What to Wear in Italy in the Summer

by Jessica on May 12, 2009

by | May 12th, 2009  

summerattireWhen I travel in Italy, I like to try to fit in as much as possible and try to avoid looking like a tourist. Admittedly, this can be tough to do – when you’re walking around an unfamiliar city with a camera hanging around your neck, you’re kind of going to stand out a bit. But Italians are world-famous for their sense of fashion and style, and I really hate the idea that I can be picked out as an American at first glance, so I do what I can – and I’m going to share some of my tips here with you about how to look like a local in Italy during your summer vacation.

Now, I need to mention a couple of things at the outset here. First, anytime you’re visiting a place other than your home, for reasons other than business (and even sometimes then), you’re a tourist. Personally, I hate the whole “traveler” vs. “tourist” argument, and consider the two words to be virtually interchangeable. That doesn’t mean, however, that all tourists are created equally, and these tips are meant to help those of you who would like to blend in a bit more do so.

Second, I realize there’s a whole contingent of travelers who doesn’t care what they look like when they’re traveling – so long as they’re fully clothed, and their belongings can be crammed into a bag that’s small enough to fit in an overhead bin, they don’t care what they’re wearing. Obviously, most of my tips here aren’t going to appeal to you. But let me just say that the less you look like a tourist, the less of a target you are for pickpockets and other thieves who are just looking for the next hapless foreigner to scam or steal from. So, while you may not go from hiking boots to stilettos by the time you finish reading this post, you may look at your travel wardrobe a little differently.

Okay, so with that out of the way, let’s get to my tips for looking like a local in Italy!

  • There is such a thing as “too casual.” While at home, you may not give a second thought to running around town or going out to eat wearing khaki shorts and an Old Navy T-shirt with your tennis shoes and a baseball cap, that kind of attire just isn’t seen on anyone but the tourists (yes, it’s mainly Americans I’m talking about here) in Italy. The Italian definition of “casual” is much more dressy than most of us are used to. You can bring skirts or a lightweight pair of linen pants instead of shorts; nicer blouses or tank-tops, button-down or polo shirts without logos (or flags) on them instead of logo T-shirts; and a comfortable pair of black or brown walking shoes or flats instead of tennis shoes. These clothes may require a bit more ironing before you wear them (fashion has its price), so check that your hotel has an iron and ironing board you can use.
  • Backpacks are not purses. If you’re taking a day-hike through the Tuscan countryside, or packing enough stuff for a trip to the beach, then a backpack is ideal. If, on the other hand, you’re spending the day walking around Florence or Venice, a backpack is not only too bulky and awkward (especially in busy and crowded shops, cafes, and museums), you might as well wear a big target on your back that says, “I’m a tourist! I’ve got cool stuff in here like a camera, and perhaps even my wallet! Rob me, please!” Besides, the Italians aren’t walking around with backpacks, either. For walking around a city, ditch the backpack at your hotel and use a small purse instead – preferably one that hangs across your body and doesn’t just get tucked under your arm. I have a purse addiction, but when I travel in Italy I always use a cross-body purse with no snap closures (only zippers) and I wear it across my body hanging in the front. You can find leather versions or more utilitarian versions, and they come in all sizes. To my mind, the important things are that it’s worn across your body and can’t hang open as an invitation to pickpockets. You’ll find various cross-body pags online (here’s one on Amazon) – just search for “cross-body bags” and browse the offerings until you find one that suits your needs.
  • Stick with basic black. My closet at home is a veritable rainbow of colors, but when I travel in Italy I try to limit my clothing palette to primarily black. Then I’ll throw in a few items that coordinate with black, but aren’t too bright or attention-grabbing. Black is always in fashion, even in summer, and it goes with everything – so if you get to Italy and find the color of the season is lime green or mauve, you can pick up a small item in a market in the new hot color and pair it with what you’ve brought with you. The other benefit of sticking with basic black is that you don’t have to bring two color palettes for shoes or handbags. (And you can just as easily substitute brown for black here, I’m just partial to black.)
  • Get maps that fold themselves. This isn’t a fashion tip, but it’s a tip that’ll help you limit the amount of time you’re not only potentially looking the part of a tourist, but also acting like one. Instead of packing a city map that requires lots of folding and unfolding every time you want to use it (requiring lots of space and patience to get the damned thing folded back up again), pick up city maps that fold and unfold themselves in a second. My personal favorites are these pop-up maps, not only because they don’t ask me to be an origami artist, but also because they’re so compact they’ll fit in your back pocket. I’ve got these maps for lots of cities in Italy (they cover all the major tourist cities), and I have yet to be disappointed by them.
  • Do your research. This final tip is for the people who are really fashion-conscious, and who are absolutely intent on not being out of style when they’re in Italy. If you really want to know what the latest fashion trends are in Italy, do your research – which means checking out Italian fashion magazines or their websites (as much for the advertising as the articles), or other fashion websites that have pictures of that year’s fashion shows, and see what’s hot. For instance, one summer when I visited Italy, all the pretty young things were wearing something inexplicable to me, but it was everywhere (so it had to be “in,” right?) – knee-length shorts with nearly-knee-high cowboy boots. In the heat of summer. Yes, I want to fit in, but I wasn’t about to go that far.

I’ve had experiences where locals have asked me in Italian for directions to a particular shop or Metro stop, or asked the time, or just started chatting in Italian with me because we were sitting near each other in a cafe or at a soccer game – and they had no idea I wasn’t a local, too. I treasure these moments, because it makes me think that I am – at least for that brief moment – not standing out like the tourist sore thumb that I think I am.

And yet the truth is that even if you follow Italian fashion religiously and don’t make a single misstep in terms of your look, you may still stand out like a tourist. Don’t be discouraged by this, because you are a tourist, and that’s not the end of the world. We are all tourists at one time or another. Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to dress like one.

Check out this post for more tips on what to wear in Italy.

{ 26 comments }

Cristina September 25, 2008 at 9:41 am
Corner

While in Vienna I had the same experience of being asked in German abt a Street. I politely had to tell them to ask in English. They have taken me as a “local”. Granted, it’s so easy to “blend in” there b/c everyone seemed to wear jeans and cute tops – just like me :)

Corner

Joan Schmelzle May 14, 2009 at 3:13 pm
Corner

Hi,
You might want to throw in the fact that in some churches especially in Rome, two of the fashion tops in the pictures would not have been allowed in without a scarf around the wearers’ shoulders. This includes the Vatican Museums.

Corner

d February 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm
Corner

This article is so curious! I’m italian but I can’t understand why you don’t want to look like a tourist while in Italy. Are you afraid? We are not all thieves!
And we are tourists sometimes, too. We like to visit other cities and we don’t walk all the day with black dresses while temperature is 35°C to not look like tourists. Comfort is the most important thing when you are visiting a town and the weather is hot! Why is so bad to look like a tourist or a traveller in your opinion? I’m so curious!
DD

Corner

d February 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm
Corner

Oh, and when you will arrive to Italy, you will notice that most of people (expecially the young) wear jeans and sporty shoes.
And why to hide your map? If you visit a n important town like Rome or Florence for exemple, you will not be the only person with a map, there will be thousands of people like you

Corner

Jessica February 26, 2010 at 3:09 pm
Corner

Hi, D:

Many people like to look like they fit in when they travel, so they don’t want to look like tourists. This isn’t true for everyone, of course, but sometimes it’s nice to not immediately stand out from the crowd – sometimes it’s fun to try to blend in. And in some places, not looking like a tourist is also about showing respect for that culture (for instance, not wearing shorts and tank-tops into churches when it’s not appropriate).

And of course not all Italians are thieves – but if I’m walking through the busy leather market in Florence, not paying attention to who’s behind me, have my face buried in a map, and my purse hanging by my side, I look like a tourist and am a target for pickpockets. Because while not all Italians are thieves, you must agree that in the more touristy cities there are plenty of pickpockets around waiting to take advantage of an opportunity to take a wallet or a watch. :)

Ciao,
Jessica

Corner

d February 27, 2010 at 10:48 am
Corner

Thank you for your reply.
Aren’t there pickpockets in the USA? I know there are a lot of them!
By the way wearing black clothes in summer doesn’t make you looking like an Italian. It’s so hot here in summer that no one wants to wear a black dress while walking all the day in town. Maybe you have been in Italy and you noticed how elegant were the people you met: of course! Maybe the people you met were wearing the right clothes for their job, nice shoes, black jackets, nice trousers and leathe bags like small suitcases because that’s what a person wears when working in a bank or office or a law court. Those same people will wear shorts and tennis shoes while on holiday and a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in the weekends, a nice top and a miniskirt at the disco. And italian people tend to wear colourful things, I really don’t see all that black and brown. If you really want to hide yourself an look like an italian, I advice you to learn the language perfectly.

