Dress Like the Italians Do!

I don’t pretend to be a fashonista chick that is up on all of the latest and seasonal trends in the world of alta moda; however my time spent in Milan has slowly whipped me into vesting shape. An American girl that grew up in a swimming pool, painted her way through college, and preferred on many occasions to wear a comfy pair of paint-spotted sweats had surely a lot of guts to move to Milan, or to Italy for that matter. Although fundamentally I consider myself to be far removed from the “fashion makeover” category, I will admit that I had become rather lax with my look and with the essential understanding of what it means to dress well.

Italia prizes beauty, wellness, and above all, the “bella figura”. The expression “fare una bella figura” means to “make a good impression” or to present oneself with the utmost taste and propriety on every occasion, or in other words, your reputation projected by both physical presentation and comportment. This short phrase succeeds in capturing a wide range of social customs and behaviors, while it primarily explains the Italian’s deep-rooted affinity and dedication to being in vogue.

The sidewalks become runways as they flaunt their passion for personal style and that innate flare for the ensemble. One passaggiata down the main street of any Italian city will give you the perfect definition of what it means to be truly Italian: refined, studied, tailored, and simply classic. Although numerous styles may be scatted along Italy’s streets, the traditional Italian “look” is everlasting and unmistakable like Chanel n5, the Rosso (red) of Valentino, or an aged DOC bottle of Italian wine. The impeccable mixture of occasion, creativity, practicality, trendiness, and personality is paramount in displaying your individuality on a day-to-day basis.

Dress to the nines. I first realized that I was losing touch with my old ways when I dressed in a sundress to attend a baseball game in America. I don’t think my sisters laughed so hard all summer because my outfit was absolutely absurd for the occasion. One notable difference between America and Italy is that our general definitions of casual and formal tend to contrast greatly. For instance, I normally wear what we consider dressy-casual attire on a day-to-day basis in Milan, always making sure to throw a pair of sunglasses and a scarf in my purse for good measure. When in America, I don’t hesitate to put on my college T-shirt to shop and run errands. An Italian has an outfit for every occasion, whether that is for a light aperitivo, a dinner invitation, a night at the discothèque (discoteca), a shopping spree, or simply a meandering stroll to center-city. To dress correctly, we must always be aware of our company and destinations.

Quality above quantity: Especially when compared to my own culture of fast convenience and discount stores, Italians have a deep-seeded reverence and acknowledgement of quality materials and products. Extending in all sectors of consumerism, this conviction is especially pertinent when considering Italy’s renowned fashion houses of luxury items of design. Strong traditions of artisan workmanship, textile manufacturing, and sartorial expertise hailing from all regions of the boot, solidify Italy’s appreciation of know-how or “saper fare” and time-tested processes that ensure quality and endurance. For example Italy’s famous leather markets make items such as boots, jackets, and purses a sure bet even if you don’t understand the particularities of leather treatments or workmanship. By purchasing the goods of higher intrinsic quality, one should always be sure to hold his or her side of the bargain by taking good care of the product.

Although the prices of companies such Forever 21, H&M, or even some items from Express or the Gap are appealing to a young teacher-artist expatriate, I have also noticed that these clothes have a short closet-life, quick deterioration, and I end up not receiving the value for my investment. The Italian way has slowly seeped into my brain, and through experience, I have found that it is more profitable to buy two sweaters from Benetton, NaraCamicie, Max & Co than six from a store like H&M. Obviously a Prada or Gucci is out of the question, but looking never hurts! Cough, rich boyfriend, anyone? Despite what brand you choose, on a tight budget such as my own, the most important aspect is to find clothing and accessories that seem well-made, fit in your wardrobe, and look nice on your body. The old adage rings true, “less is more” when considering quality.

Dress like an onion: Dressing in layers, like an onion, is a saying that many Milanese use to describe the nature of their dress, especially considering the extreme humid conditions of the area throughout the year. Coming from the dry cold temperatures of Northeastern USA and spoiled by the luxury of hopping in my heated car made me lose touch with the idea of dressing for the season. After a few harsh sicknesses last year, I soon learned that vesting in many peelable layers was the key to success and a new personal style.

Shopping tips: Shopping is an area of catastrophic weakness for me, and I usually have to pay for accompaniment. I enter a store like a deer in headlights, and it is usual that I descend into a dark personal crisis when I am confronted with a space full of things! In the past, this was complicated by the fact that I was never fully aware of where to start or what I needed to build upon. Moreover, my natural artistic tendency towards pretty things and their textures took me on a distracted and prolonged voyage of a fruitless and frustrating bad decisions and non-ventures. I was attracted by unique shirts and outfits that were lovely in my eyes but essentially too individual without matching anything in my “collection”. What have I learned? Although I can’t help my nature, I have found inspiration from the Italian way that is worth sharing:

1. Composition is a key word, and Italian style has taught me to appreciate the many different pieces that can come together in order create an overall “design.” Never undermine pieces that might be simple or seemingly inane. For instance, I have always been prejudice towards socks and stockings because I always considered them as an inferior element in my dress. On the contrare, my friend, the stockings and “calzini” in Italy function in a primary role of unifying or accenting a “composition.” Don’t hate on socks!

2. Rediscovering your possessions is key, and I recommend a personal fashion show to imagine the items in new and different contexts.

3. The cohesive closet of well-maintained outfits will make it easier for you to be a more intelligent shopper, and don’t be afraid of simple additions that can tie all of your random purchases together! Not everything can accent!

4. Buy at least one pair of awesome boots that you can match well with many outfits. Once you got the boots folks, there is no turning back!

5. Scarves can become addicting, as I testify from experience, but try to choose these babies based on your general clothing colors and jackets.

6. Every woman needs a hat—its cute, fun, and it serves the amazing function of maintaining your body temperature. I tend to love throw-backs that recall classic romantic movies.

7. Given the fact that sales are barely offered here and returns are impossible, I have become a more decisive shopper, which was a hard lesson for someone who likes to “buy all five and decide at home!” However, it is good training!

In the end, it is not only what we wear that counts, but in this country, it is how you wear it. Without much expense, name brands or not, rock out what you like and show off your personality! Whether or not you claim to be a fashion disaster like myself, dress as the Italians do and you’ll begin to rediscover new possibilities!


Why do most Italians ride scooters?

Italian fact of the day:

Why do most Italians ride scooters?

1. Their cities and the country in general are more crowded–parking is always a hassle and traffic is a complete mess, especially in big cities like Milan. It is more convenient to have a small motor-bike that can weave in and out of the cars and find parking in small spaces. Besides traffic conditions, cities like Milan require a hefty price for using your car in the city center due to the high congestion and air quality problems.

2. Considering the fact that many roads in Italian cities, especially those in smaller towns, can be very small, narrow, and/or steep depending on the terrain. These areas have amassed their topography over uncountable centuries, and their roads tend to be more convoluted and tangled, intersecting, weaving, and bumped into piazzas. Of course I am not discounting city-planning in the least, but these urban schemes tend to chart the path of human activity and community interaction. Have you ever seen a map of Milan? It looks like a spider web in that there are larger circles, called le circonvallazioni, that ring the traffic in, out and around the city. Scooters are conducive for any road type or route.

3. They are not allowed to get their drivers license until they are 18 years old. However, they are permitted to drive motor-scooters at the age of 14. Therefore, teenagers are raised on two wheels before they earn their right of passage.

4. It is simply soooo much fun to ride a scooter around the city, zipping by monuments and feeling the air rush against you! I love watching people of ever age hop onto their motorini! From teenagers: dressed in the latest fashion, with their high top shoes and conformist brands, styled hair-dos under helmets, flying to their next encounter—to the working class: women flipping their hair and pressing the gas with high heels, men with flying suit tails flapping in the breeze weaving through morning traffic, picking up their children after school and securing them in the bike—to the older people: still hanging in with the high blood-pressure traffic maneuvers and ready as every to make absurd high-flying gestures at the crazy driving comportment of the fellow motorists–that absurd driving etiquette which is innately Italian.

5. They are just Italian!