How Fashion in Italy Changed My Whole Sense of Style

While I was getting ready to pack from my entire summer in a climate of ninety degrees and humidity of 100%, I wanted to make sure that I was choosing the clothing that best fits the culture, fashion, and weather.

I planned my summer outfits for Rome, the Eternal City. Here, the weather is hot and humid and always sunny. Personally, I have always loved warmer weather, but warm in Italy is very different than warm in Michigan. I did some research on what to wear, from Pinterest to blogs, but it was hard to find what best fit my style and also followed the tips of others. It wasn’t until a night out to dinner in the city when I realized that what I was wearing was not okay for the culture and expectations of the Roman people.

I had worn a semi see-through white spaghetti-strap dress. I had gotten onto the tram after dinner only to encounter an elderly woman who was very angry that I was not covered up. Not only did she call my friends and me “provocative and loud”, but she questioned whether our parents raised us right. This was such a shock to me. Sure, I got stared at quite often, but that was to be expected, as tourists seemed to stick out like sore thumbs. My friends and I ended up getting off the tram and changing at home before going back out. Back home in the states this never happens, or at least it has never happened to me. When an elder tells you that you are dressed wrong—even though you have sweated through every shirt you own—you feel embarrassed and almost ashamed that you didn’t respect the fashion.  

Italy has a modest fashion dress code. While occasionally you see women in low-cut shirts or short dresses, the majority of women value business casual modesty at all times. The Pinterest looks of flowy and artsy clothing with a big hat will just pin you as a tourist, while also placing a big target on your back for pickpockets.

Modesty in clothing is also helpful for going into churches. All churches in Rome have a dress code. This includes legs covered to the knees, shoulders covered, and no stomach showing. I know how much American girls love crop tops, but if you want to see those breathtaking frescos in every church, I suggest leaving those at home or be ready to wear the bright blue modesty gowns they give you.

Trying to fit in with fashion and culture helps bring you a little bit closer to the locals as well. Instead of a “Hi” or “Hello”, you’ll get “Ciao” or “Buongiorno”. They will assume that you are from the area, which will help raise a level of respect for you and for those around you. With respect comes the understanding that you are in a new culture with different standards and you just have to roll with it. I have learned that it may be hot, and I may be very sweaty, but I have gained a new respect for the culture, people, and fashion of Rome.

Olivia Helka is a student at Northern Michigan University. She is an ISA Featured Photo Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Rome, Italy.

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