Sweatpants at the Supermarket

Perfectly coiffed hair, designer puff jacket with black fur vest on top, ideal Italian supermarket look. Photo by Trisha Thomas

When I moved to Italy many moons ago (1993), it took me some time to adjust to the different attitudes towards dressing. First and foremost, Italians are extremely fashion conscious. It makes sense given that fashion is a huge industry in Italy. Armani, Gucci, Versace, Fendi, Valentino are all household names. Many Italians also regularly wear designer clothing – an Armani Suit, a Fendi bag, or Ferragamo shoes. I don’t think I ever owned anything designer before moving to Italy. About as far as I went was Banana Republic and maybe some Victoria’s Secret underwear.

But it is not about designer clothing, it is about the “bella figura”, making a good impression, looking chic. In Italy, one dresses properly before going out the door. It doesn’t matter if you are just taking the kids to the school, running out to get some milk at the supermarket, or buying a newspaper at the newstand, people dress nicely.

Here are a few basic rules that I have learned over the years.

Italian Clothing Rules for Mammas

1. Don’t be caught dead wearing sweatpants to the supermarket.

2. Never wear shorts even on the hottest day of summer, but you can wear a skirt so mini it is almost invisible.

3. Never wear sneakers, unless you are running or working out.

4. If you wear sandals, make sure you have perfectly pedicured feet with colored toenails, bordeaux to nearly brown is considered a chic color for toenails.

5.You can wear heels even ten inches high, even if you have to walk on cobblestones and the heels continue to get stuck between the cobblestones and your feet are killing you.

My colleague, APTN Cameraman Paolo Lucariello, still waxes eloquent about “chasing the moon” with “Jennifer”, the only American he has ever fallen for, because she knew how to trip-trap, teeter-totter over Rome’s cobblestones wobbling on perilously high, sky-scraper heels while clinging to his arm to keep from toppling.

6. Feel free to show off your cleavage if you have any, it is always much appreciated by Italian men. (see Boobilicious).

7. If you wear jeans, make sure they are butt-snugly tight, baggy is not Italian-style.

8. Skirts below your knees are considered too long. Feel free to wear one if you are a nun in Rome, otherwise avoid them. Do wear a longer skirt if you are a journalist covering the Vatican (see Watch Your Tongue, Hands and Eyes)

9. Tailleurs, or ladies suits, are considered appropriate on Sundays, especially for going to Mass and lunch with the family afterwards.  A tailleur can be a bit of a problem if you want to take your kids for a bike ride at the park after lunch.  However, no Italian Mamma would take her children for a bike ride at the park after Sunday lunch because that is the time for the “pisolino” – post-lunch nap. Tailleurs are also considered appropriate for birthday parties with young children. (See Italian Mini Divas)

10. If you own a fur coat, wear it as soon as it is a little bit cold.

11. Sunglasses can be worn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even during the winter. For women the bigger, the better – aim for an Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O look.

12. Boots can be worn all year around, even in the summer, but if you are wearing boots with bare legs, make sure your legs are perfectly hairless. (See Luscious Legs)

13. Grey hair is not visible on any Italian female head. But there is plenty of admiration for Christine Lagarde, she’s allowed because she is French.

I was amazed before Christmas when I was doing a story on food distribution for the poor.  I visited a food distribution center run by the Catholic charity Sant’Egidio and noticed that all the little old ladies in line waiting for their free food supplies had colored hair — one was bluish, another peroxide blond and another jet black.  Clearly they weren’t spending on Rome’s top hairdressers, but they were spending on something to color their hair and then waiting in line for free food.

14. Comfortable is not something to factor in, chic is.

Finally, if you want to make sure people know you are American – Wear shorts and sneakers,  cut your spaghetti and order a cappuccino after lunch.

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Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

16 Comments

  1. Alan
    2012/02/17

    . . so, ‘slobbing about’, ‘slumming it’ have no translatable content, then? I feel really inferior!

    Reply
  2. Gwen
    2012/02/17

    Italian women must work out to maintain such bella figuras. Do they ever stop to run errands in their workout gear after the gym? One of the trends here, a shift from your champion sweatpant look is yoga pants which are form fitting but also casual and athletic looking. I guess there are no “soccer” moms in Italy either, only the bella figuras on the sidelines??

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/02/19

      Hmm, you’ve given me some food for thought. How do Italian women get home from the gym? I think the answer is they take a shower at the gym and get all dressed up before heading home. There is definitely no running around doing errands in workout clothes. As far as the soccer moms are concerned I guess they don’t really exist in Italy, I guess you are right, bella figura on the sideline. But if I think about it, attending children’s athletic events is not as much of a national habit here. I am not sure why.

