By Bénédicte Mahé

La Parisienne, by Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

Dear readers, if you are here, visiting A Woman’s Paris again, it means you like (dare I say “love?”) France. You must know, then, of a very particular French tradition: our biannual sales. “Are you kidding me?” I can already hear you respond. “Sales? We have sales in [insert your country here] too!”  Well. Well, well, well. Of course you do. But right now, you may not grasp just how much these sales mean to us.

I will begin by telling you how heartbreaking it is for me to write this article. Why? Because je n’ai pas pu faire les soldes cet été! I was not able to hit the summer sales. Indeed, I moved to a new place, (the coziest little studio ever) so I had a lot of expenses. Since I am still an intern, and therefore the concept of il n’y a pas de petites économies is my motto, (there is no such thing as a “little” saving) I had to choose between being unreasonable (shopping for clothes and shoes) and being reasonable (shopping for useful things and paying my deposit). Tough life. So traumatic.

Anyway, sales in France are regulated by the government to allow fair competition between businesses. Since August 2008, each business is allowed a run of five consecutive weeks for the summer sales as well as for the winter sales (generally the “now” collection). Businesses also are allowed to implement a 2-week “free-sale” during the year and can destock its surplus all year-round. Five weeks is a long time, allowing merchandise to be almost cleared. Winter sales are generally from the beginning of January through mid-February and the summer sales mid-June until the end of July. Always so much excitement!

These sales are highly anticipated. A few years ago, stores spread out their markdowns throughout the five weeks: the first was around 20%, two weeks later 40%, then 10 days later around 50% (up to 70%). But now, the second markdown happens right away in the second week of the sale, and some stores start their first week off already at 50%. You can imagine how the sales are awaited and what a phenomena it is: think a two-week Black Friday (well, maybe not that intense because we do not open at midnight)! Some stores even offer their best clients a chance to enjoy the sales one week early.

Let me tell you that I can be very patient if I really want a certain outfit or item. I can also be very persistent and go to five stores if I want something. Four years ago, I was in love with a handbag that went on sale because the color was a “one-season color.” Sadly, the one they had in Rennes got sold the first day of the summer sales. I took advantage of a weekend in Paris to search for it. None of the 24 locations had it anymore! They even called a store in Nice but the last one was reserved. I was already thinking that my bad luck was just proof that, for the handbag and me, it was just not meant to be. But a week later when I was in London with a friend, by coincidence (I swear), we passed by the boutique of this brand. And there it was. On display. On sale. Tears of joy.

Now, I window-shop between the biannual sales and buy during the sales. It just does not feel right to buy a 120€-dress when you see it on clearance for 60€. I am like, “if they can sell it for 60€, it surely was even less to have it made, so why pay the normal price?” Plus, I do not need to be dressed in the fashion of the season anymore. I do not mind going to outlet stores and buying a piece of clothing from the last season if I like it.

There are several ways to faire les soldes in France. You can wait for a particular item to be on sale and buy it immediately, the first week of sales. Or you can get inspired by a piece of clothing while strolling among shops, then try to make a whole outfit from this one piece. It is very nice (if you do not need anything particular and have money to spend) to look at the clothes on clearance and suddenly your eye catches the item. For this experience I would advise you to go shopping in les grands magasins (Le Bon Marché, Printemps, Galeries Lafayette). They have everything (meaning, you will always find something you like). In reality, les grands magasins are the death of me (well, of my bank account) but it is so tempting.

Now, I am not a shopaholic (ahem) except maybe when I am in the US. Seriously, we used to joke with my American family and friends that I was one of the main reasons why the American economy recovered (this is my excuse now whenever I am shopping: “I’m helping my/your national economy”— trust me, it is the best guilt-free argument). The fact that the dollar is weaker than the Euro and that you have permanent sales and outlets is my personal bliss. And I do love to shop all over the world. If I visit a new country (or city outside France) I go right into the “where to shop” section of all travel guides. I am a lost cause, but shopping is a passion.

Bénédicte Mahé photo - cropped DuplicateBénédicte Mahé has studied abroad many times, speaks four languages (French, English, German and Italian), and earned a Master of Management of cultural goods and activities, as well as a Master’s degree in intercultural communications and cooperation. She wishes to work in philanthropy for cultural institutions or non-profit organizations. Among her interests are drinking tea, cooking (with or without success), reading, watching TV shows, and—of course—shopping. She started her blog Tribulations Bretonnes in 2010 and has been updating it (more or less regularly) since then.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, French Lingerie: Mysterious and flirty, by Barbara Redmond who shares her experience searching for the perfect lingerie in Paris boutiques and her “fitting” with the shop keeper, Madame, in a curtained room stripped to bare at Sabbia Rosa. Including a French to English vocabulary lesson for buying lingerie and a directory of Barbara’s favorite lingerie shops in Paris. (French)

Shopping? Palais Royal, Paris, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who takes us on a virtual stroll through the Palais Royal, this quiet garden in the middle of the city surrounded by arcades in which are some delightful boutiques and one of Paris’ oldest restaurants, Le Grand Véfour. With a pause for a story about Charlotte Corday and Jean-Paul Marat and a scene-of-the-crime that is straight from grand opera.

Paris Sales: Chic. Chèque? Choc! by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who encourages us to enjoy Paris fashion in a more relaxed atmosphere than the high-powered name-brand boutiques and enormous department stores. With a nod to the empress of secondhand sales, Empress Eugénie, a woman who seldom wore that same thing twice, who sold off her used clothes once a year. The clothes—dresses, shawls, hats, and crinolines, even underclothes—were displayed for sale in a large room in the basement of the Tuileries.

Imperfect Perfection: The new French woman, by American writer Kristin Wood who reminds us of the words attributed to Henry David Thoreau, the famous American author and philosopher who eschewed material excess and extravagance… “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Kristin writes about the predicted trends of the “undone” makeup look, and the “de-blinging” of luxury items. What better place to introduce these two trends on a grand scale than Paris?

Beauty Confessions from a Globe-trotting Parisienne. Parisienne Bénédicte Mahé shares a French woman’s approach to beauty and makeup; and how the relationship Americans have with beauty is very different from that of the French. Including her list of Beauty Resources in Paris and a vocabulary of French to English translations. (French)

Ballet Flats in Paris: And God made Repetto, by Barbara Redmond who shares what she got from a pair of flats purchased in a ballet store in Paris; a feline, natural style from the toes up, a simple pair of shoes that transformed her whole look. Including the vimeos “Pas de Deux Coda,” by Opening Ceremony and “Repetto,” by Repetto, Paris. (French)

Text copyright ©2012 Bénédicte Mahé. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
barbara@awomansparis.com