Italians are stylish. Florence is renowned for its leather. Milan is known as a major fashion capital of the world. Police uniforms are designed by Armani. Heck, Italy on a map looks like a high-heeled boot! In Pescara, I remember thinking my professors looked more like models with their black fitted clothing and stilettos than language lecturers.
Italians always try to look their best everyday. It's a necessity. This is a vital part of attempting to make a good impression on others. There's a popular Italian phrase: fare la bella figura, literally "making a good figure" or putting your best foot forward. Presenting oneself well conveys dignity. Italians go to work looking their best out of respect for not only themselves but their job as well.
From my observation, in their clothing choices, Italians are polished and show off the positive. They consider quality not quantity in shopping. A few classic pieces can morph into different outfits simply by changing a single clothing item or accessories. So, what are these precious few? An Italian friend of a friend told me that a woman must have an "Audrey Hepburn-style" black or navy sheath dress and a great pair of high heels. They consider this simple yet elegant and above all versatile for any occasion. She also recommends a two-piece suit that one can break up, i.e. wear the blazer with jeans for a glamorous yet "not to serious" look for the office. Jeans are just as ubiquitous there as they are here. Outerwear seems very important. She insisted women have both a trench coat and an overcoat (known as cappotto). Decked out down jackets are currently a trend, even with swarovski crystals. ...or this fur-trimmed one:
Speaking of details, my Italian fashion source confirms my personal observation of how important accessories are to transform simple clothing into a special look. The extras like a handbag, belt or jewelry make an outfit. Scarves are a way to complete an outfit and add color I've noticed. If you see me outside, I'll be wearing one most of the year. Accessories can be lots of fun; I'll have to make this more of a focus myself!
Italians will also wear clothing to highlight their best features. For example, fitted clothing that is tailored well reveals a slender figure or a low neckline flatters womanly curves. Body-hugging leggings with boots balanced by a bigger sweater is currently a trend.
How do you achieve an Italian look?
First, clear out your closet! American closets are much too full of unnecessary and worn out items. Like Niecy Nash says on the TV show Clean House, "Clutter is an outward expression of an inward thing." Cluttered closets may mirror cluttered minds. Only keep what you love, use and looks fabulous. Donate as much as you can of the rest to charity. Keep the simple basics as they are highly revered.
Another American pitfall is to be primarily concerned with comfort instead of beauty. Italians dress with elegance in mind. Keep clothing that shows off your best, most beautiful attributes, but keep it classic and dignified.
Next, invest in high quality basics, as high quality as you can afford. An item of high quality will last longer. Italian women know a basic staple will be versatile and used often. Italians also know that neutrals go with everything and seem to have a penchant for black in particular. I remember seeing all the bright colors in the United Colors of Benetton store in Pescara and thinking "do they really wear that?"
Lastly, accessorize to complete a look, especially with an outfit completer like a trench and an accessory like a pair of black sunglasses.
There are a few Italian wardrobe staples:
- sheath dress in a neutral
- two-piece suit
- cell phone
- large designer sunglasses
- high stiletto heels
- trench coat
The items Italians avoid are:
- flip-flops (Flip-flops are okay if you're at the beach or getting a pedicure. Only.)
- shorts (If you're dressed in a tank top and shorts, you may not be allowed to enter a church.)
A special grazie
to my Italian penpal B and her Italian friend
who studied fashion in Florence for contributing.