Corner

d February 27, 2010 at 12:01 pm
Corner

I’m so sorry, I deleted the last part of my message. What I wanted to say is that italians are not so elegant and classical like many people from abroad like to imagine. And to be honest, some people dress very bad! :) In my opinion, here’s how to emulate tipical italians: huge sunglasses, often with big logos like chanel, jeans, often stonewashed (I don’t know if it’s the correct word), superga shoes, very expensive handbags like chanel or LV (italians like to wear logos) and a super tanned skin in summer. I really don’t like this look, by the way!
Cheers
DD

Corner

Josie March 26, 2010 at 7:48 am
Corner

“d” Your response is well thought out, and your article Jessica, expressed your experience while in Italy. I am Italian living abroad for most of my life. I was born in Italy and attended my high school there. Though I am fluent in Italian, I still search for wardrobe ideas since I will be visiting this May. That is how and why I ended up reading your article Jessica. Allora!! recapitoliamo. I will be going to Rome first then fly to Torino where I will meet with my long time Pisana friend and both will visit the Holy Shroud. Then back to Rome and finally to my home town in Ciociaria. Question for “d” what should I bring to wear in order not to look too much like an Eskimo…;-) I have lots of colorful tops as well as lots of black & brown. I was thinking of wearing my embroidered (in different shades of pink, white and a little green) spring coat (for Torino at least there where it’ll be a little cooler then Rome) but after reading your article, Jessica….I’m not so sure. Please help!!!!

Corner

Jessica March 29, 2010 at 8:18 am
Corner

I’m not sure “d” is going to be checking this thread, Josie, but I think the bottom line is that if you’re comfortable with your clothing and what you’re wearing then you’ll be fine. This article was meant to help the people who had never been to Italy before so that they’d know the Italians sometimes dress a little differently than (for instance) Americans on vacation! :)

Corner

antonietta romeo July 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm
Corner

se americana? i ask because, we are going to tropea to visit my famiglia this week. i have 16 aunts and uncles and 35 first cousins. they cannot wait for their american relatives to come and visit because they love our american fashion and clothes…they can’t wait to get their hands on our clothes (especially the logo stuff). you might say to yourself that tropea (deep southern italians) have no fashion sense, but i beg to differ. unfortunately, the foreigners who stand out in tropea are the french and germans….as their fashion sense is very interesting. it’s okay to stand out – look out prada, gucci and feragamo…. here we come! thanks for your interesting view – very entertaining and I really enjoyed reading it. oh, and by the way ‘ciao’…… he he he

Corner

Beth DelGhingaro April 25, 2010 at 11:08 am
Corner

Enjoyed your article. Any tips on what to wear to a AS Roma game in 2 weeks at Olympic Stadium?

Corner

shawn April 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm
Corner

Great article. Good to know I’m right on track.

Corner

Jessica April 26, 2010 at 7:42 am
Corner

Hi, Beth:

Well, if you want to be a neutral, I’d suggest going with black. :) If you’re going to support Roma, their colors are a dark red & yellow – you can see their jerseys here:

http://store.theoffside.com/roma

Have fun at the game!
Jessica

Corner

Jamie December 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm
Corner

Okay… so my mom usually likes to wear plain T-shirts and men’s jeans… she’s not the girliest person in the world… actually… she’s kind of a tomboy.. and she always refuses to let me help her with wardrobe and hair and stuff… and we’re planning to go to Italy in about 2 years… and my mom’s wardrobe might be a problem in Italy, because mainly she likes to go with the “too casual” option. How can I convince her to dress up a little bit more for Italy?

Corner

Jessica December 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm
Corner

I think your mom will be fine in Italy – if she wants to dress up a bit more to “fit in” with the Italians, that’s fine, but they won’t throw her out of the country if she’s not wearing high heels. :) The only times when a specific wardrobe will be required is if you’re visiting churches that require modest dress (no knees, shoulders, midriffs, etc. on display) or if you go to a fancy restaurant or the theatre or something where there’s a more strict dress code. It sounds like you’ll have fun dressing up a bit in Italy, but if you make your mom get too far from what she’s comfortable in she won’t have as good of a trip. And that’s no fun for anyone. :)

Corner

RoflYou... February 3, 2011 at 6:12 pm
Corner

OMG why are tourists afraid to show themselves? cmon, Italians dont bite!

