Much of the US is still under a disheartening blanket of snow, but that just gives the home-bound more time to prepare for spring travel. If you are surviving these last days of winter by dusting off your suitcases in anticipation of an upcoming visit to Italy, here are a few suggestions of what you should consider packing when it comes time to hop that overseas flight at the first sign of crocuses.
Spring, Italian Style
As we’ve said before, Italians have a well-deserved reputation as being style-conscious and well-groomed, which is true for all four seasons. Part of this attention to fashion is also a strict adherence to dressing according to the season. Indeed, most Italians (or, to be more accurate, most Italian women) dedicate at least a full day or two in both spring and fall to the traditional “cambio di stagione”, during which all the previous season’s clothing is carefully cleaned and packed away and the following season’s taken out of storage and hung in the closet.
This is, in part, because Italians tend to have smaller homes and less accessible storage space, so they almost have to keep half their annual wardrobe packed away. But the cambio di stagione is also a cultural norm because Italians simply wouldn’t dream of wearing clothing suited to the wrong season. There are summer sweaters and winter sweaters, summer trousers and winter trousers, summer jackets and winter jackets–and never the twain shall meet.
So, what does this mean for spring style? Lots of flexibility, and the ability to quickly adapt a look to the unpredictable weather that spring can throw at you. Italians are masters of dressing in well-coordinated layers, quickly tossing light jackets or sweaters over their shoulders when the wind picks up, popping open chic umbrellas for those sudden showers, and then peeling it all away when the sun shines again.
So, as a rule, spring dressing in Italy is a game of mix-and-match, and the best prepared travelers are those who have a suitcase filled with separates that can be easily paired, layered, and coordinated. Luckily, black and white is in this spring, as are easily matched pastels, so the spring 2014 game just got easier.
Italian women are not only careful about their dress, but pay attention to their grooming, as well. They tend to keep their hair styled and tastefully touch up their makeup before leaving the house…neither of which should be mixed with water. Keep a nice compact umbrella or a chic hat close at hand for when those sudden spring downpours threaten to ruin all that time you spent with the flat iron.
Tops: Good spring jackets are classic trench coats or this season’s short and boxy look, both best if water-resistant and light enough to easily carry along during the day. Underneath, a simple white or pastel fitted t-shirt on warmer days, or a tee layered under a men’s button down shirt with contrasted collar and cuffs are both clean and contemporary looks for travel.
Bottoms: Leggings seem to be making way for wide-leg pants and full tea-length skirts, but don’t leave them at home yet! Pack a neutral pair or two to wear discreetly under this spring’s softer looks on those days when the temperature drops unexpectedly and you feel chilly with a single layer…no one will know the difference and you’ll be toasty warm under those pretty light skirts and pants.
Shoes: Not only do Italians shy away from getting their heads wet, it is also considered both unhealthy and slightly gauche to have wet feet. Spring may be too soon to pack sandals, so stick to closed flats or heels (best if chunky or wedge on those cobblestone streets) until later into summer.
Accessories: Aside from the always popular (and versatile) scarf, spring is the season when a chic carry-all handbag is particularly useful. You can tuck inside a light jacket, compact umbrella, folded hat, and sunglasses and be ready for pretty much anything the skies decide to toss at you.
Though Italian men tend to lean toward brighter colors and more daring patterns, classic tailoring and sophisticated neutrals still reign supreme in much of Italy. Shy away from your more casual wear and opt instead for the crisper, cleaner end of your wardrobe.
Tops: Pack a blazer. This year’s looser, more casually tailored blazer over a fitted, long sleeved rugby polo or button down shirt will carry you seamlessly through a day of touring into an evening restaurant meal. Make sure you bring a number of perfectly bright white cotton t-shirts to layered underneath if the weather turns colder, and, if you insist on short sleeves, a crisp polo. No short sleeved button down shirts, please. Italian men roll their sleeves with flair—take note.
Bottoms: This year wider, softer trousers are all the rage, so you can leave the fitted jeans at home and opt for comfortable yet chic pleats. Channel your 1950’s look with wide trousers and a tucked in, fitted shirt, or go with Mediterranean casual, pairing your pleats with an untucked button down and soft blazer. Both looks are in this spring, classic, and comfortable.
Shoes: Again, it’s a bit too early for sandals (which are not that common on Italian men, regardless), so opt with lighter leather loafers or deck shoes which will keep your feet dry in spring showers.
Accessories: The man bag. It’s where it’s at in Italy (and, judging from the spring fashion shows, pretty much everywhere). This is the trip to try out the man bag look, using it to carry a compact umbrella, a pair of sunglasses, and a t-shirt or pair of socks if it looks like the temperature may drop later in the day.