The Italian Road to Clout
By Gabi Perry
I would be lying if I said I did not try to buy a whole new closet of cute summer clothes before flying out to Rome. We all want in on that oh-so desirable Instagram clout and said clout is achieved by a simple math equation: Fashion + Scenery = Clout. I heard rumors about European and Italian fashion. Apparently, athleisure was nonexistent and women and men alike dressed to the nines all the time. I was a bit, try incredibly, worried about whether or not I would fit in just based on appearances. If I was spending the summer in the United States, I would not care about my clothing at all. I would be wearing a t-shirt and athletic shorts all day, every day. You would not catch me going out to the closest supermarket wearing a dress, skirt, or anything that was not uber comfortable and could potentially classify as pajamas. In fact most, if not all, of my friends would be in the exact same position. The exception would be going out to parties, work, or dinner, but for the sake of this blog, I am strictly writing about everyday casual clothing.
During my first few days in Rome, I found myself people-watching and keeping an eye out for what they wore. The first thing that was told to me by too many people was to not wear white shoes. White shoes were a clear give away that one was not European or Italian. So what did I do? I packed two pairs of white shoes, of course. This idea was true back in the day, but with the rise of social media and influence of American celebrities in Italy, white shoes are in. White shoes, sneakers to be more exact, have become popular among young Europeans due to two brands: Adidas and Vans. I did not expect these brands to be so popular and well known outside of the United States, but I have seen a Vans and Adidas store in every city I have visited. I was afraid to see women wearing only heels and wedges while walking through the streets of Rome, but my worries were invalid. Comfortable shoes are a necessity in Rome. The trick is to find comfortable, yet good-looking shoes. I have seen countless men and women wear fashionable sneakers and sandals on the tram. Fashion can look appealing and be functional at the same time.
An experience I am rather bitter about occurred on my first day in Rome. I was rudely turned away from the Pantheon due to my “provocative” and “disrespectful” clothing. I was wearing simple jean shorts and a black top that covered my shoulders. The length of my shorts are perfectly acceptable in social settings, but they were deemed offensive by the security guard working for the Church. At this point, I realized Italian style was very different than American style. Italian style is modest when compared to American style. This may be changing with the newer generations, but there are very deep roots that value modesty greatly. Younger women my age tend to be the ones I see showing more skin and wearing flashy outfits while the older women are fashionable but modest. The Catholic Church has had a stronghold over Italian culture for multiple centuries. This stronghold has dictated the attire of both men and women and has slowly loosened over time. I have since learned that in Italian churches, women are expected to cover their shoulders and their knees. Due to this requirement, there are many fashionable options that respect these dated guidelines. Linen dress pants, jumpsuits, scarves across the shoulders, and maxi dresses are just a few key pieces in the Italian wardrobe. If anyone was wondering, I did buy myself some linen pants as a way to appear Italian, but also to be accepted by my own Catholic Church.
Despite the Catholic Church’s stronghold on Italian culture and attire, Italy has always been at the forefront of high fashion. The most iconic fashion designers are from Italy and Italians know how to represent them well. Via del Corso, the main street in Central Rome, is littered with these high-end boutiques and shops. Valentino, Prada, and Gucci are just a few examples. I have already stated that Italians prioritize quality over convenience and that is clear within the walls of these designer stores. Each product in Valentino was handled with pristine white gloves and the utmost care. Every employee in Gucci was ready to assist each customer on their journey to find the right belt or purse. Italian goods have a higher standard of quality than most American products in general. The leather products are exquisite, the dyes in the fabric are vibrant and to die for, and everything is created and crafted carefully. These accessories and clothes are not just things one wears or puts on their body. These products become a part of your image. They represent your ideals and passions. Accessories, especially high-end accessories, are just as much a part of your image as your hair and smile.
Why is there such a difference between American and Italian everyday casual wear in the first place? It all goes back to simple cultural differences. The United States is a country obsessed with the American dream of moving on up and moving quickly. As a result of this, life in the United States is fast-paced and there is no stopping to smell the metaphorical roses. Americans like to multi-task and, at times, like to prioritize convenience over quality. To us, convenience is wearing a t-shirt and athletic shorts because it is easy and it allows us to potentially go to the gym, store, and class all in one singular outfit.
On the other hand, Italians are greatly influenced by the concept of “la bella figura.” La bella figura refers to how one represents oneself in all aspects. This includes behaviors, manners, actions, and above all appearance. Clothing is a key component to one’s appearance and that is why casual Italian clothes seem so much dressier than casual American clothing. Italians are constantly playing the bella figura and performing for the public. An American phrase that connects with this concept is “look good, feel good, play good.” Looking good and dressing for the part one wants in society is essential to the bella figura. Italians are great actors because they perform for the surrounding environment in order to be perceived in the light they want to be seen in.
It is not only about la bella figura, but the different “steps” of Rome. These steps are the ones you take from the confines of your home to the outside porch entering the city. These two worlds are completely different environments in Italy. Private life is kept entirely separate from public life. These steps are reflected in the clothing of Italians. I have not seen a native Roman wearing their pajamas or any clothes resembling pajamas outside on the street. Italians are put together while in public because clothes worn inside the home are not suitable or respectable to the public. Out in the public, everyone is constantly being watched and silently judged for how they present themselves. With this need to be seen as the best version of oneself, no wonder Italians consistently dress better than most Americans.
I was opposed to the harsh separation of private and public attire in the beginning because I was so caught up in the American value of convenience. Once you start presenting yourself in the light of the bella figura, the process of getting up and ready in the morning gets ten times easier. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed dressing up each day and adhering to the bella figura. I found myself actively wanting to buy clothes and accessories that would make me seem more Italian and fashionable. I liked knowing that once I was in my pajamas and comfortable t-shirt and shorts that I would be done going outside for the day. It makes being in the comforts of your home much more relaxing. It also gives you a major confidence boost. Simply dressing better and playing the part I want to be in society will be one of the most valuable lessons and pieces of Italian culture I bring back to the United States. Go ahead and incorporate some Italian style into your life. I guarantee you it will bring a smile to your face and many compliments from friends, family, and the occasional stranger.
About the Author
Gabi Perry is a Junior at Colorado State University studying History with a concentration in Social Studies Teaching. She is originally from Norman, Oklahoma but has become so proud to be a CSU Ram. Gabi has successfully achieved the Italian clout and will be sure to bring it back with her to Fort Collins. She will never forget the valuable memories of gelato outings, cracked coconuts, and the ragazzi. Studying abroad in Rome has been a memorable and educational experience that she will treasure for the rest of her life. Gabi would like to thank her brother for being her personal Rick Steves across Tuscany and her parents for making this dream a reality.
Carlo Levi, “The Steps of Rome,” Fleeting Rome: In Search of La Dolce Vita, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (2004).