Corner

Annie F. April 5, 2011 at 10:38 am
Corner

Thank you for pointing out what I always find to be the case…that when you are visiting somewhere, you are a tourist, and regardless of what you wear, you will likely stand out for some reason or another. And that is OK. My main concern has been shoes, because while I want to seem fashionable, I want to be comfortable, too. So I chose a style that I have seen in other parts of Europe…perhaps not Italy, but closer than the white sneakers many Americans don.

I often get approached whereever I am and asked for help in a local language. I think it often has more to do with being a friendly person than what I am wearing. If you look at people, and interested in what they are saying, they will likely just talk to you.

(I live in a tourist city, and do the same with people here…no one here seems to be concerned with wearing odd Euro- or Asian style shoes and the huge sweatshirts they get in a particular part of town during the summer. Being a tourist is OK!).

Corner

Jessica April 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm
Corner

I’m with you, Annie – I embrace the word “tourist,” and while I do make an effort to fit in when I travel, that’s as much about being polite and culturally aware as it is about my attire.

Corner

Elena April 7, 2011 at 7:15 am
Corner

Hello!

This article has been very interesting! I am heading out to Italy in end June-start July with a group. So while we’ll stick out, I’d like to still look relatively Italian-ish. Haha. So I was wondering about hats? What kind of hat, since baseball caps are out of the question, are worn in Italy? Specifically places like Rome, Venice and Florence?

Thank you!

Corner

Jessica April 11, 2011 at 1:56 pm
Corner

Baseball caps are far more common in Italy than you might think – they’re just worn most often by young boys and young men. You won’t see adults or girls wearing ball caps in most cases.

Given that you’ll be visiting in June/July, I suspect you’re not looking for hats to keep your heads warm (!!) – so if you’re looking for some kind of sun visor, a floppy/chic straw-style beach hat would do nicely. There are some very travel-friendly ones that roll up in a suitcase and come out looking perfectly fine – I have one I got from Travelsmith years ago, like a few of the ones they still have:

http://www.travelsmith.com/jump.jsp?itemID=1859&itemType=CATEGORY&path=1%2C2%2C250%2C285%2C1859

Corner

Mara May 17, 2011 at 1:21 am
Corner

I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you for posting it.

Dressing appropriately is not al about trying to pass as a local. Whether you’re in a church, in a city bar or hiking a mountain. Trying to fit in is al about comfort. I often think a local dress code comes from what works in that particular place/time/climate/culture. So trying to fit in is not only about respect it’s also about adaptation and learning from generations of experience.
I know what I wear at home works for that situation. That’s why I fit in at home.

Nothing wrong with not wanting to invent the proverbial wheel.
Kind regards!

Corner

Mary June 26, 2011 at 8:00 am
Corner

What about men my husband wears a hat . What do they werar ???? Caps ..??

Corner

Jessica June 27, 2011 at 1:54 pm
Corner

I talk a bit about baseball caps here:
http://www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/what-to-pack-for-italy-summer-travel.html

The Italians don’t really wear them. That doesn’t mean your husband can’t, of course.

Corner

Patty September 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm
Corner

Jessica,
The link you posted a while ago for the black leather “Sak” bag goes to the general “Sak” website. Can you repost a good link, describe the bag further or post a picture? I am looking for the right bag to take. Hopefully I will be able to find one that is large enough for my iPad as that is essential travel gear.

Corner

Jessica September 9, 2011 at 9:35 am
Corner

That link was an old one, Patty, so I’ve updated the post with a newer link to an Amazon page that shouldn’t break like the old one did… Not only that, I don’t use that same bag anymore! As I say in the post above, the main things that I think are important are that the bag hang across your body and that it zips closed – both anti-theft measures that keep you from looking like an easy target. Cross-body bags come in all sorts of sizes, so you should be able to find one that fits your iPad, although I really don’t know if carrying an iPad around everyday while you’re out sight-seeing is the best idea.

Corner

Eja February 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm
Corner

Jessica,, thanks a lot for your artical…that’s helping me much to considered what to wear in itally in summer..i and my familly will be in itally about june to july.

Corner

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: