The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yes, it’s that wonderful time of year again in Paris.

No, not Christmas, Bastille Day or even the holiday-packed month of May. The annual winter sales are here, bringing fabulous bargains on lust-worthy items coveted since September.


Sales (“les soldes“) happen in France twice a year. Winter sales run mid-Jan to mid-Feb and summer sales, mid-June to mid-July. Of course, any Parisienne worth her Repetto ballet flats will tell you that the real sale shopping starts a week or so before the government-mandated sales in a privileged world called “les ventes privees.” These would be the invitation-only pre-sale sales for in-the-know shoppers willing to sacrifice an additional ten percent reduction for the assurance of finding a coveted item in her size. 

Missed les ventes privees? Then know this: Once the official sales begin, all bets (and rules of decorum) are off. It’s chien-eat-chien in the race for the best items which, inevitably, are snatched up quick.

Depending on where you go, the shopping scene varies but the bottom line is the same: A Parisienne during the sales is a woman on a mission. She is meticulous, ruthless and willing stop at nothing to score that Vanessa Bruno coat at 40% off or that velvet Jacadi dress in a tiny size 3.

From the bourgeois ladies who strain for restraint while elbowing through the racks at Le Bon Marche to the outright madness of H&M, prepare to push, sort and stand in line if you’re going to succeed at the sales.

So what’s a wannabe savvy shopper to do? Create a plan of attack that goes something like this:

Phase One: Research – In the weeks leading up to the sales, determine which items will go on the “must buy” list. French women are not impulse shoppers. They hunt for and purchase classic pieces that will complement their current wardrobes. Thus, hasty grabs from the mosh pit, er, sale bin, are to be avoided through meticulous research and planning.

Phase Two: The Set Aside – On the eve of the sales, ask a sales clerk to set your coveted items aside. She’ll agree to do this not because it guarantees her sales commission (there is none) but because it makes her feel important. The next day, while others are scrambling for that last pair of Isabel Marrant bottines in a 37, you’re handing over your debit card, ready to head next door for un petit cafe. If the advance set-aside fails, dress for success by wearing items that can be quickly shed for that hasty outside-the-dressing room try-on. Do not be shocked if other shoppers are seen stripping in public in order to avoid the queue for the dressing rooms.

Phase Three: Prioritize – Once the sought-after purchases are made and the first frenzied sale week has passed, allow yourself one or two trendy, impulse buys. These items are now a healthy 50 (or even 60) percent off, so that sequined tank or leather mini-sac is no longer a reckless splurge.

                                            (I seriously love this jacket. Buy now are wait until it hits 60% off…?)

Phase Four: Preen – Fab clothing and accessories secured, now is the time to show ’em off. Subtly incorporate sale finds in to your everyday look, being cautious not to wear head-to-toe sale buys. Like sporting an entire ensemble from one designer, a complete outfit scored at the sales is, well, pas tres chic.

So, good luck! And remember, unless you’re groveling in the Zara sale bin, subtlety, sharp elbows and self-control are still your best accessories.

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