Why do Italians Always Look Good?

After what proved to be a full summer for all of us ArtSmart Roundtable bloggers, we’re back with renewed vigor and ready to share our take on art and travel in our monthly posts. The topic for this month’s roundtable is fashion. While thinking of a way to connect fashion and travel, my mind kept returning to the travel experience when fashion actually felt real and interesting–my first trip to Italy.

Fashion in Italy

At the age of 16, when I first visited Italy, I was certainly already aware of fashion, in part thanks to having spent plenty of time in New York City, but seeing fashion in Italy took me by surprise. It was everywhere. Walking down the streets of Naples and Rome, I passed shop after shop with beautiful window displays of perfectly displayed shoes, handbags, jewelry, etc. I was so taken with these displays that I asked my dad for two pairs of fancy Italian shoes, and with every subsequent trip to Italy, I would gladly spend evenings window shopping.

Fashion in Italy

It wasn’t just the shops that made me notice the importance of fashion in Italy. More than the displays of beautiful goods, it was the people. The men and women wore classic styles, nothing complicated or reflective of a passing trend. They looked good and seemed comfortable in their looks. Their easy style exuded confidence and positive body image.

This was certainly a far cry from the U.S. where some men (and women) dress in ill-fitting, too big, way-too-casual clothes. These looks might be OK in certain situations, but when you see the overwhelming majority of Italian men sporting flattering, classic clothes, the American tendency to dress down becomes almost offensive.

Fashion in the U.S. vs Italy

Now, I should let you know that I’m not an arrogant fashion snob, but when you see how easily fashion works for the Italians, it’s clear that it needn’t be complicated, yet it makes such a difference.

Men in Italy (not all, of course, but enough to make an impression) reflect fashion in a few ways. First, they’re not afraid of color. Perhaps the best example is the sporting of red pants. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an American man wear red pants (not gym pants!), but in Italy, I sure saw them. In fact, red pants on men is so common (and perhaps so Italian?) that blogger Erica Firpo has taken many photos and tagged them #redpants on Instagram.

A photo posted by Erica Firpo (@ericafirpo) on

Second, Italian men pull off a timeless fashion even into their old age. Trousers, nice hats, basic dark coats…Italian men show that classic style needn’t be hard. I’d guess it’s about buying quality items that they can wear for years and years.

Fashion in Italy

Third, it’s the little details, like that Italian men wear scarves. And when they maybe don’t have a beautiful outfit put together, they can pull off something decent by wearing dark colors. The guys in the photo below may not be the best examples of fashion in Italy, but their looks are probably a whole lot better than those we’d find if we snapped two random guys in a train station in the U.S.!

The guy on the left shows how average Italian men wear scarves–that shouldn’t really be newsworthy, but I never see American men add one as an accessory, especially not one tied like this. The guy on the right shows that, simply by wearing an inconspicuous outfit with mostly dark colors, even a slightly frumpy guy doesn’t look so bad.

Fashion in Italy

Speaking of dark colors, here’s another ensemble–while nothing fancy, it shows class and style with black clothes and a really nice haircut on a middle-aged man. Fashion in Italy

Finally, in Italy, it’s OK for men to dress up. It’s OK for them to care about what they look like and about fashion. It’s OK for them to play with classic looks and maybe turn up the volume a bit.

The same goes for women. Italian women care. They care what they look like when they go out. Before I go on, let me mention that I don’t promote women spending lots of time in front of the mirror getting made up to please men’s eyes…this is not about that. Or maybe for them it is, but in my view, it’s about feeling good about oneself, no matter the size or shape or whatever. When a woman can pull on something that looks good on her, she feels good about herself.

Let’s see the next photo as an example. While these looks may not be exactly “fashionable,” you can assume that every one of these people cared what they looked like when they got dressed that day.

Fashion in Italy

Is it *important* that Italians look good when they go out for their evening walk? Maybe not, but it’s part of who they are. I think for them it’s about showing a personal style that is a tiny part of what is collectively a national aesthetic. Italy is an achingly beautiful country. It seems only fitting that its people should blend in with the beauty that is all around them.

And how can you not feel inspired to look a little more beautiful when you have this kind of beauty around you?

Fashion in Italy

Where have you seen interesting fashion on your travels? 

For more on fashion, check out these diverse looks at fashion from the ArtSmart Roundtable this month:

Peter the Great Trendsetter: National Change through Fashion on Daydream Tourist

The Fabulous Fashions of Milena Canonero on Wanderfull Traveler

The Best and Worst of Renaissance Fashion on ArtTrav

Fashion in The Netherlands – Exhibitions Fall/Winter 2015 on Art Weekenders

Dismaland: The Fashionable Way to ‘Do’ An Art Show on Wanderarti

Photo credits: In order from top: BWPhotoStreet, Kotomi CreationsChristina Geyer, Erica FirpoAndrea Donato Alemanno , Jan Jespersen, Stefano CorsoMario MancusoCraig Allen, Julio Cesar Mesa, all on Flickr with Creative Commons use except the 4th photo.

