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How strict are the churches in Florence, Tuscany, Rome

We will be traveling in Italy in June and I am anticipating it being very hot. I know the Vatican is very strict, but are others as strict?
thinking of packing shorts, but we will be wanting to visit churches along the way and don't want to be turned away. would summer dresses above the knee work?

Posted by
365 posts

Hi Nicole:

The general rule is knees and shoulders need to be covered. You are visiting a church and you need to be dressed modestly. Churches are conservative in Italy. It may be a tourist site to you, but for others it is a religious site and we as tourists need to be respectful of that. Take a dress or skirt that hits at knee length or lower. If it is full and flowly you should be fine. Or take a wrap that you can put around your waist that falls below your knees and use that over your shorts. Capris also work very well.

There is another thread on the site that asks about yoga pants. The comment there is if you have to ask you probably should not be wearing it. That is a good guide. Better err on the side of being conservative then be turned away.

Posted by
1759 posts

If knees and shoulders are covered it will work, if not you'll be breaking the rule.

These days less and less churches can afford to pay somebody at the door to enforce the rule, so it will often depend on how well you have been educated. It's up to you, but as they will let you see for free dozens of Caravaggios, Michelangelos etc. etc. one might think you could respect their (strange) beliefs.

Even at the Vatican there is a % of young guards who simply can't understand why god should be offended by knees & shoulders: don't be surprised if during the hottest days they'll turn a blind eye on many outfits.

Churches are conservative in Italy

They are conservative toward tourists, you'd be surprised to see what a parish priest thinks is acceptable in a real church these days... just to drag people inside for the Sunday mass!

Posted by
3330 posts

Having one's knees covered by trousers or a mid length skirt isn't (in my opinion) asking too much. Neither is having one's shoulders covered with a sleeve or shawl. Churches are, after all, places of worship. Even if one is not a believer of that faith, at least show a little respect.

Posted by
11977 posts

The only place where they might check is the Duomo in Florence.

When in Florence go to the San Lorenzo market and buy one silk scarf or wrap similar to these. They sell tons of them in those stands, and they make beautiful and easily packable souvenirs.

With one of those scarves, go to the Duomo or any church, including the Vatican, and while in line to enter wrap the silk scarf around your waist so that it covers your miniskirt, no matter how short. Et Voilà. You are in with no problem. It worked for my wife all the time. Actually one year at St. Peter's, when my wife and I were younger, she wrapped around her waist a men's business suit jacket (a friend of mine from Rome was with us during his lunch break and she borrowed it from him). It worked, and once inside she gave the jacket back to my friend and she visited the church with her miniskirt. Of course a men's business jacket around your waist would not look like the latest in women's fashion, but the silk scarves work great and they are light to carry in your purse.

Posted by
5109 posts

Its not about what you can get pass the guards with, its about respecting the wishes of the people who graciously let you share their place of worship. "No knees" should be respected. It may seem silly or old-fashioned to many, but civility and courtesy means respecting social customs, written or unwritten. I don't think most people would even consider disrespecting the rules of entering a mosque or synagogue as a guest.

Posted by
823 posts

Nicole,

On our trips to Italy, just about every church we entered enforced the conservative dress code (knees and shoulders covered). if you think the summer heat will make this an issue, plan on packing a wrap that covers your knees and a shawl. Another option is to take convertible pants so you can zip the pant legs back on before entering the church.

Posted by
1158 posts

Even if most churches do not enforce strictly the dress code, you may still find some that do. For example, Ognissanti in Florence is very conservative and you are likely to be stopped and given paper wraps if necessary - in spite of the church having only one Botticelli and a few Ghirlandaios (*), so being relatively unadorned by Florence standards.

(*) one of the fellows praying under the mantle of the Ghirlandaio Virgin is the young Amerigo Vespucci, that will give his name to the continent America.

