I’m not going to lie, taking five French-only classes really takes its toll on a foreigner. I can conjugate French verbs without pulling out my Bescherelle book, and my tongue has more rolls than the bread in my appetizer basket.
So to treat myself to a post-midterm celebration, I did the only thing anyone absolutely must do while in Paris: shop.
All the rumors are true. The fashion is impeccably delicious. Sometimes it’s too refined to touch, let alone be in the same presence, but like everything genuinely pleasurable in this world, there’s a price–a very steep price.
As you might expect, Parisian shopping doesn’t come cheap. With the Euro playing a more powerful role than the dollar, a 25 Euro H&M cardigan with elbow pads, which are so in right now, may seem reasonable, but that’s almost $35. I bought it anyway. You might think individual boutiques sell options at half the cost of their chain store counter parts, but they’re even more expensive.
Luckily, my parents are gullible fools and believed me when I told them I was going to the south of France for the first half of my fall break. I also told them everyone in my program hated me and I had no friends. So false, but hello 400 Euros.
And where may you ask I spent my parents’ hard-earned money? Let me break down the best shopping spots in Paris:
Those touristy spots you’ve heard so much about–Champs-Elysées, Centre Pompidou, Eiffel Tower–are obvious money burners, but definitely worth checking out. I lose my breath every time I see a store with more than two levels of shopping, which is what every store is like around these parts. But don’t expect to find specialized Parisian goods in these areas. Chain super stores such as Gap, H&M and Zara reign supreme.
If you’re looking for only-in-Europe goods, I suggest Galeries Lafayette. Definitely give yourself an entire day to surf through all 10 stories with almost everything a shopper with a stuffed wallet could want. Paris’ Marais area, also known as its prominent gay district, is bustling with one-of-a-kind boutiques that line the entire neighborhood. Not to stereotype, but the gays here know their fashion.
This is where I fit in. As much as I hate to admit this, I’m a committed H&M customer even in Europe. But the U.S. locations have got nothing on the knit sweaters and slim-fit jeans here. Paris is the must-place to be that lady who lived in a shoe, or in this case, shoes. Paris may be considered the fashion capital of the world, but every street has a solid three stores that sell shoes. For 20 Euros (and for shoes, that’s a damn good deal), you can buy heeled ankle boots, rain boots, heels–whatever you want. It’s open season on shoe wear from now until forever.
If you’re a fan of flea markets, Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, just off the Porte de Clignancourt metro stop, is the place to be every Saturday to Monday. For you Pennsylvanians, it’s the equivalent to Rice’s flea market. Honestly, what don’t they sell here? Leather and gimmick bags, hookahs, clothes, shoes, food–it’s a treasure trove. Don’t expect to haggle much here because the sellers are reluctant to negotiate (plus you could get a worse deal if you don’t understand how to compromise in French). Keep your purchases close but your valuables closer. Pick-pocketing happens here.
Yes, there’s the high-end fashion stores and clothing middle ground, but keep an eye out for the thrift stores. If you like rummaging through racks on racks and bins of assorted and second-or-third-hand scarves, bags and dresses, Free‘P’Star is the place to be. The company has three store locations within the Marais, and if you like playing in a jungle gym on clothing, this is the place for you. After forking through a falafel from the famous L’As Du Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers–the famed Jewish quarter–pop in right next door to Coiffeur, another thrift shop. Similar to Free‘P’Star but less hectic and smaller, find last, last season’s Lacoste throwaways and army greens. Fur lovers may find a mink or two, and the handbags come in strictly black.
You can try your persuasion skills at the other major flea market, Les Marchés Aux Puces de Vanves on the complete opposite end of Porte de Clignancourt. This area is more picturesque and Parisian-y with a smaller, more specific crowd. Early birds who attend this shop-fest (it’s only open until 1 p.m.) tend to hold friendly conversations with the sellers to try and reduce the price, and no one seems cheated. It’s actually quite pleasant. If you can muster the strength to wake up and catch the metro at 7 a.m., more power to you.
Kenny Thapoung can be reached at email@example.com.