      Reply
  3. Kathleen Botsford
    2012/02/17

    We’re in Florence and you can definitely pick out lots of the Americans. And in Venice….I have never seen so many beautiful and gorgeously styled fur coats in my life. I asked our guide if Italy has a PETA chapter but she was unsure.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/02/19

      Yes, fur coats everywhere. There definitely is a big PETA chapter in Italy, Associated Press Television has often covered their flash-mob actions in Rome — throwing fake blood on the store windows of Roberto Cavalli store on Via Condotti etc. Still, the fur business is big in Italy. I am not sure why.

      Reply
  4. Lisa | Renovating Italy
    2012/02/19

    Ohh I am in big trouble I always dress for comfort, and don’t own any high heels! No wonder they shook their heads when they saw us…
    ciao lisa

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/02/19

      Lisa, you definitely need to buy some “tacchi a spillo” and a “pellicia”. Just kidding, stay as you are. Comfort is key.

      Reply
  5. nyc/caribbean ragazza
    2012/02/19

    So True!

    I haven’t worn sweats outside the house, unless I’m working out, since I moved here. Wasn’t even a conscious choice. I think I reverted back to my NYC days after ten long years in Los Angeles.

    In L.A. women would wear PJs bottoms to the supermarket.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/02/19

      I love it. The supermarket in pajama bottoms. Maybe I should move to LA. Can you wear your bedroom slippers too? Do you have any photos of someonein pj’s doing their shopping. Would love to stick a photo like that in my blog to show the difference.

      Reply
      • nyc/caribbean ragazza
        2012/02/20

        No I don’t have any photos of PJ shoppers in L..A. I was too horrified to take any discreetly. ha

        Regarding the gym, I used to take a class at a gym near the Spanish Steps.

        The first time I went I was shocked that everyone (men and women) took a shower before we went to grab an aperitivi. I thought it was going to be L.A. style, wear your sweaty, sticky clothes to the bar/caffe. Lesson learned.

        After that I always showered at the gym unless I was going home right after class.

        That said, I do wear my tennis outfits in public because there’s no shower and it’s clear that I’m on my way to play or have played. With sweats people assume you’re just a slob.

        Americans do have a rep (not just in Italy. You should see the get ups in the Caribbean) for being sloppy. I don’t think it true. The way New Yorkers dress is different than how Angeleos dress.

        I had no idea there was a PETA chapter here! I don’t wear fur but as a black women I hate their awful marketing.

        Reply
        • Trisha Thomas
          Trisha Thomas
          2012/02/20

          I know what you mean about being embarassed taking photos of other people. Today this really glamourous woman got on the 160 bus with me in the center of Rome wearing spike heeled leopard skin boots. They were amazing. I don’t know how she managed to walk with them. I tried to discreetly take some photos of her feet but I failed miserably. Then I decided I would just get up my courage and tell her I really needed a photo of her boots for my blog, and then suddenly she stood up and got off the bus. Oh well. Just checked out your blog. Very cool. If any of my readers want to see it, it is http://www.sistergirltales.blogspot.com/

          Reply
  6. Barbara Landi
    2012/02/24

    Mamma mia…when I was in Verona 6 years ago, traipsing on the same marble & cobblestones as my maternal ancestors, I felt carried back in time to the 50s when I was a child, and all the women in my family wore fur coats or fur stoles. They still wear them in Verona! And there I was stepping along those hallowed paths in my tennis shoes, aka “sneakers.” Che scandalo!

    Reply
  7. Rebecca Butler
    2012/02/25

    Two years ago we joined a gym in Rome on the Via Veneto (they have an incredible sauna and steam room)! and the women did the gym thing then got fully ready with hair makeup clothing heels everything.

    We like that in Rome the people tend to be more fashionable and put together and it inspires us to do so but – even though I’ve lost 30 pounds since January I still have an INSANE amount to lose (yes, I became a fat American, still shocks me I did, but I’m doing something about it) so because I don’t have a bella figure (that won’t happen until NEXT visit) I feel like, oh you won’t look good anyway, you’re fat, why bother. Then I remember I like being incognito somewhat, so I wear my prada walking shoes (not heels for sight seeing thank you) and fairly nice trousers or jeans, a nice top or jacket, maybe a little make up and I actually take the effort of blowdrying my hair, cool big sunglasses and I’m good. when I first went to Rome I was skinny and could wear what I want but I was never into godawful sports tshirts and ugly pants and ugly sneakers (I will wear prada or funky red euro sneakers some times) and baseball hats. SO I will not be a bella figure but I do put effort into it when I’m there. I think it’s ok to wear sweat or yoga pants (not too tight) to shop in, I like the option of both. I would never be done up every day for simple things, but I do like a higher standard in general. As long as people aren’t jerks about it:)

    Reply
  8. Rebecca Butler
    2012/02/25

    I don’t wear baseball hats I mean. or the dreaded fanny packs. I mean what are people thinking?

    Reply
  9. Rebecca Butler
    2012/02/25

    nyc/caribbean ragazza love your blog!

    Reply

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