31 Comments

  • Murissa says:

    France and Italy have the best fashion. I felt out of place in both locations but it was a great shopping experience trying to blend in. In Paris they wore a lot of black, grey with a few pops of colour. In Italy I went shopping and bought some fun floral prints and one of my favourite skirts. I learned to embrace my style the Italian way with scarves and colour but admittedly wear a lot of black balancing what I learned from France as well.
    Murissa recently posted..ArtSmart: The Fabulous Fashions of Milena CanoneroMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I haven’t been to France in ages so can’t comment on their fashion from first-hand experience, but my mom was there last year and came home talking about how the women there looked so nice all the time. As I mentioned above, the combination of great style with making it look easy is what impressed her. I also like lots of black. 🙂

  • Lizzie says:

    Thanks for such a vivid insight into Italian culture Jenna! I noticed on the couple of occasions I’ve been in Italy that fashion is hugely important to the people – especially the older generations.
    Lizzie recently posted..Dismaland: The Fashionable Way to ‘Do’ an Art ShowMy Profile

  • Sigh. I totally know the fashion envy of walking around cities in Italy. I will say that the biggest thing I learned from the locals when I was living there for a few months was that they tend to invest in really high-quality items that can be worn in different ways almost everyday (all about accessories!).
    Christina Garofalo recently posted..Three free things that always make me feel like a VIP when I travelMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I’m totally for buying fewer things but of higher quality. I wish more Americans thought like that because we have such a culture of waste here, and things are so cheap that they almost seem disposable.

  • thefolia says:

    I bought a pair of red pants in Italy 20 years ago and I still have them and wear them about twice a year. Italians certainly have a fashion sense that’s infectious just as their food and lifestyle. Viva la colors! I especially like the photo of Nana sporting the sexy slit.
    thefolia recently posted..Fresh Dressed Plus a GiveawayMy Profile

  • Lol, I have to agree with you! Italians sure know how to dress! =)

    Juju Sprinkles
    http://jujusprinkles.com
    Juju Sprinkles recently posted..DIY Jewelry Organizer That Sparks JoyMy Profile

  • Alexandra says:

    Hi Jenna
    I’ll agree with you on most points – as a general trend. My husband Tommaso, being Italian, says that Americans dress to cover themselves. This to contrast with his own ability to wear something a bit more thought out (he’s a pretty good dresser but not a fashion maven). Yes, he also wears scarves, as do women. Women wear scarves in part due to a genuine fear of any cold breeze, so it’s not the fashion statement that it is in France, it’s a practical option to avoid what they call “cervicale” which is neck ache due to being “hit by wind”.

    On the matter of colour vs black, and classic basics, there are various schools of thought. One photo I’d take out is the one from Pitti which is not representative of normal life. Pitti is a circus where the actors dress up in order to have their photo taken, and most of them are not Italian. But Pitti aside, yes, there are numerous #redpants and also ochre coloured pants, especially on men of a certain age. Older people chose classic good quality clothes years ago and still wear them, and many look fantastic. Unfortunately the recent trend towards fast fashion has made this a bit harder and there are plenty of people who look ridiculous in the latest seasonal thing. One thing Italian women don’t do well for example is acknowledge that their body might not squeeze into those tight pants. There’s too much tightness here. So yes, there’s still a general sense of fashion that is more individual, nicer looking, nicer quality and all that in this country – especially anywhere from Rome upwards – but at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy duddy, it’s not quite like it used to be, sadly.
    Alexandra recently posted..The best and worst of Renaissance fashionMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      You know, I’m not at all surprised that you brought up the Pitti photo because I know that Pitti Uomo is a special event and doesn’t reflect normal Italian fashion. I wanted a photo of men dressing up and knew I could find it in that, but I’ll look for something else.

      American women have really taken to the scarf trend and wear them with just about any type of outfit, but it’s pretty rare to see men in scarves (unless it’s some hideous sports team scarf), and even rarer to see a man in a scarf tied the way Italian men wear them.

      Thanks for the insight from Italy!

  • Georgette says:

    Ciao Jenna,
    I love love love this post, I am a total sucker for Italian fashion, or more like staring at people because they all look so good here, and it is relatively true. Every time I return to Texas, my first reaction is how much lack of an effort people (cough cough men) have in what they wear and while it is not a priority, it is kind of sad. People who are 30 look much older than they are, unless they are ‘hipsters’ in Austin.. Even Nico has completely changed since moving here, the pants are a little more tailored, he actually, as you said it — wears color. But I also think it is a confidence thing, his clothes fit better and he has more fun shopping that I do. I agree with Alexandra that Pitti Uomo is a rare event that is actually hilarious most of the time, the men’s outfits are so overdone and ridiculous, but I do think that in general, here people take that ‘bella figura’ still pretty seriously. I am truly happy that the shiny silver shoe of the past is no longer really trendy here, those kicks were blinding ;-).

    ps. I have never seen an American guy (in Texas) wear a scarf.
    Georgette recently posted..Aeolian Islands: The First And Last Time I Will Take A Mini Cruise (Maybe)My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I agree with you, Georgette. Thanks for providing your insight as someone who lives in the heart of fashionable Italy!

