American shoppers in France will be able to breathe more easily this month, when governmentally mandated biannual sales come to help them forget that their currency is in the toilet. Discounts of 30% (and often more) will descend when les soldes open officially in Paris on January 7. These will deepen as the weeks progress, reaching 50% after a few weeks and finishing with 70% off just before the sales close on February 10.
There is, of course, a downside. Paris shops will be cramped and crazy during the first few days of the sale—a nightmare to all but the most battle-hardened shoppers. Those who take spending seriously have scouted their items in advance. Indeed, nights just before the sales are among the busiest of the year. Shoppers try on items, make notes, and hide their hopes at the back of the rack. They arrive on opening day promptly at 8 am, grab their stuff, and race to the register. By noon most shops have been thoroughly picked over, and experienced veterans all long gone.
I've done my share of shopping recon over the years. I've tried on dresses in three sizes so that I could make a quick decision if some other hussy snagged my ideal. I've hidden shirts beneath shirts at the back of the rack. I've placed purses on the high shelf, out of reach for the average parisienne. It's sordid and exhausting and all part of the fun. Or at least it was. I recently learned that the discounts also apply at shops that sell products online. So I may be doing les soldes this year at home in my pajamas, leaving more elbow room for you.
If you're planning to be in Paris during the sales, there's a new city-sponsored gimmick to help empty out your wallet. To hype the sales, the Office of Tourism has prepared The Shopping Book—a slick promotional guide with hundreds of good addresses. Stores are sifted into sections like classique and bobo-chic, and the shopping info is complemented with practical info and restaurant recommendations. One of the most valuable sections is hidden away: In the back is a list of designer discount stores and outlets. You can download a copy of the free bilingual guide here, or pick it up in glossy form at one of the city's welcome centers. The guide is also handy outside of sale season, simply because it maps those areas with a concentration of interesting shops.