Posted by
2317 posts

Knees and shoulders covered. I think it's kind of silly (I totally understand modesty, but I've seen people in very immodest clothes that technically fit the rule), but it is disrespectful to not follow religious requirements.

In the summer I live in sleeveless tops and skirts or sleeveless dresses. At home I prefer skirts that are close to, but above, the knee but for Italy I pack maxi skirts or below -the-knee ones. Issue is that these look frumpy on me with short sleeves - so I just wear a sleeveless top and have a scarf to wear as a shawl. Done. If I do bring a shorter dress I can wear the scarf as a longer skirt and make sure I have a cardigan.

Posted by
490 posts

It is a matter of respect, period. Italy is a very Catholic and religiously traditional country, churches are places of worship, not art galleries.

No tank tops, shorts or clingy clothing. Shoulders and knees covered.
Most Italian women cover their heads with a scarf too when they enter churches in Italy, think 1950's in USA.

I wear capri length pants in Italy unless I am at the beach, ...I suggest carrying a thin and lightweight sarong/pareo to wrap around your waist to cover up below the knees this also can be used as a picnic or ground cloth.

Posted by
7180 posts

Yes, this whole line of questioning is really rather tasteless. It's not "about you" and "your comfort" and "what can I get away with". There's a much bigger picture than that. Respect. That's what it all boils down to.

And when I say "you" I'm not talking to the OP - I'm talking to all of us who travel.

Posted by
2317 posts

I will note that I have never seen a woman under 60 wear a head covering at a church in Italy (or elsewhere). Not saying that this isn't done, but it is far from universal.

Posted by
11613 posts

I never see women with head coverings in. churches, either, unless it's a hat during Mass, or a much older woman with a scarf..

Posted by
147 posts

I completely understand modesty, I am a practicing Catholic and I am not questioning being respectful. However, when it is 100 degrees in the middle of July, a summer dress that falls right above the knee is appealing and would be what I would wear to my own home church. I didn't mean for this to be a huge debate, I am in my 20's and will be wearing a backpack that my baby can sit in! I am going to be hot!!
:) thank you for all your feedback!

Posted by
1770 posts

I've seen a lot of people not adhering to the dress code in churches. I'm not Catholic but I always take my hat off out of respect. Loud talking and flash photos seems even more disrespectful to me but are common.

Posted by
11658 posts

I never see women with head coverings in. churches, either, unless
it's a hat during Mass, or a much older woman with a scarf..

Me either. Definitely not something to have to worry about.

Nicole, with a baby in backpack it makes perfect sense than you might be worried about the heat. You wouldn't own a pair or two of capris? That or just wear your above-the-knee dresses or longer shorts and tuck a lightweight scarf in that can be used as a sarong-type wrap, if you run into difficulties.

Posted by
3286 posts

You might want to take a look at this chart for Rome in June, and this one for Florence. Be patient, the links should start in °C and switch to °F. If they don't, the high is 84° and the low is 63° for Rome and the high and low for Florence are 82° and 62°. Living in Tucson and having spent my first 30 years in Texas, this doesn't seem very hot, even with the dreaded humidity. But the numbers are averages and not necessarily what it will be like next month.

This is a non-issue for me because I keep my legs fully covered, my arms almost fully covered and wear a hat regardless of the heat. This is largely to help prevent sunburn which no level of sunscreen seems to do on its own, but it's also because of vanity. At my age, my legs and arms need to be hidden. The bonus is that I'm always appropriately dressed to pop into any church as I explore the towns I visit.

Posted by
20686 posts

I don't understand how an extra two or three inches of a skirt is going to substantially increase you body temperature. Italy is not Disneyworld. Just show some respect for the local culture even if no one is at the door checking. Remember, WE are the guests.

Posted by
11658 posts

It may be a simple matter of trying to work with a wardrobe one already has? Skirts above the knee are what most of the young ladies in their 20's are wearing these days and so possibly what our OP has in her closet. Maybe not but, well, worth the question.

