by Daniel Penny


Ahead of a trip to Paris, I splurged on a new suit. My wife and I were headed to France for two weeks in celebration of my new godson. There was going to be a fancy party for one side of the family and a more casual fete for the other. I firmly believe in traveling with only a carry-on bag, so whatever I bought needed to be as flexible as possible. The answer to my conundrum came in an unexpected form: a lightweight cotton suit in taupe–not quite brown, not quite gray–a chameleonic color of surprising versatility. Below are some excerpts from my taupe-themed travel diary.

Day 1: We arrive in Paris early in the morning. The flight was freezing, and I wish I’d worn my new suit, if only for the extra layer. We make our way to an apartment in the Marais and unpack. That night we’re grabbing dinner with some relatives, so I bust out the jacket to wear as a blazer. It looks a little wrinkled, so I hang it in the locker-sized bathroom while I take a shower, and voila! Good as new.

Day 3: The first party is being held at a townhouse in the 16th. Damn. Since I’ll be ceremonially washing my godson’s feet in front of a bunch of swanky French strangers, I opt for the full suit tonight, paired with a Post-Imperial shirt, and some slightly beat white bucks. Champagne by the boatload and a dozen relatives with the Gaullic equivalent of nicknames like Muffy, Biff, and Chip. I do my best to smile and keep them all straight. Bon Soir!

Day 5: We take the train from Paris to a little village called Soup-Chateau-Landon, where we’ll be partying in this baby’s honor with the other side of the family in a rustic little farmhouse and barn. It’s actually kind of chilly today, so I wear the taupe pants with a white linen shirt and a jean jacket. The party is held outside, and the baby’s great-uncle leads a jazz band in a smooth rendition of “A Foggy Day (In London Town).” Wine, cheese, and a lot of bizzous past midnight.

Day 8: Not much use for a taupe suit at a farmhouse, but for the train ride back to Paris and then on to Bordeaux, I decide to wear it paired with a navy polo–if only to minimize wrinkles from schlepping it in my duffle. Between trains, we kill some time with an aperitif at Le Train Bleu, an art-nouveau restaurant in Gare de Lyon. It makes the Oyster Bar in Grand Central look like an oyster shack, so I’m glad I dressed for the occasion. I have never traveled while wearing a suit before, and am amazed by how much better waiters treat me (even in France!).

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Day 10: We wake up in Cap Ferret, which is a beach town on the Atlantic coast. Most of our time is spent in bathing suits, but on the last day, we head to a vineyard for some mind-blowing wine: Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte. The dusty color of my jacket goes with the setting perfectly, but even the lightest material is no match for the Bordelaise sun. I just wear the pants; luckily, my waistband has been accommodating my diet admirably. After a few glasses of delicious reds, we head back to Bordeaux for a return trip to Paris, and a few final days in Batignolles.

Day 11-13: When we arrived in Paris, the first heat wave of the summer had just ended, but now the second one comes wafting into the city. It’s a dry heat, but by midday, we’re over 35C. There’s no AC in the trains, or even in some of the museums, so with some regret, I realize that I must throw in the towel, or at least, hang up the suit. It’s earned a break as the hardest working outfit of my vacation.