To add to my dilemma, Paris is a style-conscious city. Even when the weather is frightful, Parisians, male and female, have that intimidating ability to appear perfectly pulled together without a hint of any particular effort on their part. I want to do that, too.
Not to pat myself on the back, but on my last trip several natives, including the snooty Air France flight attendant, mistook me for French. Considering these folks can spot an American from a mile away, I consider this my greatest fashion achievement ever -- as well as a huge compliment.
Here's how I pulled it off.
Parisiennes base their wardrobes around neutrals, especially black. I follow their lead and pack a core wardrobe of black essentials -- coat or jacket, slacks, skirt, sweaters -- and throw in a pair of dark wash jeans, a white T or classic white shirt, and a twinset and a couple of tops in jewel tones.
To fake an air of French chic, and to personalize my look, I pack a few pieces of "statement" costume jewelry and some scarves. It's no cliche -- Parisiennes love their scarves and perform fabulous feats with them. I always pick up a few new scarf tricks (and new scarves) when I'm there.
As for footwear, you really only need two sets: a pair of black low-heeled boots and some ballet flats with thick, flexible, cushioned soles for walking on all those cobblestones. My big slouchy black purse is all the rage in Paris and can double as a carry-on. Belted sweaters are popular right now so I'll add a wide black leather belt.
Since it's winter, I'll throw in a crushable hat, some warm socks, black tights, light-weight silk thermal undergarments, my cashmere-lined leather gloves, and an umbrella.
There you have it. All packed and ready to go. A week's worth of go anywhere clothes that won't show dirt or wrinkles and that will still leave room in my suitcase for lots of new purchases.
For more information about what to wear, Paris Escapes provides a reliable seasonal barometer of current fashion as well as age- and gender-specific fashion and grooming tips.