Posted by
1158 posts

I have often to supervise people doing real work - for example, assembling a music stage - under the Florence sun in July. Those poor fellows are really sweating their souls. I can't believe tourists have truly serious comfort issues.

Posted by
17 posts

Wear your shorts or your dress... throw an extra large but light weight scarf in your bag and use it as a tie-around skirt or shoulder cover.

Posted by
147 posts

I was trying to not need to purchase new clothes. Sorry to offend the masses (haha get it, a little Catholic humor)

Over the knee was more of what I was asking. I have many dresses that hit right at the knee, but don't cover the whole knee.
Thank you for all your kind responses!

Posted by
31029 posts

Nicole,

In my experience, some churches can be extremely strict while others are a bit more "relaxed" with the rules. Don't even try to "push the boundaries" at St. Peter's in Rome, as I've seen what can happen when people forget, even after they've made it inside. Another that's very strict is the Duomo in Siena. Those with bare shoulders or bare knees (male or female) will be given a "paper tablecloth" to cover themselves.

I just want to throw in a note about temperature for Italy in Summer. The Vatican Museum is packed and hot. Bring a bottle of only water to drink. I would not carry in soda pop, etc.. I probably would not want to carry a baby into the Vatican Museum. St. Peter's would be okay.
The churches tend to be quite comfortable inside. You are surrounded by tile, high ceilings, and stone. People can spread out a bit - even in massive St. Peter's.

Posted by
158 posts

I know buying new clothes might not be ideal, but there are some cute options out there right now that would work. What about a midi skirt or flowy cropped pants with a tank top? Then you can bring a scarf or cardigan to wear over your shoulders.

Posted by
6369 posts

You live in Texas and have no clothes suitable for warm weather that can be worn in a church? Really?

Posted by
11658 posts

Joe, above-the-knee dresses are absolutely suitable for church here in the States. In addition, many welcome their congregations in all sorts of very casual attire during the summer when filling the pews can be more challenging.

Churches in Italy are a different animal.

Posted by
11658 posts

Most churches will have a poster at the entry with text and/or symbols for what they don't allow. I've dug up a few of the type you might see:

http://vintage.johnnyjet.com/image/PicForNewsletterItaly2007RomaVaticanIMG_2452.JPG

http://travelthroughitaly.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/IMG_0414-768x1024.jpg

http://imgur.com/bLiRwGT

http://www.romewise.com/images/xsan-giovanni-proper-attire-notice.jpg.pagespeed.ic.SrEmfeF7BA.jpg

http://robmyers.org/cc-ironies/no_flash_photography_sign/

Bans can include no...
Shorts or sleeveless shirts
Cell phone use
Flash photography
Any photography or video recording at all
Tripods or selfie sticks
Eating and/or drinking
Talking
Smoking
Pets

greenann390, the no above-knee shorts/skirts or sleeveless shirts rule applies to the Vatican Museums and most of the catacombs as well.

Posted by
490 posts

I am not saying that tourists would be expected to cover their heads, but it is common in Italy and I see it every time I go into churches where the faithful attend...even in Positano. I spend weeks at a time on Ischia and Capri, and these local churches have many women who cover their heads with scarves upon entering.

Posted by
1700 posts

Think less about strict and the rules than it being a sign of respect.
As others mentioned these churches are not art galleries but places of worship and you should not want to offend those going there not as a tourist but to pray.
The smaller churches do not have the budget for security to enforce dress codes but it does not mean you can wear less clothing inside those churches.

Packing an extra scarf or wrap in your purse is not that difficult.

I have seen the rules enforced and also not enforced, children for example are not required to meet the requirement nor is it seen as disrespectful since children are seen as innocent and if you are famous, well any rule can be bent, case in point, the link below showing Jennifer Aniston breaking all kinds of rules in the normally strict Vatican / St. Peters.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2159988/Jennifer-Aniston-flaunts-Vatican-City-dress-code-revealing-legs.html