Women's summer clothing for Italy
May 27, 2008 5:01 PM   Subscribe

What do I wear in central Italy this July so that I don't instantly look like a North American (Canadian) tourist. I'm a 60-year old petite blond.

I don't mind being found out once I open my mouth, and I'm not looking for behavioral suggestions.
More like skirts/pants, short/long sleeves (I know about the churches), colors, shoes, are pedal-pushers (capri pants) ok?, what kind of purse, etc.
posted by feelinggood to Travel & Transportation around Italy (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Baseball caps, t-shirts or sweatshirts (especially with logos, college names, etc.), white sneakers (oh god), backpacks (or fanny packs), and pleated khakis and jeans (especially light-wash jeans) always strike me as dead giveaways every time I've been overseas.

My personal packing list for your trip would include a lot of short-sleeved blouses (in solids or low-key patterns), a couple of light cardigans, and plain knee-length skirts or capris, with dark-colored walking shoes. For accessories, a matching satchel-style purse (or possibly messenger bag) in which to keep a camera well-hidden, plus perhaps a straw hat for sun protection. A wrap or jacket that travels well is handy for going out to dinner at night.
posted by scody at 5:38 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Capri pants - sure, plus a sleeveless top or something with skinny straps. For shoes you might as well go with sneakers with those mini tennis socks. These are the sorts of things my Italian girlfriend wears in the summer in Italy. You couldn't go wrong either with some nice light dresses.
Avoid: Tilley hat; T-shirts; Maple Leaf flags and/or Roots apparel; kahki pants, especially the kind with the legs that zip off; baseball caps; money belt; backpack with all sorts of straps and stuff hanging off it. Basically, anything that they try to sell you in 'Europe Bound' you don't want to be seen using in Europe.
As far as bag/purse goes, you're probably best off with just a simple shoulder bag that you can stash a camera in (rather than having said camera dangle around your neck). Or else, just buy a handbag from a Senegalese street vendor someplace, a fake Prada or Fendi, that would help you blend in too.
posted by Flashman at 5:48 PM on May 27, 2008

I literally wore out my linen dress when I was in Italy. I wouldn't say that I fit in, but it seemed to work okay. My advice is to wear a solid color, comfortable dress or dark pants with a light shawl that you can take on and off for the churches.

I want to say wear dark colors, but it gets hot in Italy in the summer, so I'm not sure that's the best idea. Just wear simple colors, and bring with you or buy a simple but nice scarf or shawl. I bet you could wear some cropped pants, a tunic or white button-down shirt, and some nice (but comfortable) sandals and not stand out too much. Here's another example. You might also find some good ideas on the TravelSmith website. I'd probably go for a wider-leg cropped pant if you're petite - it will be super comfortable and probably would look llike a skirt!

I did not usually carry a purse when I was in Italy, but when I did I had a small leather purse that stayed across my shoulder and in front. A small shoulder bag would be very practical, if anything just to hide your "I just visited the Sistine Chapel" plastic gift shop bag.

Really, they'll know that you're a foreigner no matter what - especially if you're blond. Just stay away from flags/logos on your clothing and fanny packs and you'll be looking better than tons of tourists! And, unless you're visiting smaller towns, I wouldn't worry too much about fitting in fashion-wise. You might find yourself in a sea of tourists anyway. What makes the biggest impression is how you act, not what you're wearing - which as you said you've got covered.
posted by belau at 5:53 PM on May 27, 2008

Or else, just buy a handbag from a Senegalese street vendor someplace

Be extraordinarily careful if you decide to do this. In the past few years, Italy has made purchasing anything from these guys a punishable offense. They used to just go after the vendors - now they go after you, too.
posted by AthenaPolias at 5:53 PM on May 27, 2008

Why not just dress how you are comfortable and be authentic to yourself?
posted by gjc at 7:08 PM on May 27, 2008

Just don't dress as a north american tourist! Seriously, baseball caps, backpacks, fanny packs, logos and/or white sneakers (!) aside, you'll be fine anyway. N-thing sleeveless or short-sleeved blouses, and a shawl (for entering churches*). Sandals are ok, so are leather purses; we usually tend to dress in somehow subdued colours but exceptions are the norm here. Plus, in certain areas there's so many tourists that standing off from the crowd shouldn't be worrying you so much. (and we're too busy making fun of the German tourists anyway)

The fake handbag is not the soundest bit of advice (I am using all my understatement here), you'd risk arrest and a fine up to some 16,000 CAD, and that is actually enforced, not so frequently (there wouln't be street vendors, then) but you don't want to be that random, unfortunate case.

Oh, Nalgene bottles are a dead giveaway ;)

* a smiling priest of a small, empty, off-the-path church in Assisi was waving me and my then bare-shouldered-lady-travel-companion inside, as he was finishing mopping the floor, saying: "Don't worry, God knows how your shoulders look like, actually. Do come in."
posted by _dario at 7:17 PM on May 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

scody's advice above is excellent. As someone who had the pleasure of visiting Italy last summer (lucky you!), I'd like to stress the HAT part of her advice. BRING A HAT. Ideally, something foldable with wide brims. It was wicked hot in Rome last year, probably the hottest temperature I've ever experienced in my life (and I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and currently live in Tokyo, where heat and humidity in the summers can be pretty draining, too). As a tourist, you will find yourself having to stand in line in harsh direct sunlight (e.g. at the Vatican to get into St. Peter's Basilica, or outside the wall to get into the Vatican Museums, etc.) and to go without a hat could potentially be dangerous (I thought so, anyway. I suppose people's tolerances are different). A small compact umbrella could be a lifesaver, too, used as a parasol if need be. Have fun!
posted by misozaki at 8:42 PM on May 27, 2008

For the love of God... NO FANNY PACK.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:41 AM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

gjc's advise is solid; just be yourself.

I'm an American who has been living in Europe for about eleven years and no matter how you dress you're gonna be identifiable as not from here. So why even try?

Everyone is a tourist somewhere. Don't worry about what other folks think and just enjoy your holiday.
posted by Mutant at 4:57 AM on May 28, 2008

I don't know how you usually dress, so a lot of this advice may be moot. If you avoid anything that is really better classified as gym/athletic apparel, you won't feel like you stick out as The American Tourist.

I don't get the "why bother" responses. Because she wants to. It's okay to care how you look.
posted by desuetude at 7:16 AM on May 28, 2008

When I was in Europe in 2000, all the women wore what I termed "asspants". Like sausage casings. Not something I'll ever wear again, and I'm sure the fashion has evolved, but I think European women still tend to wear tighter pants.

If you're worried about it, international stores like Mango, H&M, and Zara are everywhere and have fairly cheap clothes. You could bring your blouses, etc. and supplement from there with what you see other people wearing.
posted by GardenGal at 8:06 AM on May 28, 2008

I'll second GardenGal's advice. If you can afford it, pack light and plan to buy a few articles when you get there.

There are TONS of shops in Rome, for instance. Prices are generally reasonable (unless you're in an upscale designer store, or smack in the middle of the old city), and if you look a little (down side streets, for instance), you can find stores with excellent prices and helpful personnel.

I was in Rome a couple of weeks ago and bought bags full of clothes on the cheap. My girlfriend (hard to shop for) found some great items for extremely low prices.
posted by syzygy at 9:50 AM on May 28, 2008

Linen skirts and dresses. Any skirts, really.

And no shorts. The only women I've seen in Italy wearing shorts are tourists.
posted by kilikina73 at 12:20 PM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I'm sure this is obvious, but no SKORTS! Eww.
posted by kilikina73 at 12:21 PM on June 9, 2008

I LOVE Fig Clothing (out of Montreal) for that exact purpose and reason. Their clothes are very comfortable to travel in and pack well, but when you wear them once you have arrived at your destination, you'll fit right in. I bought a skirt (this one in black) for a 2004 trip to Europe and wore it throughout France, Italy and Germany.

I think the styles are named for airports of the world, and I love their BOMBAY dress, and the LAX dress too.

Make sure your footwear is comfortable because nothing is as uncomfortable as blistered feet...ballet flats will accent anything well. Head scarves and scarves of all kinds, really, and DON'T FORGET YOUR LARGE SUNGLASSES! You'll fit right in!
Have fun...
posted by TamaraModernGearTV at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

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