Thursday 6 March 2008

To dress or not to an Italian

For those very few of you who have never had the pleasure of visiting Italy, you may not be aware of the extent to which fashion grips the average Italian. Take a look at any fashion magazine and you are likely to find that half a dozen of the first pages are Italian brands with slick ads for sunglasses, footwear and fashion. From these images one could be forgiven for assuming that every Italian looks like an extra in a Prada shoot. This is not quite the case, but there is a consciousness about dress that is omnipresent and all-pervading. I recently saw a quiz show on television where the contestant had to choose the fashion “no-no” from the four options given to him; I think the correct answer was the wearing of Bermuda shorts with a sock/trainer combo. Although some people may think that shorts with white socks and trainers is rather fetching as a weekend-strolling-by-the-river sort of outfit, you will not find the average Italian debasing their fashion conscience with such sordid informality. No, over here it seems you either dress up or stay at home.

When we look back at photos of our first years in Italy, we realise that we have not managed to escape the Italianisation of our own dress sense. When we arrived in Italy in the hot summer of 1999, our clothing tastes owed much more to a love of retro 70’s tracksuit tops and flared cords than to the glossy boutiques of Florence or Rome. Whilst these glossy boutiques are still slightly out of range, we have certainly begun to dress up rather than down. Seven years ago the idea of wearing beige suede, slip-on driving moccasins, without socks, would have filled me with horror. These days no summer is complete without them; I am even wearing them right now. The fact that my friends back in the UK really are filled with horror when they see me sporting these most Italian items of footwear means that I have to be careful when packing for trips back.

OK, so I may be guilty of dressing up occasionally and trying to look like I might have just stepped off a yacht in Porto Ercole, but there are certain things at which I try to draw the line. One of these things is the Italian preoccupation for logos; all shapes and sizes, almost exclusively written in English and often brilliantly misspelled. Whereas for most Brits a trip to Italy may be a dream holiday, whether for culture and history or food and wine, for countless young Italians the reverse is true. Ask many of them and their life dream is to visit England (especially London), the country of “Laddy Dee” (Lady Diana), the true pint, “ooligans” and the promise of unbeatable fashion. They may not think much of our food, but they do seem to think that Inghilterra is at the summit of trend in many other ways. This is evidenced by the profligate use of Union Jacks and English witticisms on clothing, that are either unintelligible, or else only wearable if the owner does not understand what is written on his or her chest. Much of this trend derives from sportswear and the now internationally recognized team/country/club polo shirts or track tops. One of the main exponents of this fashion genre was an upmarket polo label from South America, but cheap copies have now spread in terrifying proportions to local street markets up and down Italy. Walk down any large Corso on a weekend afternoon and you will be hard pushed not to spot a variety of outfits expressing the bearer’s allegiance to such delights as the “Fotbol teem Kuala Lumpur”; with a Union Jack on one sleeve and probably a Rising Sun on the other, just for good measure.

There are of course other trends that set the Italians apart from the rest. On your travels you may be lucky enough to spot a “logo folder”; the phenomenon whereby a jumper tied at the waist is carefully folded such that the logo is showing at the front for all to see. Alternatively you may remark on the slavish adherence to the seasons; how the winter jackets come out on 1st of November whether the winter has arrived or not. Whatever the weather, there really is not much room here for slouching and in this sense we poor foreigners tend to stand out like proverbial thumbs. As hard as you try, you just cannot quite carry it off like the Italians do. If you cannot walk the passeggiata with a polo shirt emblazoned with “Soccen League Champion Ship”, or you lack the essential summer slip-on driving shoes, then at least try to do one thing: avoid the shorts with socks combo.

No comments: