style and the italians
It’s pretty easy to tell Italians from tourists in Rome in April… The Italians will be those dressed still for winter, long coat, boots over their jeans, maybe even fur, while tourists (let’s face it, particularly Americans) treat the 60 degree weather as spring in shorts, t-shirts or polos, maybe a sweater in tow for the evening when it gets a little colder.
The Italians of course have a reputation for good style, perhaps not quite as chic or understated as the French, but they are associated with artisan quality, and things that read “Made in Italy” are coveted in fancy shops in the US.
Personally though I find Italian style somewhat disappointing, in the sense that to them “good taste” is basically all about uniformity. They have strict (if somewhat elusive to outsiders) rules about what to wear, when, and how. For example in October, when it was around the same comfortable temperature, I would wear pants, a jacket, ballet-flat shoes but no socks, fairly conservative I’d think compared to tourists who, yes, were sometimes still in shorts. Yet it was enough of a diversion from the Italian “rule” to be elicit remarks from several friends – “How can you go around without socks? Oh that’s right, you’re American, your feet don’t get cold.”
One of the clichés they love citing about Americans is that we wear flipflops all the time, summer, fall and winter, not to mention how many people I heard independently comment on this detail of Mark Zuckerberg’s wardrobe when “The Social Network” came out.
They don’t seem to think we’re the worst though; a common joke I’ve heard is to say someone looks like they got dressed with the lights off, “London style.” It’s all sort of ironic anyway, since they love traditional British brands, tons of people go around with fabric shopping bags from Harrod’s department store in England, and of course as in much of Europe young people love dressing in American sportswear style. The college Franklin and Marshall, actually – a small college in rural Pennsylvania – has a fairly lucrative chain of branded clothing here, which Italian teenagers seem to consider a sort of Abercrombie-light.
That said there are undeniably a lot of stylish people here, depending on where you go. Sometimes I’ll see a group of teenagers dressed up in suit jackets and jeans, colorful suede loafers, thick wavy hair and sunglasses, heading off to some event, and it’s like something straight out of a movie. There are the little old men in incredibly tailored suits, women hovering somehow over the cobblestones in stilettos and gorgeous dresses. I think you could say that it’s a stylish culture in general in the sense that everyone, even men, are very interested in the details of style – sunglasses, watches, and a sort of obsession with sneakers (favorites are Chuck Taylors, which they call All-Stars, and Hogan’s ridiculously priced sneakers). In my snobby opinion it’s not always a very elegant interest – you’ll see more people of both genders proudly wearing logo-emblazoned clothes and accessories, basically more status symbols than you might consider is really in good taste.
Others of their style “secrets” just seem to be practical, however, and perhaps we shouldn’t really give them so much credit. The French are probably more known for their stylish wearing of scarves and pashminas, but they’re incredibly common here as well. I think it just boils down to the questionable heating systems in most homes and buildings here, and the fact that that soft scarf around your neck makes all the difference in keeping that perpetual chill at bay. In the US we tend to even over-heat because our winters are so fierce, so the scarf like many accessories takes on a purely aesthetic purpose. They say now that Americans actually over-compensate, over-accessorize, another instant give-away. I’m not so sure though, I think with international brands like Zara, H&M, and so on, it’s harder and harder to tell the locals and other Europeans, Americans, and beyond apart.
Picture from Lonny Mag, an excerpt of Ines de la Fressange’s “Guide to Parisian Chic”