Italian men have oily, black, curly hair. They wear supple leather loafers and stylish leather motorcycle jackets. They nonchalantly sling satchels over the jaunty lapels of their designer blazers. Their clothes all fit like a glove, and their leather gloves fit even better than their clothes.
They whiz around the streets on agile little Vespas, the only vehicle that looks as lithe and clever as they do. Their scarves trail in the wind behind them as they zip towards a vineyard or cafe. This description sounds stereotypical, but after three months in Italy, I am delighted to report that it’s absolutely true. Italians look every bit as Italian as I pictured them before I arrived.
Italian culture holds in high esteem a notion known as “bella figura.” Literally translated it means “beautiful figure,” but really what it means is that everyone looks put-together all the time. The dress code for an average Italian sidewalk brushes up against what would be called business casual in the United States. Women strut along cobblestone streets in four-inch high heels. Every man’s beard is perfectly trimmed. Even the little kids have designer sunglasses. It’s not a coincidence that all the most famous fashion brands in the world are Italian.
Bella figura creates a de facto dress code of sorts and as a result, Italians are the most fashionable people in the world. But the dress code can feel restrictive, especially coming from a different country. For example, Italians are not fans of athletic wear. When the weather was warm, my fellow Americans and I would play basketball at a court near one of the University of Siena buildings.
Walking through the school in athletic shorts and gym t-shirts attracted shocked stares. The Italian students, tight-jean-ed and lipstick-ed, looked at us like we were stark naked and the basketball under my arm was a severed head. Italians do exercise, but they do it in secret and only talk about it in hushed tones. America’s favorite genre of clothing, “athleisure,” is utterly verboten. I haven’t seen a pair of yoga pants all semester. Wearing running shoes out of the house is like wearing flip-flops to a funeral. Continue reading at The Cavalier Daily.