ruthorkin

How to dress in Florence, Italy

Ruth Orkin - American girl in Italy 1951

Ruth Orkin – American girl in Italy 1951

I love this photo. I like it so much that I bought it for myself, my dad and pretty much anyone who likes anything in black & white. The enigmatic appeal of the American girl in Italy. One has to look at a photo like this and say, wow – those Italians were so elegant.

Well, pretty much they still are except for the occasional shiny silver sneaker and black puffy trash bag jacket. While I personally wouldn’t describe Italians as ‘trendy’ since I think people tend to stick to what’s safe (with obvious super fashionable exceptions and many being the younger crowd), I would reason that people tend not to leave the house sporting shower shoes and wearing their favorite Nike t-shirt.  Oh no, the bella figura would have none of that (though don’t get confused and think it means purely your image..)

Where's the Duomo? Pronounced 'Dwo-mo' to my fellow Americans ;-)

Where’s the Duomo? Pronounced ‘Dwo-mo’ to my fellow Americans ;-)

To quote Eyeitalia:

“Bella figura goes well beyond image, visual beauty and presentation…it also is defined by behavior: knowing how to properly and graciously interact with others in any social or public situation. Exhibiting good manners, tact and gentility is an essential component of “cutting a beautiful figure”.

Disclaimer alert, I am no fashion expert by any means. I tend to stick to safe, comfortably well-fitted clothes yet tend to go crazy with accessories like scarves and necklaces to shake things up. I really appreciate the way locals dress here and must admit that it’s quite nice to live in a place where people do take that extra second to dress a little nicer in public. I have always believed that it takes just as much time to put on a casual elegant outfit as it does to put on your filthiest sneakers and dirty t-shirt.

I once had a drink with some visiting friends and one commented on how much she was getting stared at. While I said nothing at the time, in my head I couldn’t help but think that it could have something to do with the fact that she was wearing a bright red, short dress that shouted look at me and she happened to be blond. Well, yep people are going to stare at you. People stare at everyone. There is no ’3 second rules’ when it comes to staring. Think of it as a national sport and roll with it. ;-)

So why not get to the point here. People have written me a few times asking how to dress in Italy and so without further ado – here are my ‘Fashion’ tips while traveling in Italy.

Check out Exhibit A. 

awkward

While I get that the weather can vary from boiling humidity to icily cold, here are a few tips you can keep in mind during your next trip to Italy. 

  • Neutral colors go a long way, think black, nudes, white – solid colors. If you put on a pair of mustard trousers, pair them with a neutral balancing color like black or brown and perhaps add a special accessory. I wouldn’t dress like I was visiting Miami in a country like Italy.

Photo from thesartorialist.com

  • When in doubt – casual elegant is the way to go. Most people dress here in a way that can take them straight from the office to a nice dinner on any given day of the week. I am 100% certain that you can find really great comfortable but also casually elegant clothes wherever you go. Focus on textures, nice material and a great cut. Also I always carry a little makeup, those sample sizes of perfume, deodorant and my toothbrush if I don’t have the chance to go home before meeting friends/going for a drink.
  • Find your inner love affair with scarves. This applies to both men and women. Come fall and spring, you would be wise to carry one since it can get a little chilly depending on the hour of day. Head over to the San Lorenzo outdoor or Porcellino markets and pick up a few scarves of varying colors. They are quite affordable and they can instantly make a ‘blah’ outfit more interesting. Also if you happen to be wearing a strapless top you can use it to cover your shoulders when entering churches and visiting religious monuments to show respect. They also happen to make fantastic gifts, I always bring back a bunch when I visit Texas.

Love this color

  • Fancy footwear! In the summer women wear nice sandals, sport street sneaks or heels while men typically wear boat shoes, street sneaks or nice shoes with socks. Local men rarely walk around wearing sandals unless at the beach. Fall and winter means boots are ready to come out and play and I am obsessed with them. Long ones, short ones, flat ones, heeled ones, leather ones – pick up a pair or two of nice boots and you will have half your ‘look’ covered – complete with a pair of tights from Calzedonia and a nice dress/skirt. Men sometimes wear boots too depending on the individual though usually their style remains more consistent throughout the year.  Right now I am seeing a lot of studs on shoes and personally, I am not a fan. I think they look a little ‘cheap.’

What not to wear? That’s pretty easy:

  • A fanny pack (bum bag) whatever you call it – don’t wear it ever.  Do it for me, do it for society, do it for this little guy.  If you are a man get a man bag instead, preferably a small,elegant leather one or a nice backpack.

no hedgehogs will be harmed if you avoid this fashion fail

  • Avoid Flip-Flops. I can be guilty of this no-no from time to time and always regret it when I do. Mainly because Florence is super dusty and dog poop is ripe so, just leave those shoes at home unless at the beach and wear sandals instead. You will be labeled as a tourist if you wear flip-flops in the center of town – FACT. Plus it is pretty easy to hurt yourself wearing flip-flops in a city like Firenze.
  • No one wears huge floppy tourist hats or visors. I sympathise that it can be very hot in the summer. While it is totally cool to sport a fedora style hat or cute hats in general to protect yourself from the sun, those huge floppy hats have no home in Florence, save it for the beach. Also avoid wearing a visor, or umbrella to shield from the sun. It really is a little much – unless you want to pretend you are from another era or maybe it’s your own personal version of a raindance
  • Keep your shirt on. This should be obvious but just from walking around this August I have seen several people shirtless walking around town without a shirt. Why? If you are hot – drink some water, stay in the shade – or better yet don’t visit Florence in August (seriously it’s not a good idea)
  • Shirts with huge logos. I get it, you love the Miami heat and what to show off where you from. Oh all of your exes are from Texas? That’s nice. Here’s a tip:  Save that special shirt for your pajamas when you come back to your hotel room or rented apartment. Logos in Italy are usually understated and big, flashy t-shirts are a no-no. Also there is a difference between a cute fitted t-shirt with wording and the kind of basketball shirts my brothers used to wash their cars with.
  • Really short shorts or skirts. No, I am not a prude – you should have seen the kind of clothes I wore as a teenager in San Antonio, Texas – some of it should have been illegal. Of course when you are skirting around town in a car and in controlled environments it’s a little different from a casual stroll in town with your butt cheeks hanging out and your thong underwear completely visible under a white, sheer skirt. Trust me you won’t be comfortable in it anyway so just go for a longer pair (shorts are sort of debatable anyway in Italy unless at the beach). If i plan to wear something a little sexier than normal, I typically put on a longer coat so I feel a little more at ease walking around (plus think of STAIRS). I know it’s style now to wear super short shorts but remember that the bottom of your butt cheek will make contact with some truly filthy benches and seats, Florence isn’t famous for being super clean..

fashiom

It really isn’t that difficult to fit in with Italians and look the part (if you want to). When traveling to a new country, wouldn’t you want to try a little anyway? It’s all part of the experience if you ask me.

Plus.. even the bus drivers look like walking magazine covers with ray-ban sunglasses and fitted pants. It’s great trust me, think tons of eye candy and plus it’s all part of la bella vita.

Now enough blabber from me, what did I miss? What would you suggest on what to wear – or what to avoid in Italy? What did I get wrong? 

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  1. Adrianna

    Great post! Right on about ppl staring at you and the fancy shoes vs flip flops and hats. I live in Florence and I am an American but some I disagree with some of this. (Also a FIDM grad and I work in the fashion industry ) I would say locals wear a lot of t- shirts that have logos and graphics on them, they are coming back into style. Also I see a ton of short skirts here worn by locals and super short shorts paired w long shirts and motorcycle boots. The girls who really get stared at are the gorgeous ones – simple. Here I would say a lot of girls where sexy outfits, and would never say Italians play it safe and they’re not trendy. Come to my hometown in Minnesota, THAT is playing it safe. If you look at Vogue Italia street fashion and look at the streets here, there is a huge connection.

    • ggnitaly84

      Thank you for your perspective, I always appreciate hearing from the fashion side of things. As I mentioned in the post, I am no expert but have lived and worked in this city for over six years so its just my own personal observations. I have noticed the short short trends but not as much as maybe you have. Also it varies very much whether we are talking about ‘night or day’ looks. Go to any nightclub like Flo and you will see short short skirts, tight dresses etc but I tend to see that less during the day around town.

      • D

        I agree. I rarely see Italians (women) wearing booty shorts or short micro skirts by day. In the discoteca it’s a different story. ;-) I do see teens wearing short-shorts but, well, they’re teens. In general I think Italians dress way better for evenings compared to the average American (who often think their “good jeans” and a shirt are evening attire, lol). I think Italians that wear short-shorts will at least pair them with a flowy top, as opposed to a tank or cami. Agree completely about neutral colors and accessories—at least in my own experience of 6 years in Florence too. :)
        Whenever I see a poorly dressed Italian, though I secretly grin. I think sometimes I feel bad when people in the US ask if Italians actually “wear jeans” or “wear sneakers”, etc as if the stereotype of the 6 inch heels all day long with bursting boobs out of Dolce & Gabbana dresses, and men in Gucci 24/7 is a very far cry from the average day look. At least in Florence….I’ve found Roman women play a little closer to the stereotype.

  2. Tiana (@TianaKaiMiami)

    Cute post! You missed one big thing, no fake purses. I don’t get it, but it’s a universal issue. I have a post ready about that with tons of shots I’ve taken around town, but since it’s a non-national specific fashion fail I wasn’t sure to make it Italy specific or not.

    I guess Italians dress fashionably, but not any better than a New Yorker. It all depends on the city and class, like anywhere in the world. I personally prefer to shop back ‘home’ when I can.

    P.S. what bus were you on!? ;-) Viva hot drivers.

    • haypop

      I hear what you’re saying with the nasty hats, but I’m fairly pale and this long, hot Italian summer is doing my skin no favours! I was rocking both a ratty market hat AND a parasol during the 5 hours I spent in Florence on Sunday

      • ggnitaly84

        no fake purses! good one ;-). and Haypop. Don’t you worry, I totally understand protecting yourself from the sun. I have a variety of hats. I am just not a fan of those huge ones that are meant for the beach worn in the city but hey to each their own! Have a great time in Florence.

    • ggnitaly84

      The fake purse thing is actually interesting – I never even thought about it! New York is a world on its own, I actually think they are more trendy than Italians in general because they take fashion risks while I feel like here people stick to the same styles. I actually also prefer to shop back home because of my body type (tall) but usually choose things that I know I will feel comfortable wearing here. I tend to dress for the whole day since you just never know what is going to happen on any given day ;-). As for the hot bus drivers.. oooo I’ve seen them on a few. Number 6 , number 23. I need to snap some pics! ;-)

  3. Cassandra

    All of these go for Madrid, too! I still kind of cringe a bit when visiting friends wear Old Navy flip-flops around town…

    Speaking of flip-flops, my program told us that the majority of hospital accidents from the previous year were due to this footwear! Another strike against ‘em.

    Another thing–it always surprises me how much Europeans dress UP when they travel, as opposed to the American view of dressing for comfort. I guess they’re thinking that they’ll be seen by even more people than usual? Regardless of the reason, it’s an interesting cultural comparison!

    • ggnitaly84

      That’s a really good point Cassandra! I feel like I see people either completely dressed in a way that clearly means they have watched ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ too many times or think Italy is in the 1950′s OR like they are going to the gym/seaside. I think Europeans who have lived here for awhile usually have a better style (my own personal opinion). That being said – the last time I was in Barcelona I spotted a German family from dad to baby all wearing matching velcro sandals (the kind we all wore in the 1990′s) with socks. cringe!

  4. Steele Media Management

    haha I always love hearing what not to wear in Italy. I have been in the country for four months and I see the Italians wearing long tight pants and dressed in dark colors. Scarves, closed shoes and long sleeved collared shirts in this heat and I think “do they not sweat?”. The heat here has been insane! The youth seem to sport more ‘questionable’ attire but overall I have felt like there is such a wide variety of fashion here almost anything goes. Except flip flops! My feet get stared at every day by every one, I have nice feet and cute flip flops ;)

    • ggnitaly84

      When I think of ‘trendy’ I think of the streets in NYC or London, not Italy. They adore black and neutral colors and yes sometimes I wonder how people handle this heat. That’s why the quality of your clothes goes a long way. Linens are great in this wear for example :-). I do sport my flip flops as well from time to time but believe me they stare because the streets are so dirty lol.

  5. hmcook

    Great post. I’ve been to Italy a few times and hadn’t really thought about how flip-flops equate to tourist. On the t-shirt logo piece: I’ve seen the younger generation of Italians wear them quite often. Would you say it’s a generational thing?

    • ggnitaly84

      Absolutely could be, usually younger (teenage) Italians dress very differently then even people in their mid-twenties mainly due to their now being stores like Hollister and Abercrombie in Italy

      • Gil

        I’ve seen teenagers in Florence, Naples and other cities wearing t-shirts with English words on them. An Italian friend explained that the kids thought it was cool to have English words on their clothes like the tourists did. I used wear: polo shirts, shorts and sandals in Italy. My nearly Florentine daughter made me take off my socks the second I bought my sandals at the big open market. She told me that the natives would think I was a rude German tourist!!!!

        • ggnitaly84

          lol yes the teenagers (as i mentioned) tend to dress a little dfferently. Also they have more access to stores like Abercrombie or Hollister or local equivilents but I was referring more to those huge t-shirts with sports teams logos displayed etc. The cute fitted shirts with text are normal here too. As for looking like a Germany tourist (not that there is anything wrong with that) is a no-no. I think sometimes too that the less I look like a tourist – the less I get overcharged which sadly happens a lot in cities like florence or rome.

  6. italyproject365

    Great post! I agree that in general, Italians stick to classic styles, usually in neutral colors. However, in Bologna, with a HUGE student population, I see tons of wacky outfits, particularly grungy pants, logo tees, and bright neon colors.

    When I first moved to Italy, I wanted to fit in with my dress so badly. But now I’ve given up completely and wear whatever the heck I like – since I don’t have the typical Italian female body nor features :)

    I think when visiting Italy you should wear whatever is comfortable for you and just be yourself – Italians are going notice that you’re different, but who cares?

    • ggnitaly84

      Bologna has a pretty unique style. I remember seeing the baggy harem-style pants on many of the students. In fact in the post I write that younger people usually are edgier when it comes to trends & styles. This changes every year. Personally, I do not have a typical Italian body being 5’10 and not tiny but my style has changed since living here. Especially when it comes to shoes, scarves and etc. It mostly is because of never knowing if I will have a chance to go home and change or not. Also I agree that you shouldn’t feel like you have to dress like a local to fit in, you should dress however you want. I have gotten many emails from people asking me to write a post about how people dress here and ecco il post! People can interprete it the way the like -per me va bene tutto ;-). Just please, no fanny packs..

      • italyproject365

        Agree on the fanny packs!! people have asked me too, and you’re absolutely right that there’s a certain sense of class and style that Italians have – but at the end of the day everybody has to wear what suits them and fare their own bella figura! ;)

  7. Karen

    I watch your posts with great interest.
    I am moving my family to Florence from Australia in November and have just run out and brought by teenage boys Columbia “puffy” jackets.
    We are not accustomed to the cold here and I a bit panicky about landing in Italy in winter. I was trying to be prepared.
    Have I made a huge mistake?

    • ggnitaly84

      Hello Karen, first of all congrats on your move! As for the puffy jacket question, while I am not a fan of shiny black puffy jackets, there are plenty of people (locally) that are so don’t you worry. Protecting yourself from the cold is the most important. :-)

  8. M.E. Evans

    Great post! I write for Florence News And Events (And I have a blog here survivinginitaly). I just wrote a column on fashion and what not to wear in Florence in the winter. My husband spends most of our time out gasping, “Babe! What are YOUR PEOPLE wearing over there!?” I based the article around that. I always tell my visiting friends that people can tell that they’re American based on their outfits not because of their blonde hair or blue eyes, plenty of Italians have a fair complexion. Italians don’t wear bright pink sweaters with purple leggins in December. They don’t wear skin tight bright yellow jersey dresses in July. Usually it’s the colors that give someone away before anything else.

  9. ilariasperfectrecipes.com

    Great post!!!
    As an italian I can say that if you wear all year around a pair of jeans, a neutral color shirt, a pair of sneakers you’ll be ok everywhere.
    Here in summer, women doesn’t usually wear any hat and if they do, just a simple “baseball” hat. ;)

  10. Kat

    I’ve really enjoyed your blog! We will be visiting Florence for the first time in April 2014 (from Chicago!) and I am not sure if it’s too warm for my tall riding boots or if I should just bring nice flats, rain boots or all of the above. Any help is appreciated, thank you! :)

    • ggnitaly84

      Hello Kat, thanks for stopping by! April can be a trick month since its hard to tell the weather the way this January is going (its been unseasonably warm). Usually the temperature various around 65 degrees with rain. I would pack a comfy pair that you can do a lot of damage (walking) in since the cobblestones can be brutal. Personally I love both my boots and flats in April.

  11. Tracey M

    Really enjoy your posts! I will be visiting Florence/ Tuscany in mid September and would love some insight on whether to bring more summer or fall clothes. Thoughts?

    • ggnitaly84

      ciao tracey! Thanks for checking out my blog!!! Mid-september is a great time to travel to Florence. Liekly the weather will still be warm so think summer – with lots of layers and perhaps a light jacket. Bring comfortable shoes!

  12. jenny gardiner

    haha! I totally laughed about the spikes on boots. I was on a pilgrimage walk in Italy late last August/September and I kept lamenting the ugly spikes on boots I saw everywhere. In Firenze they were often white I think, while in Roma I saw more black leather. Either way did NOT like them at all.
    Alas because I was hiking with a mere 3 outfits for a month, all of which were for hiking, I was painfully style-deficient while there. And while I agree the flip-flops are not particularly stylish, by default I wore Rainbows for 8 days wandering throughout Florence and they held me in very good stead. I put a lot of miles on those things…(it was that or wear hiking boots in a city, which would have been worse!).
    Am a writer and trying to “clothe” one of my characters who is “in” Florence in late April so thanks for the suggestions above!

    • GirlinFlorence

      ahh the rainbow sandals are quite nice, I remember living in them while in California.. But this is a post in gest, hey you know the variety of clothes always makes me giggle. I saw a woman on the way this morning dressed head to toe in every shade of purple imaginable

  13. delaneykirk

    Thanks for the great info. We’re leaving tomorrow for Florence and I’m packing right now! It bugs me that Americans tend to be so casual and sloppy so I’m looking forward to making la bella figura. What is your take on colored jeans (teal, dark green, burgundy)?

  14. Kay Sloan

    I’m leaving for Rome, and then Tuscany, on April 15th. My most comfortable boots are ankle boots with wedge heels. Are those wedge heels out of the question for Italy?

      • Kay Sloan

        Thank you! I wouldn’t wear them for long walks. Are wedges (these aren’t high ones) still sufficiently fashionable in Italy to help me fit in?

  15. Kaley

    Do women wear riding boots or just ankle boots? It seems like riding boots are more of an American thing and Europeans wear moto-style ankle boots…?

  16. Mary

    We are leaving for Europe in 2 days. Our 1st stop is Munich, our 2nd stop is Florence, 3rd is Slovenia to visit family. We are trying to pack “light”. While I am packing a couple pair of shorts, are long skirts, dresses okay for Florence? How about black leggings and long, brighter, flowing shirts? I’m definitely not built like an Italian :) but I try to not look offensive being heavier and 49. Also, are flip flops any shoe without a back? Most summer shoes in Northern Ohio what I would consider backless sandals. Thanks for your input :)

    • Kay Sloan

      Just got back from Florence! We saw lots of sandals. I didn’t notice any leggings with long shirts but I did see long skirts, short skirts and cropped pants.

  17. Donna

    Since I normally do not wear any type of sneakers except to go to the gym can you post a pic of street sneaks I cannot even imagine what they look like :)


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