I get asked this question a lot. Especially since summers have been getting hotter each year in Paris, and fashion has evolved considerably since Covid. The short answer is: yes, of course you can! With a few exceptions. The longer answer is: it’s complicated!
In this article:
France is a free country, you can wear shorts in Paris anytime and anywhere, with a few exceptions where there are actual dress codes (more on that below). Now, just because you can wear shorts, does it mean you’re stylish? Does it mean you’ll fit in with the locals? Does it mean Parisians will shun you? Does it mean the pick-pockets will know you’re a tourist? It depends…
Because the reality isn’t as black and white as many people would like to believe. In Paris, what you wear isn’t as important as how you wear it, and, in many cases, who is wearing it. When my fabulously stylish friends (male or female) wear shorts, they look fabulous and stylish (if you think that could be you, read a Parisian fashion expert’s advice on how to wear shorts in Paris). But some people just won’t ever look “stylish”, no matter what they wear. When my dad wears shorts, he looks like an American tourist. (Sorry Dad!)
It’s not (just) the shorts. It’s YOU.
The truth is, no matter what he wears everyone will immediately know my dad is an American tourist. It’s not just the shorts (although they are usually a first indication), it’s the whole “look”, including your weight, height, hair color, the things you’re carrying, the way you carry yourself, the language you’re speaking (and how loud you speak it) that gives you away as a tourist. Even if you think you’re blending in, most Parisians can spot a tourist if they look closely enough. So don’t wear uncomfortable clothing just to avoid being pegged as a tourist. There are millions of you here; it’s not by default a bad thing to be a tourist.
“But isn’t it disrespectful to dress badly instead of trying to blend in with the locals?”
Again, it’s complicated. “Disrespect” implies malevolence. “Ignorance” is closer to the truth for those who simply weren’t aware of the dress code. So the logical answer to the question is, “Disrespectful to whom, exactly?” If you dressed inappropriately for a venue that has a dress code, then it’s up to the host to decide whether to be lenient or not. Expecting them to bend the rules is disrespectful. But there are rarely strict rules for how tourists have to dress when visiting Paris, with a few notable exceptions.
When You Should Avoid Shorts
There are indeed a few places that have dress codes. Religious institutions usually post signs at their entrance prohibiting hats, bare shoulders, short-shorts, and mini-skirts. Houses of worship in France are generally more conservative than their American counterparts, so keep that in mind especially if you want to attend the service, and not just visit.
It was once common for fine-dining restaurants and theatres to require a jacket and tie, however this has been seriously relaxed. The Jules Verne on the Eiffel Tower states they have a “smart casual” dress code, and prohibit “sportswear such as t-shirts, shorts, trainers etc.” The Bateaux Mouches dinner cruises on the Seine state on their website that “Guests will not be admitted on board wearing: sportswear, flipflops, bermuda shorts, baseball caps …”. The Moulin Rouge uses the subjective phrase “elegant attire” with the specification of “no shorts, no short-pants, no flipflops, no running shoes, no sportswear and no open shoes for Gentlemen.” and that you’ll need to remove your hat or cap. The Opéra de Paris also states that there is no particular dress code, “but proper attire is required” which once again usually means no sneakers, sports clothes, shorts or open-toed shoes on men. They’re more specific for gala evenings, where it’s suggested that “gentlemen wear a dark suit and ladies a dress.” When in doubt, ask when making your reservations.
If you’re trying to get into the hottest Parisian nightclub (or any nightlife venue with a doorman) and you’re not an A-list star with an entourage of supermodel friends, then don’t wear shorts or you’ll be left standing outside the velvet rope all night.
Otherwise, there aren’t specific dress codes for most venues tourists would visit in Paris, but there are some places that will “frown upon” shorts and you may feel uncomfortable if you’re the only one wearing them. This includes trendy restaurants in the more affluent neighborhoods (central and west Paris), particularly for dinner, where it’s always safer to make an effort to dress nicely (aim for “dress casual” meaning no shabby beach clothing or sportswear). If you are the guest of a Parisian (in their home or invited out to dinner or an event) by all means dress appropriately (and assume shorts are not appropriate unless you’re all under 30, attending a BBQ in the countryside, or a picnic where you’ll be sitting in the grass). You never want you or your host to be embarrassed, so ask if you’re not sure. If you are going luxury shopping, wear the kinds of things that would be sold in those stores if you don’t want to be ignored or dismissed as a gawker by the sales staff. If you’re wearing a pair of Gucci shorts in a Gucci shop, you’re probably okay (although I doubt people who buy their shorts at Gucci read blog posts titled “Can You Wear Shorts in Paris?”).
And if you’re a local, wearing shorts to the office in France is pretty much out of the question (unless your boss is wearing them or tells you it’s okay).
By the way, this discussion assumes we’re talking about any kind of shorts except running shorts, which will raise eyebrows everywhere unless you’re actually running/exercising. Even wearing them on public transport on your way to or home from running somewhere will get a lot of stares (or, in my case, refusal of service at Harry’s New York Bar after the #BostonStrong memorial run). Keep in mind stares aren’t necessarily disapproval, it just means they’re seeing something they don’t normally see (maybe in this case it depends on your legs, lol).
When You Can Wear What You Want
Even if you’re not a style icon or fashion model, there are many occasions when it’s still okay to wear shorts. If you’re just doing touristy things (museums, monuments, walking tours, souvenir shopping), eating in casual cafés and brasseries (especially for lunch), and only interacting with people in the tourist service industry, then wear what makes you comfortable, including shorts. Locals avoid touristy places, or assume everyone there will be dressed badly anyway, so one more tourist in a pair of shorts isn’t going to shock anyone.
If you ask a Parisian if they find it offensive, they might say yes (depending on their own style), but just because the idea bothers them doesn’t mean they’re going to actively go out of their way to make some random tourist feel bad. They’re much too busy caring about their own lives to really care about what you’re doing. So in theory a lot of them in the more stylish neighborhoods don’t like it, but in practice, they’re not paying attention to the tourists anyway (and remember: they always can tell you’re a tourist).
When No One Cares: Covid and Climate Change
I first wrote this article in 2016 and have updated it twice to keep up with the changing times. If you haven’t visited Paris since Covid, you will be surprised how it’s become more casual. Even upscale boutiques in St-Germain-des-Prés and Avenue Montaigne sell (rather expensive) sweatpants and sports sandals. And at least a quarter of the bicycling commuters I spotted on the Rue de Rivoli yesterday were wearing shorts, so it’s much harder to “stick out” as a tourist these days.
In 2020 I wrote, “With global warming, it’s inevitable Parisians in shorts are going to be more common (especially if it’s the only alternative to air-conditioning; hard to tell which the French hate more).” It seems this has come true, because we’re still in May and it hasn’t hit 25°C yet in Paris, and already I’m seeing tons of locals of all ages wearing shorts around town. Once the temperatures hit 90°F in Paris (or over 30°C), everyone is too hot to care what anyone else is wearing. As you might notice in these photos, many of the Parisians in shorts are men, simply because women have the option to wear skirts or dresses to keep cool.
All Parisian Neighborhoods are Not Equally “Stylish”
One thing that’s important to note is that Paris isn’t some sort of homogeneous fashion zone, despite what fashion magazines might have you believe. Just because ex-fashion model and aristocrat Ines de la Fressange is the poster child for affluent Parisian women of a certain age, doesn’t mean all Parisian women dress like her (or try to). Yes, there are areas of Paris where people generally dress up more, particularly in expensive shopping districts like St-Germain-des-Prés and around the Place Vendôme and the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré. But head into the outer and eastern Parisian arrondissements and you’ll see more sportswear and baseball caps than wrap dresses and dinner jackets. No one sticks out wearing shorts in Belleville, Canal St-Martin, Porte de Clignancourt, or the Butte aux Cailles.
Can We Put the “Ugly American” Stereotype to Bed Already?
Sometimes I find other Americans (often the expats living here) are much more openly judgmental — how rude! — to their fellow Americans than the Parisians. I helped out on the Paris episode of the ABC Primetime series “What Would You Do?” hosted by John Quinones, called “The Ugly Americans”. We couldn’t show it (because she refused to sign the waiver), but the only person that actually screamed rudely at the actors to “go home!” was another American woman at the next table (the producer paid for her meal).
Maybe it’s because while Parisians can just shrug off our behavior as “just another American tourist”, we Americans take it personally. As if Parisians will think less of all of us because of how our compatriots are dressed. I’ve never met a French person who didn’t like me simply because I was American. Generalizations are just that, and apply both ways. Most Parisians are intelligent enough to know that no one can represent an entire country…just ask what they think of other French tourists who visit Paris!
I think it’s admirable that many Americans take the time and effort to actually question what is respectful to the locals when traveling, and the Parisians appreciate it, too! Because as much as they love giving their opinions on etiquette, most would consider it too rude to actually correct someone else in public. Being patient and polite with stressed-out Parisians in the service industry (ie using bonjour and merci) is so more important than what you’re wearing. And in the end, those of you who are reading this are probably not the ones who actually need to be reading this. 😉
More Questions about What to Wear in Paris?
It’s hard to categorically state what you should and shouldn’t wear in such a diverse city like Paris. The answer is, inevitably, “it depends”. But I want to make sure I answer everyone’s questions and — most importantly — assuage your doubts and fears (especially if it’s your first time visiting Paris or you haven’t been here in a long time), so feel free to ask me anything on the topic in the comments below. There’s no such thing as a stupid question!
Why is it that we never see articles about other cities in the world with people asking what is appropriate to wear?
I’ve just begun reading this blog (having decided, about two years ago, that I really shouldn’t be spending my life reading so much about how to live my life). THIS sentence, however, makes it all worthwhile: “And in the end, those of you who are reading this are probably not the ones who actually need to be reading this.”
I’ll look forward to reading more on this site, and thank you.
I do wonder if, for the sake of the genuinely naive, you might add a note…..explaining that what might be acceptable in Paris (shorts-hemmed-above-the-knee on males over the age of ten, for example) simply won’t fly, so to speak, in many provincial villages/towns….and certainly not if you plan on entering a church or need to do business at the local Marie. It’s regarded as disrespectful……and, yes, I’ve witnessed grown-men being tongue-clucked out of churches by the inevitable old, village ladies.
I have seen such an evolution of what to wear in Paris to blend in. In my early 20s when I first went to Paris, we laughed and said we must have had a neon sign over our heads saying “tourist”. It was more what we wore, we were young and it was hot and we had on shorts and white sneakers. LOL. Years later when I started travelling to Paris more regularly, I wanted to blend in more. To “live like a local” as well as for safety reasons. I remember a time when you did not wear jeans in Paris, and definitely not running shoes. Then it became acceptable to be seen in jeans, but only if they were a dark wash. After 2010 I started to see locals wearing running shoes, or trainers, but only if they were stylish and dark in colour. Then wonder of wonders, when I went in 2016, I was met at my apartment by a lovely girl in startling white running shoes!
When I went back with my daughter in 2018 it was a stifling hot summer. I had started to see more women wearing shorts, but that year I was astounded to see men wearing them! That was a first. I guess they finally gave into the heat. We were in a Levis store and in the change room (unisex of course) there was a French man trying on shorts, and he was asking the person helping him (as he looked pensively in the mirror) if people were really wearing them in public. The clerk just laughed and pointed to the shorts he himself was wearing.
I wonder what I will see on my next visit?
On my most recent trip at the end of 2022, it seemed to me like people in Paris are now dressed pretty similarly to people in US city like New York or San Francisco.
I’m recovering from foot surgery and need to wear comfortable shoes. Will a summer dress with (probably black) sneakers be ok? Or backless comfort sandals (Teva, Oofos), or are they too close to flip flops?
Sneakers and even comfortable sandals are seen everywhere. Even Tevas. 😉
I think ‘it dépends’ is very apt. Pre – COVID, I visited Paris several times and aimed for looking a little more ‘put together’, maybe more like I was having lunch with friends. I often felt overdressed, certainly on the metro or in any but the most pricey areas of Paris. On my last trip in April, I sometimes wore what were technically athletic pants in a dark subdued print. They fit comfortably, but were not skin tight. I brought regular trousers for nice restaurants but when I didn’t have time to change, I arrived in my athletic pants. No one refused me service or seated me in a corner.
The first time we went to Paris in 2016, we were careful what we wore so we wouldn’t attract unwanted attention by the pick pockets. We didn’t have any problems in that area. We just dressed nicer than at home. If they knew we were tourists, they didn’t treat us differently. That was before he grew his beard. Our second visit in 2019, it was unseasonably warm in October, and Brian didn’t want to wear his long sleeves dress shirts. He was wearing Harley tshirts he bought in Paris. He also had a very long beard and hair down to his mid back. He wears fedora hats a lot. We haven’t had any problems except a couple times Brian was mistaken for a Jew because of his beard and hat, I guess. A Muslim guy on the street in Montmartre gave Brian some racial slur. In the an upscale fabric shops he got some strange looks. I always dressed nice and always received friendly customer service. I spoke French as much as possible, which probably helped. I’m not big on wearing shorts at home so I probably wouldn’t wear them in France.
“Of course! Parisians embrace diverse fashion choices, including shorts. Opt for stylish, tailored shorts and pair them with chic accessories to create a sophisticated and fashionable look in the City of Lights.”
Personally, I disagree. I think that especially now more than ever, Parisians and French (and Europeans in general) are opening their doors to the impacts of globalization. I live in Paris via NYC and sometimes I completely forget I'm in a new country (except for the speaking French and lack of taco trucks!). I can't go one hour on the streets without seeing someone wearing something that says "Brooklyn" or "USA" on it, and attitudes towards style are blending quite a lot. So yes, there is a typical "Parisian" way to dress (which I have seen include shorts), but it's also the case that if you dress any other way, no one will really care. What about Parisians that wear cultural attire? Are they less Parisian? Dress how you want; anyway. Because between your accent, your sense of humor or how loud you speak, the way you order your coffee or cross the street, you weren't going to fool anyone into thinking you're French anyway.
The woman at the next table who screamed "go home!" Probably did that because you all were being so noisy. But, to sort of excuse Americans loudness (especially in restaurants) they've been like that since the mid-1800s. Read David McCullough's "The Greater Journey" about Americans in Paris during that period.🙀
Who cares ! I am an American. Why try to BLEND in ? You WON"T . I speak fluent French . Once was in a restaurant in Paris @ 5pm….american eating time.the table near us was loud….6 people……..of course they became loud ! Waiter passed a remark to me about the loud Americans. I speak flueent French. Perhaps he thought I was German.Told waiter, they are Canadiens, I am American…oops!…red face …Basically dont try too be what you are not. Why should you ??????????????. Have some self respect, and especially, respect for your hosts !
It is abit odd to consider that the only common alternatives are US-American or Parisian French, in a city as cosmopolitan as Paris. The rudest person among those mentioned was not that idiotic woman, but the person who refused you service at a memorial event for Boston marathon victims and survivors. Similar massacres in Paris…
Thanks for the shorts update, Heather. This past month I stayed in Vincennes (north east side of Paris just out of the city) in an efficiency hotel while I searched for an apartment. I would walk in running shorts and tank top from the hotel a few blocks to Parc Floral where I would jog the beautiful pathways.. I did receive odd stares from men and women as I walked along the main street. However on the hottest days in Vincennes when I would wear white shorts, sandals and a floral t shirt, the looks were either appreciative or non existant. I guess the running shorts were just not fashionable enough. I did not wear shorts when I took the metro into Paris-a short skirt or a gauzy linen dress but not shorts. It just doesn't "feel" right