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When I meet visitors to Paris, they are often searching the city looking for a “bargain,” disappointed to not see any sale signs in the boutiques. This is because in France, by law, sales (soldes) are held only twice a year, once in January and again in July. The government decides when the sales will be held and announces the official dates soon before the sales start. The stores then flutter around getting ready and shopaholics (myself included!) wait with bated breath for the opening day of the sales. Sale prices start at about 25-30% off for the first few days, and grow bigger as the sales go on. By the end of the sales (6 weeks maximum), the reductions can be up to 75% off, but the merchandise is slim.
The plan of attack for the soldes depends on what you are looking for. If it is a one-of-a-kind item and you know it is going on sale, snatch it up on the first day, even if it is only 20% off, or it will be gone. However, if it is something that is all over town, wait a week and go back to purchase it at a more reduced rate. Essentially, it’s all about the gamble—and what you are willing to risk.
True shopaholics shop before the sales, to know the exact size and prices of the items they are interested in. Parlez-vous français? Then don’t hesitate to ask the vendeuses how much the reductions will be—you can even try asking some of the small boutiques to hold your favorites for you on the eve of the soldes. Also consider dressing in easy-to-take-off layers (like a dress with leggings), as dressing rooms are often packed, and you might need to slip something on in the aisles. And don’t forget to bring a friend to talk you out of the neon green platforms—even if they are 75% off!
As for returns, be sure to ask before you buy. Although by law shops are supposed to allow you to make an exchange, this policy is not always in practice. If you are not sure about an item, see if the shop will hold it for you for a short period of time while you make your decision.
French sales are not limited to just a few items or a few brands; instead, the entire outgoing collection is usually on sale. This means that this season’s hottest blouse, pant, shoe, and bag will probably all be on sale, if you still want them at the end of the season. Everything from electronics to shoes to linens and more goes on sale at the same time, so it is easy to get overwhelmed! If you are budget conscious, try to make a list before hitting the shops to keep from getting sidetracked by flashing signs beckoning you to a bargain you don’t need.
The soldes are a great time to pick up classic Parisian pieces that never go out of style, like Longchamp Le Pliage bags, a great-fitting trench coat, or some Repetto ballerina flats. Longing for a Hermès scarf? Keep your eye out for their sale announcement in Le Figaro or call the store to ask—the sale lasts only a few days and takes place at a special location.
The frenzy of French soldes can have you running around town and your credit card might never cool down, but it is a memorable experience. (By the way, don’t forget to bring multiple forms of payment in case one of your cards doesn’t work abroad.) If you happen to miss the sales, don’t worry. Most shops have in-store promotions year round that are almost sales, but not quite. As they cannot technically be called soldes outside of the official periods, these mini sales are often called promotions or fin de séries (“end of series”). Just keep your eye open for bargains, and you’ll find plenty of things to make you smile.
Rebecca Perry Magniant is the founder of Paris’s premier shopping service, Chic Shopping Paris, offering off-the-beaten path shopping tours in the City of Light. She is also the author of Chic Shopping Paris, [see below] a unique guide on the shopping treasures of Paris.
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