Italians rarely ever lack a subject of conversation. In case it does happen, it only takes one person to start talking about food before the situation is restored. Or about fashion, as I learn today. Opinions and preferences about dress codes differ by the individual, but every Italian for sure has clear cut opinions about it.
Italy and fashion are closely connected to each other. The country, itself having the shape of a boot, serves as the birth ground of many world famous brands. Think of Gucci, Dolce and Gabana, Versace, Armani, but also Benneton, Diesel and Cavalli. They are all Italian.
..consider themselves fashion victimes
Italians consider the way a person looks to be representative for his or her character, or at least the mood he or she is in. A person who dresses badly will have to compensate his lack of style in another way ? if such compensation is possible at all. Gianpaolo (20) thinks that the way people dress should be in balance with who they are, how they feel and how they come across. `If not, the imbalance will be noticed. If you look in the mirror and cannot tell yourself that you look good, your achievements on that day will suffer from it.`
Sara (26) explains me how the clothes she wears serve as quite an accurate reflection of how she feels: `I choose a rather colourful combination when I feel happy. I usually start by selecting the shoes I will wear, then the top and then the lower part. I always wear some monochrome piece of clothing to balance between the more colourful elements.`
`The clothes people dress, especially girls, also signals whether they are single or engaged.`, Sara says: `The best time to see that is around 7 at night, during the aperitif. That`s the perfect moment for people to show of. A typical girl is wearing jeans, high-heeled boots around the trouser legs, expensive brand hand bags and her hair looks like she just comes from the hair dresser. Sort of opposite of what I look like today.`
Shopping for clothes is an intimate activity which not everybody likes to share with others while some would find it no fun to do it on their own. Alessia (25) definitely never goes shopping with her mother. `She has got a completely different taste. When it`s for serious shopping, I prefer to do it on my own. If it`s just for random stuff, I don`t mind going with girlfriends. Boys typically shop with their mums or girlfriends. Some even leave the women in their lives to do the shopping for them!`
Contrary to the popular wish not to be forced to wear neat clothes to work, Italians will look for jobs that allow them to dress up. The key objective Italian appearance is to transmit an type of elegance that matches the personality and `physique` of the individual. Sara thinks that people who wear `wrong type of clothes` can still pass for elegant if they wear them in the way that corresponds to their personality. She makes an exception for the prevailing dress codes that Germans and English people observe: `Little about their way of dressing comes even close to elegance. Germans think they can get away with wearing socks and sandals, while English wear clothes that are too revealing. I think the Germans are the worst. They would not mind if a man wears red trousers. To me, that`s the ultimate of fashion mistakes. Apart from the Italians, I think that Spanish girls dress alright. The French do mostly OK, too, but they fail when it comes to shoes, both the girls and the guys.`
Most of the people I speak to have strong opinions about how people should NOT dress. Body parts sticking out seem to be among the worst crimes. Kitschy dress is not appreciated, neither are hairy women`s legs. Shorts can only be worn in combination with appropriate shoes. Actually, any combination requires the shoes to combine with the rest. If the rest of the outfit works well, but the shoes do not match, the overall impression will still be spoilt.
Opinions about colour combinations greatly depend on personal taste, but this is another dimension where mistakes can be made. Andrea (27) thinks T-shirts with large pieces of text are not very elegant. `It depends on the type of text though. Some are acceptable if they do not shout and make some kind of sense. Just names of places, or messages for readers ? they do not serve as witnesses of good taste.`
Shoes and handbags
Most of the respondents agree that shoes are the decisive element in people`s outfit. Giuseppe (27) admits that he looks at a girl`s shoes before he actually looks at the girl. `I like it when a girl wears high heels and pointy leather shoes, because such shoes emphasise her elegance. Don`t think that I only look at the shoes, it`s mostly the overall impression that I care for. Still, the shoes can make or break a girl`s appearance, more than any earrings, bracelets, watches, rings and necklaces can make up for.
Jiada (26) and Ana (26, both in photo) call themselves fashion victims. They agree with Guiseppe that shoes form the first point of reference in assessing people`s outfit. `For girls among each other, accessories are important as well. That`s particularly true for the handbag, which almost serves like a status symbol `, Ana says. `I never leave the house without my hand bag, and I know very few Italian women who would. It not only serves as a container for the ever-compulsory sunglasses, make-up, wallet, mirror a mobile phone and possibly an agenda, it`s also a way to emphasise your mood or express your personality. Ana has roughly 10 different hand bags, while Jiada has 20. The scores when it comes to pairs of shoes amount to respectively 20 and 30. Anna and Jiada so not seem to be abnormal to Italian standards. `If you buy the right quality of clothes, you just collect a big ward robe collection over time. Some things are fashion dependent, while others can be used almost indefinitely.`
In Italy, wearing hand bags is not restricted to women. In the Southern provinces, also men will wear a purse-like type of leather shoulder bag. When traveling in couples, the men usually wear no bag. Men will take advantage of the girl`s handbag to stuff all their small belongings in there as well.
Practical backpacks, comfortable training suits and unpolished shoes are not welcome in Italy. They simply do not pass the elegance test. And anything that does not pass the elegance test is to be avoided, no matter how practical or comfortable it may be.
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