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Italian Fashion - Introduction

Judith Ayotte Greenwood

How can a traveler make sense of fashion in Italy? Italians have trouble making sense of it. Are extreme and exaggerated pointed toes in style still? Or is it now the fashion to have the newer rounded toe, and must they have also the tiny kitten heel? Is there a belt? Is it the tight obi belt that shows off a tiny waist? Or is it slung around narrow hips to show off a bare belly?

Fashion goes to extremes in Italy. It starts in the streets among teenagers and ends up on runways, or it starts on runways and within a week shows up in market stalls. Many Italians don't bother with fashion at all, but they almost all have style. They dress. They are saying something even if they don't know what and you can't get the message. Not very many Italians turn out in the morning and grab what is on top of the "clean dirties" pile. Instead, they have a usually small assortment of clothes that place them in their chosen group. It isn't casual, although the style may be casual.

Since there are many ways of being stylish in Italy, you as a traveler probably ought not concern yourself with fashion, but instead, like an Italian, construct yourself with a little thought to your body type, your activity and what makes you feel attractive. No matter what you wear, if you are taking a bit of care about what you put on, there's a group of Italians who are wearing the same thing - from the wealthy wearing designer originals to the teenager wearing the latest off the market stall, Italian style covers it all.

Young mother in the market, April 2006

Young mother in the market, April 2006

When you walk through an Italian piazza, you may get the feeling that the Italian just always gets it right. That absolutely isn't true! There are as many blind followers with fat tummies wearing tight pants cut as low as you can go as there are elegant types with exactly the right hair and posture.

There's also a lot of confusion among foreigners about exactly what is la bella figura. It isn't dressing right and staying trim, although that may be part of it. It's looking and seeming together, seeming well-reared, not making a fool of oneself and in part, too, not getting caught. To say something embarrassing and gauche is fare la brutta figura. To get caught in a lie or a piece of sharp dealing is also fare la brutta figura. Dressing for the volleyball court when you are walking around town? Sort of, in most places. Wearing sequins and beaded clothes at breakfast time? Nope. As far as clothing goes, if people wince when they see you, you are not presenting la bella figura.

Italian style does have its icons, however. These pages on Slow Travel will show you the Italian iconic styles that are showing up each season.


Slow Travel Photos: Large versions of all Fashion photos.

What to Wear in Europe: Dressing for visiting churches and for traveling.

Judith offers fashion tours and cooking - www.judithgreenwood.com. Read more from Judith on Think on It: Philosophy from an Umbrian Farmer. Some of the photos were done at Atena in Città di Castello.

© Judith Ayotte Greenwood, 2006

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