Postcards from Italy

The Bella Figura: What to Wear in Italy this Fall

Though events like last week’s freak storm in Florence remind us how hard it has become to predict (and pack for) the weather, there are still a few guidelines that remain to help travelers visiting Italy in the fall months of September, October, and November choose the right items to tuck into their suitcase.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The Seasonal Bella Figura

Though there are exceptions, of course, as a rule Italians are acutely conscious of their grooming and style, and attention and adherence to the “bella figura” (a complex concept, but essentially making a good first—and lasting—impression) is one of the touchstones of Italian culture. Italian mothers start rearing their children on the bella figura at a tender age, and Italians from newborns to the centenarians wear only clothing that is scrupulously clean, well-maintained, and crisply ironed.

How do they manage this? Well, most Italians have a strict division between a “house” wardrobe and a “public” wardrobe, choosing their best and most presentable clothing when leaving home and changing into more casual, less rigorous wear when at home. This is one of the reasons why it is more than acceptable—in fact, commonplace—to see an Italian wear the same outfit for two or three days in a row. The truth is that he or she has probably only worn that clothing a few hours during each day while out shopping or socializing, and swapped a comfortable pair of jeans or track suit for the rest of the day in the privacy of their home.


(Photo by Juha Uitto via Flickr)

What does this mean for dressing for the fall in Italy? For one, filter out your most casual clothes when packing your suitcase if you are concerned with blending in while traveling. Leave your yoga pants and concert t-shirts at home, and instead lean toward a more tailored and slightly more formal look. Also, part of the Italian bella figura is dressing by the calendar, not necessarily by the thermometer. When the school year begins (mid-September), Italians start dressing for fall…despite the fact that in much of Italy temperatures may still be in the summer range.

Rather than sandals and shorts (which can be tempting in September), opt instead for long pants and sleeves, though of lighter fabrics, and closed shoes. Weather can be unpredictable in the fall months, so follow the same guidelines as spring dressing regarding mix and match layers and coordinated colors, and those balmy summer daytime temperatures tend to plummet once the sun goes down, so make sure you have a jacket or sweater with you if you’ll be out after sunset.

Autumn Ladies

Tops: Toward the end of fall, when the weather is crisp and cool, you can take advantage of this year’s knit trend and bundle up in a soft, long sweater in a neutral color, or a Nordic-inspired print. Soft turtle and cowl-necks, even in lighter cotton jersey and knits, are also very popular this fall and have the seasonal look without the heavy weight.

Bottoms: The long, softly draping sweaters and coats on Italian streets this fall have two advantages: they hide those extra gelato and pasta pounds with style and the can be easily paired with very simple cigarette pants or, for the more daring, leggings. Pair a neutral top with a shade lighter or darker bottom, or the Nordic and animal prints so popular this year with simple black skinny jeans or leggings.

The Umbrella Woman - Perugia, Italy

(Photo byAlex Berger via Flickr)

Shoes: It’s all about ankle boots this fall, both flat and heeled. Classic wingtips have also made a comeback, which is a great look with cigarette pants and a comfortably oversized sweater.

Accessories: The fall, like the spring, is when a single outing can toss both sun and rain your way. Make sure you have a chic leather tote where you can tuck in your Italian sunglasses, a small umbrella, and an extra coordinating scarf or wrap, just in case the temperature takes a turn for the winter sometime during the day.

Fall Guys

Almost twins

(Photo by Raffaele Esposito via Flickr)

Tops: For men as well as women, knits are the look of the season this year. It’s time to channel your inner Steve Jobs and don a well-fitting knit turtleneck in anything from a light cotton jersey to a heavy fisherman wool. If you don’t feel like you have enough beatnik in you, remember that a classically tailored oxford shirt with a casual blazer is a masculine look that never goes out of style.

Bottoms: Bad news for all of you who were enjoying the easy cuts in men’s trousers for the past season or two. Stovepipe slacks recalling the mid-sixties are back, cropped at the ankle and paired with looser sweaters and bulkier jackets on top. If you can’t go all the way to 1964, stick with slim cut jeans which are spotless and ironed.

Shoes: The oxford and wingtip are back for both women and men this season, which is both timeless and good for all the walking you’ll be doing on those Italian cobblestone streets.

Accessories: You know you’ve always wanted to try out a fedora, and now’s your chance. Felt fedoras are big this year, worn with everything from gangster flair to classic reserve. A stylish way to fend off a fall rainstorm and rock the 1940s neorealist film aesthetic.

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore