Soldes: The Bon Plan of Attack

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I’ve been through four rounds of Parisian soldes. Which is enough to have helped me learn a helpful strategy or two, but few enough that I’m still willing to go to battle in the name of French fashion. The summer sales begin Wednesday, June 30, and run until Tuesday, August 3, 2010. Here are les bons pointers so you, too, can take home some serious shopping spoils.

Good neighborhoods. In case you’ve never experienced them, it has to be said: shopping the soldes can be hell. While French women normally inspire images of coiffed coolness, during the sales all rules go out the window. Competitive shoppers, crowded street corners and snarls from shopkeepers who are normally so sweet and accommodating—not to mention the occasional fashionista who isn’t afraid to throw an elbow to get that last pair of Repettos—are shockingly common. What’s a determined bargain hunter to do? Pick your territory wisely. Instead of venturing to popular destinations like St.-Germain and rue St.-Honoré, think small. Etienne Marcel, the Haut Marais and rue de Charonne in Bastille are a few welcome alternatives to highly trafficked shopping turfs.

Good stores. Sure, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are great for one-stop shopping, and during a sale at Zara you can fill your closet with the season’s best trends faster and cheaper than you can say les tendances. But resist. Opt for smaller shops, indie boutiques and vintage stores, all of which slash prices just as much as the department stores. What’s more, if you can spend a little time before the sales cultivating relationships with the proprietors, they might even squirrel something away for you.

Good prepping. Remember, Ladies: you are going to battle. Preparation is key to performance. Draft your wish list, plan your route and for god’s sake eat your breakfast (croissants from la Boulangerie Julien, anyone?)—you need your stamina, after all. Also wear the right shoes and undergarments: the former should be easy to slip on and off, the latter should be seamless, and both totally comfortable. You don’t want to be sidelined by anything as inconsequential as a blister or a wedgie.

Good attitude. You win some, and you lose some. Even if the shelves at Sandro are bare of floral frocks, or Agnès B. has been depleted of its mariner stripes, keep soldiering and keep smiling. You’re in Paris! Something utterly chic is waiting for you just around the corner.

Good luck. Or, as the Parisians say, bon courage. Enjoy the adventure. If the recent loosening of requirements for operating hours, and increased leniency toward promotions (unofficial minisales), are any indication, it might not be long before soldes are a thing of the past.

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