Leather Shopping in Florence: Jessica’s Guide


leather1You know that devilish trick that Cinnabon has in American malls of pumping its sickly sweet scent into the corridor outside the shop, so that anyone within a 100-foot radius is compelled to follow the smell to the source and then, before you know it, you’ve got a giant Cinnabon in your clutches and halfway down your gullet? You know that feeling? Where a smell is so intoxicating that it makes you do things? That, my friends, is the effect that the Florence leather market has on me. If I found out they’re spraying leather scent at nose-height in the street, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’ll admit that I have an addiction to shoes and purses, so traveling in Italy is almost always dangerous for me (not to mention my bank account). On my last trip to Italy I had scheduled my visit to Florence near the end of my trip, and prior to arriving in Florence every time I would look twice at a new purse or pair of boots I’d say, “No, no – wait until Florence.” And I did. I waited. And then I got to Florence, and – completely accidentally – my path from the train station to my hostel went straight through the heart of the leather market. I swear, I didn’t mean it to happen, but you can see how I’m so powerless to the leather market that even I don’t realize it.

leather2

That first trip through the leather market I got through unscathed, without a single purchase. I did, however, see a gorgeous purse of an impossible turquoise color that, when I went back on several occasions to try to find it, had sadly disappeared. And my suitcase was only slightly heavier on my return to Milan than it was when I arrived in Florence – I got one purse for me, one for a friend and a pashmina for me. That’s not to say I didn’t spend countless hours wandering through the leather market, though, or try on a sumptuous lambskin three-quarter-length coat… (Oh, it’s too painful to think about it, since I didn’t come home with it!) At any rate, after browsing, shopping, bargaining and learning to say NO in the leather market in Florence, I thought I’d share a few tips with you so you can go shopping like a pro.

Jessica’s Tips for Shopping in the Florence Leather Market

  • Keep an eye on your stuff. Markets like this, especially when they’re busy and crowded, are perfect places for pickpockets. People stroll through them, enraptured by the merchandise and not paying attention to their wallet in their back pocket or the fact that their purse is hanging half-open. Plus, the people in front of you are almost always going to be moving more slowly than you want to move, leaving you vulnerable as well. You need to be really vigilant in the market, not only so that you won’t pay too much for something you buy, but also so you won’t get anything stolen in the process.
  • That purse looks familiar… Make more than two laps up and down Via dell’Ariento and you’ll be wondering whether you’ve passed the same leather stall four times. Sure, there’s a wide variety of merchandise on offer, but not as much as it appears. Many of the stalls have the exact same stuff as some other stalls, because they’re representing the same leather shops. You’re not in the Twilight Zone, but you are seeing double – kind of.
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  • Shop around before you buy. Although you’ll likely see the same leather stuff in several stalls, there are enough differences between the stalls that it doesn’t hurt to ask the price of a similar item in a few places before you start thinking about handing over money. The prices could vary by €5-10, or more depending on how expensive the item is you’re looking at, and that’s just the starting price. The prices in the leather market are as soft as that lambskin coat I didn’t buy, so you’d better:
  • Get used to bargaining. This isn’t an Asian market or anything, but if there’s a printed price on something you should definitely not pay that price. There’s always a “sconto,” or discount, which they give to anyone who doesn’t look prepared to just fork over the asking price. Ask “Quanto costa?” (“How much?”) and then look like you’re trying to decide whether it’s too much; if they don’t immediately offer a discount when you ask the price, they will soon. This is where shopping around before you buy comes in handy, because you’ll know exactly where the lowest starting price was. Then, when you start walking away from something, they’ll start lowering the price even more. If it gets to a price you like, then go for it. If not, offer what you’re prepared to pay. Of course, if you really want the item, you’ll have to be prepared to pay whatever their lowest price is – but if you’re okay with walking away then you’re a stronger person than I am.
  • Know where you’re going. Purses and pashminas don’t require a fitting room, so you can pick one out and buy it without walking more than three feet from the front of that stall. If you’re eyeing a coat, however, or anything that requires a changing room and a mirror, you’ll be taking a walk – sometimes a long walk. The leather stall is often nowhere near the actual shop it represents, so if you want to try something on you’ll have to follow the nice stall operator back to the shop where there are other sizes you can choose from – and more insistent salespeople. My advice is this – if you want to buy a leather coat (or some other leather garment) in Florence, you’re likely to get a great deal on it. But ask the price before you go anywhere to try anything on – if the starting price is too rich for your blood, resist the temptation to try it on anyway and hope you can get the price down to a reasonable level. Even €100 off a €300 coat is still €200, which (while it might be a good deal) is a lot of money, especially to US citizens traveling on the ever-sinking dollar!
  • Cash is king. Even though you need to keep an eye out for pickpockets, you should also be prepared to pay for almost everything you buy with cash. Some of the stalls do have machines and will take credit cards, but they’ll automatically add on a few euro for the charge they say they’re incurring for using the machine. Whether it’s a valid claim or not I’m not sure, but it’s just easier to avoid dealing with it altogether by having cash on hand. This also helps if you have a limit set for yourself – if you only want to pay €40 for that purse and you’ve got exactly €40 in your wallet, it’s easier to bargain with the vendor because you really do only have €40 to spend. Nevermind that you can go to a Bancomat and get more, that’s what you’ve got and are willing to spend right now. Cash in hand is almost as intoxicating to the sellers as the leather smell is to you, so use that to your advantage.
  • Hands off the fake designer bags! The official leather market stalls line the sides of the street, but in the middle of the street there are temporary sales stations that spring up with everything from crappy sunglasses to “real” Rolex watches to designer knock-off bags and belts. The fake name-brand stuff may seem appealing, but it can be a costly proposition – buying fake designer stuff comes with a fine of up to €10,000. It’s not worth it, really.

Remember that in addition to the actual brick-and-mortar leather shops all over Florence, there are two outdoor markets. One runs along most of the Via dell’Ariento between Via Nazionale and the Piazza San Lorenzo. The other is called the Mercato Nuovo and it’s under a loggia between the Ponte Vecchio and Duomo near Via Porta Rossa and Via Calimala. There’s not much difference between the wares, but if you’re really into browsing you should certainly peruse both before you start shopping in earnest.

Here’s a video that includes a look at both the leather market and the indoor Mercato Centrale, where you can buy food:


39 thoughts on “Leather Shopping in Florence: Jessica’s Guide

  • Mary

    This brought back memories! I am “not” a shopper, never was, but one of the Florence markets depleted my cash as swiftly as a pickpocket! I had a super time though. Those markets can suck you in – scent, stuff and smiles.

    Great tips. Wish I had known. Still the future!

  • mary

    This is wonderful information – except for the part I now know we are all doomed as we get off the train thinking we would see museums and have lunch and then go back to Rome that evening – I now see Southern CA ladies inhaling leather and forgeting about art……….loved the photos and the tips!

  • JoAnn

    Hi Jessica: Your site is wonderful. My niece and I are going on a European cruise in October 2009 and found this site. It has great info.

    I have a question, maybe you know the answer. We can’t decide if it would be better to book excursions to Rome and Florence/Pisa thru our cruiseline (because it is safer and they will know where we are, but pricey) or if we should just use local transportation/vendors.

    What do you think?

    Thanks! JoAnn

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, JoAnn:

    I’m glad you’re finding the site useful! Regarding your question of using the cruise’s tours or doing a DIY tour, I really think that’s going to come down to your comfort level. If you’re comfortable taking off on your own, taking local transportation, & booking locally-operated tours, that’s almost always going to be the cheaper alternative. But, as you said, then you’re going “off the grid” as far as the cruise is concerned. And you also have to keep in mind that public transportation in Italy is super efficient when it’s running like it’s supposed to – and at the same time it’s often running late, and there are the occasional strikes that shut down the entire train network.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of safety, really, as taking public transport and booking a guided tour on-site isn’t going to be any less “safe” than booking a tour through your cruise. To me, it’s really a matter of how much you want to be responsible for handling and how much you want to just let someone else take care of it all. You might check with the cruise line to see what they normally tell people who want to book tours not through them.

    Ciao,
    Jessica

  • terri

    Hey Jessica leaving for italy rome, in two weeks…was wondering if I should catch he train to Florence to shop on one of my free days? I have only one to do it? Great site my fav so far….

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, Terri:

    It depends… How long are you in Italy? Are you just in Rome, or visiting other places as well? If you’re desperate to see Florence and get out of Rome and you’ll be in Rome for more than 4-5 days, then that’s fine – but otherwise, I wouldn’t do it as a day-trip from Rome. Especially just for the shopping. Rome has lots of excellent shopping of its own (even if it isn’t outdoor leather markets).

    Ciao,
    Jessica

  • William

    Like all things, if your careful you pay for what you get. Don’t be pushed into what the stall holder recommends, this is often what they want to get rid of. These fantastic places sell top quality products made by Italian artisans, however be aware that a lot of stall will sell cheap eastern european leather products made by chinese migrants (these are still classified as made in Italy). Best piece of advice, DO NOT buy any fake leather goods – you will be prosecuted, not the vendor.

  • William

    Another good tip, take a piece of white cotton cloth (t-shirt material) and rub it on the product. If the colour transfers, walk away! Dont go for anything too glossy, it has probably been coated to hide the imperfections. Leather with slight imperfections is what your looking for, this means it has been not been corrected to cover up flaws. Perfectly flat leather with no marks is not 100% natural. I would suggest going for vegetable tanned leather, this is the most expensive tanning process (compared to chrome or chemically tanned) – but this does depend on type of product – gloves are often chemically tanned – hope all this infomration helps!

  • Amanda

    Going to Florence in a week for the purpose of leather and relaxation. This post was FAB! I learned a TON of information. Thank-you very much.

  • B

    Jessica,

    I love your travel log and am planning on using many of your suggestions. I start my trip in Rome before heading to Siena, Chianti and Florence. I’m packing very little since I want to buy boots, a purse, and a leather jacket in Italy. I wish I was starting in Florence due to the leather markets. Can you recommend any similar shopping in Rome, please?

    Thanks!

  • Michael Chapman

    Hi Jessica, I’m from South Africa and am going to Italy in December for 2 months on exchange. I am currently 16 and can’t wait to get there and see everything that Italy has to offer. As far as I know I will be going to Rome and was hoping you could help me as to what to pack in terms of clothing? It will be my first time going overseas so I have no idea what to pack. It will be winter there as you know. Any help that you can give me will be greatly appreciated-Kind Regards Michael

    • Jessica Post author

      I’ve never seen the markets closed, Ronald, even in bad weather – but I haven’t been to Florence at Easter or Christmas or another big holiday. Those would be the only days I could think of when they might be closed.

  • Dena

    Hi!
    I recently came away from the Florence leather market with two great bags. The bummer is that I love one soooo much, I wished I would have bought a second in a different color. As you know, you see the same bags at different vendors, and I’m just wondering if you know of any that do some online sales. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated as countless hours spent trying to find the bag online have been exhausted.

  • Sally

    Jessica,
    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us. A few years ago I bought a leather coat at Peruzzi’s in Florence on the advice of a friend. I didn’t look anywhere else for a coat. We will be going back to Italy, but will only have part of one day in Florence to shop. Are there other places I should look for a coat before I decide to buy? I didn’t like the feel of the leather jackets and coats in the market–they weren’t as soft as my leather coat.

    • Jessica Post author

      I’m afraid I’m not well-versed on the non-market leather shopping in Florence. I know that many of the stands in the market have actual shops – if you start negotiating price, fit, color, etc. you’ll likely be led away from the market to a shop nearby – but that’s essentially the same stuff that’s on display in the market. Some of it may be different, but it’s the same shop selling at both places. To find higher quality items, you might want to avoid the streets right around the market itself!

  • sean s

    Jess,
    Just got back from Italy and while at The Straw Market in Florence my better-half stumbled upon a lambskin purse/backpack item that she really wanted but regrettably did not purchase…Now I cant stop hearing about “the one that got away” so to speak…How could I establish a “trustworthy point of contact” in Florence so that I could send euro’s to them and have them purchase the purse and send it to me…Please is there any way I can do this? I cant find this type of bag ANYWHERE here in the U.S. If I can pull this one off, I would be the “King” of my castle! LOL…

  • sean s

    Is there no way I can purchase that purse/backpack from the straw market…just short of flying back over there to do it myself…lol…I know this seems crazy, but, I just have to get that purse/backpack…I cant find it anywhere…any insight/direction at all?

    • Jessica Post author

      I really don’t know of a way, Sean, other than going back to Florence. It’s like any outdoor market anywhere in the world – you’ve got one shot at buying what you want, and no guarantee the same item will be available online or in another place once you leave.

  • Lauren

    Hey, um im going to italy in exactly 3 days and from a girly teenager’s point of view, where would u reommend i save my limited budget for?
    Lauren

    • Jessica Post author

      First of all, I love that you trust my opinion, despite me being far beyond my teenage years. Thanks for that. 🙂

      Personally, I think it’s fun to keep an eye out during any Italy trip for whatever color or pattern or whatever seems to be in fashion. It’ll be easy to tell, because you’ll see it EVERYWHERE – in shop window displays and on people walking around. Italians love being very “of the moment,” so even if everyone else is wearing it, they don’t care – it’s in fashion, they’ll wear it. Identify that color, and then pick up something in that color – a scarf or purse or dress – so that when you get back home and that color becomes all the rage in 6 months or so, you’ll already be ahead of the curve. Have fun!

      • Lauren

        hey jess, thanks for your advice, unfortunately havent been able to get it until now cos theres no wifi :P, but i did actually buy some scarves :P. And i totally agree with the whole leather thing. I bought a handbag today (leather) and still obsessing over it. Weren’t many stalls cos its the low season but did really enjoy it cos i love italy and shopping.
        love lauren
        ps. thanks very ,much

  • Francis Koh

    Hi Jess,

    What time does the shop and the market close? I will be there sometime in Mid April, believed the weather is still cold in the evening right?

    Like your info

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  • Paul

    My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe in Feb 2013. We are starting in Rome, going to Florence, Venice, Vienna, Munich and leaving from Frankfurt.We are beginning to think that maybe we are trying to see too much in a short period of time. We thought of skipping Florence and spending an extra day in Venice and Vienna. What do you think? Any suggestions?

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