First-time visitors to the French capital often fret about what to wear on a night out, whether they're off to an upscale restaurant or popular nightclub. Thinking Paris to be uncompromisingly chic and fashionable, many people assume that you can't show up to most nightlife spots around the city wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but this is often untrue.
On the flip-side, some unfortunate tourists show up to more selective restaurants or nightclubs sporting carefully ironed business-casual garb, only to be turned away at the door by a scoffing bouncer, or crisply told there are no more tables available-- when you can see a couple of nice, empty ones right in front of you. That's a situation straight out of a sitcom (and one you definitely want to avoid).
Read on to find more about typical dress codes (or the lack thereof) in bars, restaurants, and clubs around the city. We also offer plenty of tips on how to make sure you're wearing appropriate attire, wherever you may elect to roam after dark.
Restaurants and Bars
At the vast majority of restaurants and bars in the French capital, sticking with business casual attire-- anything from a simple dress and blazer or jacket, skirt or slacks or even nicely ironed, clean-cut jeans and a shirt/top-- is absolutely fine. Particularly in street-side traditional bars and brasseries that lack a bouncer, there's really no dress code enforced at all aside from "shirts required". Locals are often more casual than you think: while they do tend, on average, to be fairly stylish and well-put together, it's not at all unusual to spot locals wearing jeans, laid-back jackets, and converse for a night of casual drinks with friends or dinner at the neighborhood bistro.
This, of course, betrays typical stereotypes about Parisians as automatic fashionistas.
Nevertheless, we still recommend not showing up to even a casual-looking bar or restaurant wearing a hole-eaten tee and jeans, unless you think you can really pull off a Vivienne Westwood/neo-punk sort of look without looking sloppy and unkempt. We also counsel against wearing sneakers and baggy, sloppy attire if you want to blend in-- and not immediately be identified as a tourist.
Hats and baseball caps are frowned on in many corners, but in a casual neighborhood bar or brasserie playing live sports games, they shouldn't raise any eyebrows. You should generally remove all hats and caps when eating in a restaurant, though-- even one that appears fairly casual and/or is frequented by hat-donning hipsters.
When Is Formal Attire in Order at Restaurants and Bars?
If you're planning to eat out or enjoy cocktails in a pricier, more exclusive restaurant or cocktail bar in Paris, it's generally safest to avoid jeans (even the nicest ones) and other more casual wear, just in case. Some places enforce tacit dress codes, meaning that their websites don't explicitly mention them-- but you may be told no space is available if you try to get a spot and aren't dressed to the desired standards.
If you make a reservation at a restaurant or selective bar, it might be a good idea to call ahead to ask whether any specific attire is required. After all, even if you're let in and led to your table, you may feel out of place and awkward if you're wearing an old pair of jeans and the rest of the patrons are dressed to the nines.
The bottom line for fancier restaurants and more exclusive bars such as The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, or any bar that requires a reservation? Opt for semi-formal to formal attire: that means a dress, skirt, or well-ironed slacks, a nice shirt or top, jacket, and more formal footwear.
Women shouldn't feel obliged to wear heels and men aren't generally expected to sport ties, even in fancier restaurants-- a shirt and jacket are generally fine. Again, however, it's recommended that you check ahead about dress codes in pricier restaurants and bars, just to be certain.
Finally, if you've booked a formal dinner cruise on the Seine (one of the top 10 attractions we recommend on a first visit to Paris) make sure to observe the rules described above for pricier restaurants. Most of these require semiformal to formal dress for both men and women.
The Club Scene: How to Avoid Surly Bouncers
Whether you're planning a night out with friends at an exclusive club known for its celebrity sightings and fashionistas (think David Lynch's Silencio Club) or hitting a salsa bar for a night of convivial dancing and tapas, clubs can be a bit tricky in terms of knowing what to wear.
They really do operate on a case-by-case basis: some of the trendiest nightclubs allow jeans and more casual attire, but the bouncers will often arbitrarily decide whether to let you in depending on whether those jeans are put together with other pieces in a way that looks "classy" enough. So you don't want to take any risks.
The best approach, then? If you're going clubbing and there's known to be a bouncer at the door, step it up. Eschew the jeans and tees and sneakers (even trendier ones) for more formal wear.
What about heels? Some clubs are notoriously sexist and expect women to wear heels, so for those women who prefer to sport less agonizing footwear, they can sometimes meet with unpleasant treatment from bouncers, unfortunately. I wish we could report otherwise, but Paris is still a place where chauvinism is alive and well in certain corners, and some establishments in the capital enforce dress codes that would be decried as downright sexist in other places.
Cabarets, Theatre, Opera, & Shows: What to Wear?
Finally, if you're set for an evening at a traditional cabaret show, the Philharmonic, the theatre, or the opera, some basic advice applies. It's generally best to avoid sporting casual wear, especially at the opera, the Paris Philharmonic, and the theatre. These sorts of venues generally require formal attire: a dress or skirt and blouse for women, shirt, slacks and jacket for men (again, ties are often considered optional in France for men's formal attire). Women can wear flats, but they should be nice and properly maintained (i.e. not scuffed and worn looking).
Cabarets like the Moulin Rouge are generally a bit more flexible with dress codes because they attract so many tourists. Nevertheless, if you plan to attend an evening show, more formal wear is still recommended. As always, if in doubt check with the venue.