of the 3-week soldes. Most retailers take as much as 75% off prices by the time the sale period ends.

To promote these sales, the French Office of Tourism puts out The Shopping Book each sale season, a guide featuring advertisements, addresses and maps. However, these amazing prices on beautiful French goods come with, well, a challenging side. Be prepared for large crowds, “competitors” literally grabbing merchandise out of your hands, and, toward the end of the sales, picked over racks in popular shops.

Shopping in the Marais, ParisMy first year “on the battlefield,” I did my research ahead of time.  I scoped out shops (Mango and Zara are two of my favorite chains- the French shops have different selections from their American counterparts) and tried on the clothes I knew I wanted while they were regular price, so I knew exactly where I wanted to go on the first day of les soldes. Truth be told, I’ve also found some great pieces near the end of the sale season- items that had been rejected by Parisian shoppers, but things that I absolutely had to have (like my beloved tiger print trench coat!).

Now, most stores offer sale prices on their online shopping sites as well. This would be a great option for those who prefer to avoid the crowds and shop in the comfort of their own home (while sipping a café au lait and watching a French game show on la télévision). Though I tend to grumble late in the afternoon following a full day of soldes shopping, I do enjoy the “thrill of the chase” that comes with shopping “in person.”

Ready to brave the soldes? Here are some words of advice to make your hunt both enjoyable and fruitful:

Elegant Parisiennes–    Scope out stores you want to shop at (and try on things you might like to purchase) before les soldes begin.

–    Come up with a game plan; decide what stores you must go to and hit them first. Remember that the best time to hit the soldes is during the weekdays, in the early morning or after lunch.

–    Have an exit strategy. Locate brasseries and cafés near the stores you’ll be shopping in so that you have a place to take a break and recharge. This is also a good “waiting room” for husbands and other fatigued travel companions while  you continue to shop ‘til you drop.

–    Dress for the occasion by wearing lightweight, comfortable clothes. I typically wear a camisole and slip on tops and dresses over it if the dressing rooms are too full. I’ve even slipped on a pair of palazzo pants in the middle of an H&M over my linen pants (to the embarrassment of my mother).

–    Treat yourself to at least one item you’ll use for a long time. French women have mastered the art of finding beautiful, quality clothes and accessories that they wear year after year, in a variety of ways (like a classic Hèrmes scarf or a Louis Vuitton pencil skirt).  Channel your inner française and seize the opportunity to pick up a classic piece, at a fabulous price, that will make you happy (and garner many compliments) for years to come.

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