Postcards from Italy

Looking Cool in the Heat: What to Wear in Italy this Summer

You’re coming to Italy! You’ve settled on dates and together we’ve crafted a dream itinerary around our favorite boutique hotels, local restaurants, and family wineries. You’ve dug your passport out of the desk drawer and memorized a few important Italian words and phrases (most of which have to do with how to order a heaping cono di gelato a nocciola e cioccolato).

One item on your checklist remains, and it is one of the biggest conundrums in planning a trip to Italy: what to pack.

Inside Vintage Suitcases

(Photo by Salihan Laugesen via Flickr Commons)

Summer, Italian Style

Italians are famously style-conscious, and tend to pay close attention in choosing their abbigliamento, favoring cuts that are flattering, colors that are seasonal, and overall looks that are crisp and decidedly more formal than what you might see on an American city street come July.

Their reputation as snappy dressers is both deserved and the cause of no little anxiety for anyone visiting their well-turned out cities. One of the most common questions asked by those planning a trip to Italy is, “What should I wear to not look like a tourist?” The truth is, of course, that you will look like a tourist regardless of what you wear. Dressing indistinguishably from the average Italian is beyond the reach of the suitcase (and fashion skills) of most travelers, and the fact that touring Italy generally involves an enormous amount of time on your feet means that comfort should take precedence over runway perfection.


(Photo by Gerry Balding via Flickr Commons)

That said, there is a difference between looking like a tourist and looking like a tourist with a sense of style and cultural sensitivity in this land where careful grooming is considered a sign of respect. Not only will you feel more at ease if you blend in a bit with the locals, your efforts will be appreciated by the Italians, for whom the second national sport after football is people watching.

There is a difference between looking like a tourist and looking like a tourist with a sense of style in Italy – Click to tweetHere are a couple of tips for dressing this summer to help you strike the perfect balance between comfort and fashion while you tour Italy’s cities, art, and—of course—gelato shops.

Cool Ladies

Italian women do sensual well. They favor form-fitting cuts, tasteful skin exposure, and sexy shoes. Many of these looks don’t pair well with long days of walking and visiting churches, but a few summer 2013 trends can be easily adapted for travel.


(Photo by Brian Dore via Concierge in Umbria on Flickr)

Shoes: Though heels still reign supreme, flat, strappy sandals and classic ballet flats (often adorned with pretty flowers or blingy stones) are all over the place this summer and pair well with the season’s skirt trend (see below). If you insist on heels, skip the stilettos (an invitation for a sprained ankle on Italy’s cobblestone streets) and choose wedges, which have been dominating the shoe store display windows since the beginning of the year.

Tops: Again, women in Italy tend to show skin in the summer, but with taste. This summer strapless and off-the-shoulder tops are the order of the day, though the classic strappy camisole and tank top (in quality fabrics) are still popular. Choose bright white, which is this summer’s black.

Bottoms: Shorts are a no-no in Italy, considered appropriate strictly for the gym and the beach. To keep cool, opt for this summer’s knee-length pencil or full-length “hippie” skirts or, if you feel more comfortable in pants (and have the legs for it), dark leggings.

Accessories: Though Italians are masters at pairing colors and patterns, to keep your baggage weight down you should opt for neutral mix-and-match separates. That said, accessorizing is an Italian specialty, so with the right touches you can make that white top and beige pencil skirt really shine.


(Photo by Brian Dore via Concierge in Umbria on Flickr)

Glasses: The Mediterranean sun is merciless in Italian cities. Though many visitors harbor a fantasy of wandering the charming backstreets in romantic, floppy sun hats, Italians under the age of about 87 rarely do. What they do don are, instead, fabulous sunglasses. This year, the bigger, the better. Think Jackie O.

Jewelry: Chunky costume jewelry is fabulous for dressing up a neutral ensemble and very popular this year. Big earrings are especially making a comeback.

Scarves: If scarf-wearing were an Olympic sport, Italy would bring home the gold. Not only a great way to add a trendy touch to a classic look (this year leopard spots, geometric patterns and stripes, and fluorescent colors are hot), a scarf is also a perfect way to cover bare shoulders when you enter a church (see above). Small to pack, one or two scarves can be worn so many different ways that you’ll forget you’ve been wearing that same fitted white tank top for most of your trip.

If scarf-wearing were an Olympic sport, Italy would bring home the gold – Click to tweet

Hot Men

Italian men dress with more flair—opting for brighter colors and more eye-popping patterns—and formality than men in many other cultures. Anything you might wear to the gym, beach, game, barbecue, or brother-in-law’s house to help him move is probably far too casual to wear in Italy.

A rule of thumb: if you could wear it to take your mom out to brunch on Mother’s Day, you can pack it.

kai d utility

(Photo by cherrypatter via Flickr Commons)

Shoes: Though the propriety of wearing flip flops is hotly debated in the US, there is no debate in Italy. Flip flops are not worn outside of public pools and beaches, period. Italian men do wear sandals–though strictly quality leather–but generally favor classic loafers or deck shoes.

Tops: T-shirts (unless plain, fitted, scrupulously spotless, and crisply ironed) should be avoided; if it is printed with the name of your favorite college band, a quote from Star Wars, or an ironic reference to a snack from the 1970s, leave it at home. Opt instead for fitted polos (you can try your hand at a splash of trendy color here: turquoise and violet are the summer 2013 tones) and crisp cotton or linen button downs.


(Photo by Brian Dore via Concierge in Umbria on Flickr)

Bottoms: Italian men tend to wear their pants—like all of their clothing, including bathing suits — form-fitting. The only exceptions are the always stylish loose linen trousers and cargo bermuda shorts. Yes, breaking from millenia of tradition, Italian men are starting to adopt shorts, so feel free to pack them…with a caveat: spotless and crisply ironed. (This is why we all need an Italian mother.)

Accessories: Though Italian men do accessorize with jewelry and scarves, this requires a delicate je ne sais quoi beyond most non-Italians of the same gender. That said, including a pair of trendy sunglasses in your travel wardrobe is both easy and adds just the right touch of style.

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore