Eloisa's Travels

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Paris on Pennies

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Paris is far more than a shopaholic’s dream: the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa await you, not to mention the architecture, parks, food…. But the idea of coming home without some sort of French frippery is heartbreaking. So, without further ado, here’s how to shop in Paris for under $200.

Most important is decide whether you rather come home with one wonderful object—a fabulous pair of shoes, a delicately pleated bra, a chic pencil skirt—or a plethora of lovely small things? Are you able to hold onto your credit card until you find the perfect thing…and will you be happy thereafter? Or do you need to browse Paris the way the sparrow does crumbs, looking here and there?

If you chose the first door, figure out exactly how much you can spend, taking in account the exchange rate. I have two suggestions: one is Galleries Lafayette, a huge, glamorous department store (the dome is gorgeous and worth seeing just for itself). Plus, you can find a discount coupon in any standard Paris tourist map. Your perfect object doesn’t have to have a known designer name attached: it’s better to find a perfect pencil skirt in shocking chartreuse, designed by an up-and-coming Frenchwoman, than something you could buy in the Saks on-line. My second suggestion is that you head for rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, home to most fabulous fashion houses of Paris. While most stores are outrageously priced (but great for window-shopping), at #334 you’ll find Maroquinerie Saint-Honoré/B. Biberon & Fils, which offers loads of bags in every shape and color, very reasonably priced. I bought a hot pink bag that converts to a backpack, and I haven’t seen anything like it in the U.S.

Now if you’d classify yourself as a magpie, and you want to come home with a little collection of cool French things, I’m sending you three places. First of all, find a big Monoprix. Monoprix is like Target. The clothes can be really terrific and are sold at rock bottom prices. Don’t overlook the cosmetics: I’ve found cucumber-scented lotion that smells better than La Mer. Second, venture into the pharmacies. French pharmacies carry brands of shampoo and body lotions that we don’t see in the US. One can often find beautifully wrapped bars of soap that make perfect gifts. Finally, go to the department store BHV (52, rue de Rivoli): it’s the Macy’s of Paris and well worth exploring. Plus, they have a somewhat utilitarian but very reasonably priced cafeteria where retired people happily eat their lunches. Rue de Rivoli, which leads to BHV, has great cheap shoe stores, mostly Italian—my daughter bought some amazing purple flats for ten euros.

Here’s my biggest piece of advice: Don’t buy anything shaped like the Eiffel Tower. And remember—this is important—that it’s the experience that counts. Shopping in Paris can be an exuberant afternoon that you never forget…but not if you’re so focused on buying stuff that you don’t sit in a café and just watch the world walk by.

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