  • Lydian says:

    Love the comparison you made, Jenna. I have noticed this Italian feel for fashion, not only in Italy, but also with the Italian expat community here in The Netherlands. It sometimes makes an interest contrast with the Dutch as well, although it depends on where you are 😉 When reflecting over this, it does feel as if Italian generally make more efforts to take care of themselves and their appearance. The psychology and reasons behind it are interesting. Why do certain nations actually care more or less about this than others?
    Lydian recently posted..The Cube Houses of RotterdamMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Good question! I would venture to guess in Italy that the beauty of the place and the long tradition of artisans and quality workmanship have something to do with it.

  • Pal says:

    My first fascination with Italy was the result of my deep interest for Italian football, calcio that is, ever since I was a young kid. I think there’s almost nowhere else where the Italian male fashion sense is as important as around the top Italian teams and their stars. Clearly, Italian designers use this to their advantage to the extreme. So when I moved to Italy for the first time I had this in my mental luggage with me, so it was almost a disappointment when later I’ve observed that not everyone was walking around in Armani suits all the time :-).

    But with that said, it was and still is very obvious that it’s important to look good in Italy and to echo what others here are saying, they definitely do it with ease. I believe they know how to keep it simple – quite a contrast when you think about how chaotic they can be otherwise haha. So yes, to this day, I think they outperform the rest of the world, in my opinion even the French, definitely on the male side.

    But I also agree with Alexandra, there is a clear decline that can be observed, especially with the younger generations. And there are a few things I still have difficulties with: sweaters thrown around the shoulder (see above) still remains a pet peeve of mine hehe. On the other hand, the scarf, I adapted the habit and still wear my scarves with pride ever since and will continue to do so 🙂
    Pal recently posted..Fashion in The Netherlands – Exhibitions Fall/Winter 2015My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, you’re right about their knowing how to keep it simple. I think that because there aren’t as many crappy clothes choices as there are here in the U.S., Italians keep it simple with classic, well-made items. Plus they know how to put them all together. And I agree…the sweaters thrown around the shoulder is not my favorite look for men, either. 🙂

  • I have also noticed that Italians always look good no matter what they wear. I guess they have a really good sense of fashion and they know how to pull the outfit off really well,.

  • In Europe I do visit in many countries but among all I’ve found Italy is the best for fashion sense in people. Men and women both have their great fashion trend in mind and most importantly I’ve learned a lot about latest fashion and outfitting styles by traveling and staying in Italy for many days.

    I love the way they make everything pretty simple and classic.

  • June says:

    I agree to the fellow bloggers that France and Italy is been the head quarter of style and fashion. Lots of trends have aroused from here in the past and still in progress.

    I liked all the images that you have shared in the post, especially the second one.

    Style is what that suites your taste and persona…

    This is the reason why I liked your post, because your have shared all the fashion pictures and details for every age and genre.

    Great Share!!

  • Hi Jenna,

    Very nice of you for posting it with us.

    Italy is a well developed country having open minded people, it is pleasure going Italy. Their’s fashion statement is always good and the one which is appreciated among all. Yes window shopping is a main way of shopping there.

    The whole article written by you is great and shows why the Italians are always perfect with their dressing sense and style. The ways described here by you make it clear and easy to understand.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Have a nice week ahead.

    ~ Harshwardhan
    Harswardhan Azad Singh recently posted..20 Wardrobe Essentials That Every Twenty Something Girl Must HaveMy Profile

  • Yes, you’re right about their knowing how to keep it straightforward. I surmise that in light of the fact that there aren’t the same number of crappy garments decisions as there are here in the U.S., Italians keep it basic with great, well-made things. Additionally they know how to assemble every one of them.

  • Jane Arnold says:

    Hii..!!!!
    I am really lucky to stop by this post. What a fashion they have. Thanks for sharing such a great post.

  • Mateo says:

    This is actually true. Moving from Brescia to New York, I never knew how fashionable I was and why I would get the constant stares every time I am outside. Fashion is like writing, cooking, or driving in Italy; you don’t give it a second, you just do it.

    I was very shocked on how lazy the fashion was, especially in New York as it’s one of the fashion capital cities. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen *some* stylish people on the streets of New York but not everywhere. However, traveling to Milan, Milaneses are extremely fashionable and they will not talk to you if you’re not dressed properly and will scorn you if you wear sweatpants in public. They take the fashion title to the heart.

  • Christina says:

    Your contrasting pictures really say a lot about the differences. Your comments about the classic male style in Italy are definitely supported by the photographs.

  • Lauraa Ping says:

    As i was in search of some different points to look all time attractive in formal clothes and here my search ended by reading your post. I agree with you that scarves are also important in looking best and elegant. Specially for men to have a little bit of change in their dressing. Alluring pictures and ideas with beautiful designs 🙂

  • This is a very interesting perspective on the cultural differences that affect fashion. Thanks

  • katie says:

    Unique dresses,bright attractive colors can be seen every where in Italy.Even I found street fashion attractive too.Loose styles look amazing.Very informative article.Thanks for sharing!

  • McKenzie says:

    I totally agree that I wish we didn’t go so overly casual all of the time! Thanks for sharing the beautiful and richness of Italian fashion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge