Adventures Abroad

To Chicago, Love Rome: The Subtlety of Italian Fashion

Natalie DoyleColors are a staple of Italian fashion, according to A&E writer Natalie Doyle.

My dream finally came true.

If you know me personally, you know how much I love fashion. I’m obsessed with everything from fashion design to trend forecasting to writing my scathing opinions on looks from events like the Met Gala or the VMAs.

And, of course, I love shopping. Whether it’s for myself or picking out and styling outfits for my friends, I absolutely adore it all.

When I got to venture to the fashion capital of the world during Milan Fashion Week, I had to seize the opportunity to wait outside at least one runway show. 

After going to a Gelateria, a couple of my friends and I saw a crowd of people waiting outside the blocked entrance to a Bottega Veneta show. Suddenly, a blacked-out Mercedes van started to pull up to the entrance and then immediately turned around to head toward the back of the venue.

My friend Leena suggested that we follow the van to see if anyone famous would get out. So we were not disappointed when we saw none other than Anna Wintour exit the van and swiftly walk into the back entrance.

It was a good thing that we decided to head back to the front of the building though; half an hour later we saw Jacob Elordi leave the same show.

Having now recovered from seeing the editor in chief of American Vogue and the “Euphoria” star, I’ve had more time to ponder how Italians versus Americans dress.

Many Italians are unafraid to play around with and express their own personal style. While waiting outside a Bottega Veneta show in Milan, I saw someone wearing an avant-garde top that had an enormous frilly pilgrim-esque collar and long sleeves that practically dragged on the ground. While this would have garnered plenty of stares in the United States, no one seemed to look twice.

There’s a misconception that everyone in Italy mostly wears black — but bright colors are in abundance here. Walk into any Zara (there are three within a five mile radius in Milan) and you’ll find bold colored blazers and pantsuits or people walking down the street with brightly colored bags.

Buying from designer brands is cheaper in Italy compared to Chicago.

Leather products are also huge in Italy — one of Florence’s biggest exports is leather. When I visited the city a few weeks before, I went into a boutique known for its high-quality leather products and talked to the incredibly stylish owner. 

“While Americans tend to always buy black wallets and bags when they come here, Italians tend to go for brown leather or other colors,” the owner of Pelletteria Albizi said.

Black leather is incredibly popular in the states also but I see more of a variety in color abroad. In Milan, I saw everything from black leather blazers to a fabulous periwinkle, fur-lined leather trench coat.

A trench is essential here. Or, if not a trench, an alternative long overcoat. Yes, I still wear my favorite black puffer over here, but trenches and overcoats are more suited to the Mediterranean climate.

Whether Prada sunglasses or a Gucci bag, designer brands are also prominent on the streets of Italy, especially in Milan — some of my friends even got the chance to see a live Armani photoshoot going on in the middle of a street. This may be in part due to the fact that, since many major fashion houses have their headquarters and manufacturing warehouses here, shopping designer is cheaper than in the United States — although it’s not inexpensive by any means.

The key difference between how Italians wear designer versus Americans is subtlety. The items that Italians choose to wear are more subdued whereas they’re louder in the United States. In other words, Americans tend to flaunt designer logos more. 

While I’ve seen Americans in full-on Louis Vuitton tracksuits à la Jeffree Star, I’ve yet to see that here.

Graphics and logos are seldom seen abroad. Graphic tees are a cute and casual staple in the United States but are rare here. Similarly, while I love a matching sweatsuit, that won’t fly over here either unless you’re at the gym. At least not out in public.

Italian culture in general is more formal so this may contribute to why locals tend to avoid dressing down. In some places such as Basilicas or other religious sites, you aren’t even allowed to enter if your knees or shoulders are exposed.

If I were to pull up to the Galleria Borghese in my Van Halen tee and leggings, I’d get weird looks. However when I went to the Art Institute of Chicago in a similar outfit, there were plenty of others around me that did the same. A rule of thumb is it’s better to dress up than dress down when in Italy.

There’s always a constant cycle of trends globally, but there’s something to be said about the timeless style many Italians embrace. It’s oftentimes simple and understated but involves elegant items like tailored pants, tweed blazers, trench coats and turtlenecks.

I have to be honest. I don’t miss seeing the Y2K trend that has had America in a chokehold for far too long.

I’ll give Americans the win in athleisure and casual wear for sure. But when it comes to sense of style, Italians are the winners for mastering the art of glamorous subtlety.

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