April 7


Italian Style Guide

By Rick

April 7, 2015


To dress badly, you don’t need to follow fashion—but it helps.” – Ottavio Missoni.

Today I’m engaging in a bit of an experiment. After threatening to do so for almost a year, I’m just about ready to launch an audio podcast for my blog, which will be a sort of “Q & A” addressing various topics of travel and culture in Italy. I’ll be soliciting some “Qs” soon, and then I hope to recruit some of my fellow Italy experts to help me come up with the “As.” Should be fun, so stay tuned.

As a warm-up to this, I’ve created an audio version of my silly little guide for Italian style, “Dress Like an Italian,” to help me get familiar with some of the tools required to create and upload audio content.

If you’d care to check it out, just fill in the form below, and the link will be sent to you automatically. You can download it as an MP3 file, or listen to it on the SoundCloud platform. I’ll also send you an email when the podcast goes live, in case you’re interested.

It’s free, of course, but I’d be very happy to receive some feedback on this little test project. Specifically, I’d appreciate any comments on the technical aspects rather than the content itself. (Yes, I’ve already discovered a few verbal stumbles upon review.) But any input regarding the quality of the sound, the ease of downloading, or the usability of the audio file in various types of players would be very helpful.

Here’s a little transcript to give you an idea of what you’re in for. You’ve been warned.

Three Basic Rules of Italian Style

As I’ve already implied, the delicate nuances of Italian fashion will take some time to figure out. But if you start with three basic criteria, you’ll be well on your way to dressing with all the relaxed style and elegance of our Italian friends.

Rule 1: Keep it simple. This applies to both men and women. This means that you might have all the most exclusive Italian labels in your wardrobe, but if you throw it all together without taste and criteria, people might actually wonder if you casually rolled yourself in the closet with the lights off, and then reemerged with whatever remained attached to you.

This is, unfortunately, a common mistake.  Remember, you want to look like a Michelangelo painting; not a Jackson Pollack.


The general rule is as follows: if you have a stunning outfit with a colorful pattern or a prized blouse with a peculiar cut, or any other piece of clothing that attracts attention, please do not add heavy jewelry, big watches, fluorescent ties, or shiny, eccentric shoes.

Finding a balance between clothing and accessories is fundamental.

Vice versa, you can experiment as much as you like with accessories, jewelry, make-up, and shoes if the dress or suit is elegant and plain; unicolor and with a classic cut.  In this case, the appropriately matched accessories will only add further value to your outfit and will show your personality. Don’t exaggerate, but have some fun with it.

It’s the same with colors, and we’ll go more into that topic later. But as it relates to our rule of simplicity, just remember that we should only incorporate a maximum of three colors into any outfit.

This general philosophy permeates many areas of Italian culture, including food and cooking, for example.  Notice that most Italian recipes contain only three or four ingredients, and they are all easily distinguished, both visually and taste-wise.  And so it goes with clothes—too many “ingredients” spoil the overall flavor.

From this philosophy, several secondary rules emerge. For example, men should always match their belts with their shoes. You might be able to bend this rule on rare occasions when your outfit is plain and simple, and therefore some bold shoes or a funky belt might be the appropriate dash of personality in an otherwise “bland” outfit.

Similarly, for the ladies, you should always match your handbag and shoes.  But again, this rule can be broken under specific circumstances that call for a certain degree of fashion risk.

However, for the non-Italian neophyte, it would be best to stick to the strictest interpretations of the rules for quite some time before venturing into these advanced techniques.  To do so before you’re properly indoctrinated is fraught with peril. You jeopardize becoming a victim of fashion instead of its master. At that point you’re no longer wearing the clothes—the clothes are now wearing you.

It’s not just the clothes. Well, it’s mostly the clothes…

Of course, Italians are recognized world-wide for their iconic Italian style, and they tend to dress well whether going to the opera, or just to the grocery store.  They have a reputation for creating an aura of style that not only compliments the body, but also expresses the true inner self.  But never in a loud, ostentatious way—always with taste and discretion.

Yes, appearances matter in Italy. It’s wonderful if you have a good heart and a sharp intellect. But Italians would further expect you to have a nice haircut, a stylish scarf, and a really beautiful pair of leather shoes besides.

Dressing well is a way to show other people that you are someone. Americans do this through their homes or cars, but not generally through their clothes. You could oversimplify it by saying that Italians place emphasis on appearances, while Americans value the conspicuous spoils of achievement. I’m not sure if that’s entirely accurate, but it’s a starting point for a discussion.

Lastly, it’s all how you carry yourself.  YOU are making your outfit bella by the way you wear it—the outfit won’t make you beautiful if you don’t have a good “portamento.”

And for goodness’ sake, don’t rush about. Italians are never in a hurry, unless they’re driving on the autostrada. Walk slowly as if you’re getting paid by the hour, and you know that people are admiring you and your sense of style.

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About the author

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • I enjoy reading your blog more than listening, but that’s just me. I had no trouble subscribing, though I wonder if I am now subscribed twice? BTW…Is there an exact day in Spring when us Americans are we allowed to take off our boots and wear open toed shoes? I am wearing my lightest sweaters or spring jackets (and a scarf of course,) but all the women in my area are still wearing boots and down or leather jackets…It was 72F yesterday! Help!

    • Thanks for the input, Katherine. Yes, I’m a “reader” too, but I’ve had some requests for audio content.

      And no, if you’ve already subscribed, you won’t be subscribed a second time.

      And it sounds like the women in your area have not yet made the “cambio di stagione.” They CAN’T wear lighter clothes, if for no other reason than that their summer wardrobe is still in storage!!!

  • Quite curious about regional differences, especially being the Rome expert. Without starting a polemica, I’ve heard Florentine women deride their Roman counterparts for being gaudy and vulgar in dress. Ditto Milanesi saying Roman style was totally different. I’ve definitely noticed more sober colors up north, with flashier patterns the more south one goes (in general of course). Ideas?
    I find Italian men in general are more prone to color than their US counterparts . Pink or purple shirts, orange or bright red trousers (not together) nobody bats an eye.

    • I think you’re onto something there. I mentioned the red trousers, etc, in my little eGuide, but I like your observation about regional differences. That topic might be discussed soon in my blogger roundtable group (COSI). The clothes aspect would be an interesting area to explore. Grazie!

  • When I enter my name and email address, it takes me to a page that says I’m already subscribed. So I guess I can’t get the sound file. Bummer ….

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