January in Paris means two things: les soldes and galettes des Rois.
Once the flaky, buttery galettes are eaten and the fèves found, the city residents hit the stores for the bi-annual shopping event, where sales buckets and bins and racks fill every store. And I mean every store.
And I, in desperate need of new socks to protect me from the now-frigid Paris weather, had no choice but to brave the crowds. The soldes were in the middle of happening the first time I arrived in Paris, but I was too jetlagged to profit from it — loosely speaking.
The best places to take advantage of the soldes are stores that are notoriously more expensive, especially as the month goes on. This is not the time to waste away your days at H&M or any other store selling clothes that will fall apart in the wash. This is the time of year to treat yo self — at les grands magasins on scarves or newly marked down bakeware at BHV. You can buy a 5€ shirt at H&M any time of year, but les soldes are only here for four weeks at a time. (This is when the word profiter really comes in handy.) The soldes begin low, with items 25-30-40 percent off, and week by week these percentages increase to void the stores of their extra merchandise.
And let me tell you something: it is an absolute zoo. Imagine if Black Friday continued for a month and the deals progressively got better and better — voilà, les soldes.
People everywhere. Pushing. Unfolding. Moving through narrow aisles with wide strollers; arms filled with bags of merchandise already purchased. The warm air (which upon arrival feels like a blessing yet quickly becomes a source of much stress) mixes with perfume both being sold and worn to create a spectacular combination of a headache and nausea.
And all I needed was socks.
I thankfully realized prior to the soldes that the perfect place for refuge and solitude is the roof of Galleries Lafayette itself, where the view is nice and the crowd much thinner. Being up there is incredibly relaxing, and I spent many days last semester sitting in the awkward, giant plastic chairs reminding myself that I lived in Paris and not the inside of the metro.
The cold air offers an escape from the noise and chaos so characteristic of les soldes, from the sales-MC offering flash sales that will only last half an hour. As soon as this is announced, the crowds thicken and the lines for les cabines — the dressing rooms — only get longer and longer.
My advice? Plan strategically and pack lightly. The crowds are ruthless. And if you see something that you like but don’t have to have, wait for more démarques (markdowns) and pray that your item lasts until then. (So far, I’ve gotten three pairs of warm socks, two notebooks and a notepad for 35€, all 60 percent off.)
Thankfully, I know many a boulangerie ready with a nice galette to hold you over until the final démarques, or perhaps to comfort you after the first. You’ll probably need it. ♦
Do you have any other tips for surviving les soldes? Please share!