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visiting churches in Rome, Florence and Venice: wearing modest shorts with exposed knees?

Rick's dress code at St Mark's Basilica,

"no bare knees...strictly enforced for men, women and even kids. Shorts are OK if they cover the knees."
What has been your experience ?
Thanks much

Posted by
3574 posts

They are very strict
Knees and shoulders must be covered
Men and women and kids

I’ve been there and seen many turned away
It is a church, show respect

If you must wear shorts bring a scarf or shawl that can be wrapped around to cover your knees

Posted by
28121 posts

it is strictly enforced, people are turned away or need to rearrange

Posted by
5151 posts

We've been to at least 2 churches in Italy where attendants handed out paper coverings for folks to wear. And someone posted on this Forum that on a Rick Steves tour, their guide was not allowed to enter St Peter's, because he was wearing shorts!

And sometimes folks get in wearing tank tops and shorts. Luck of the draw? Perhaps, but why take a chance?

Posted by
8847 posts

Yes, it is enforced; at the door and by roving monitors inside as well.

Posted by
1795 posts

Years ago - my sister was yanked out of St. Marks because her shoulders were bare. She wore a dress with sleeves at St. Peters, but it was ABOVE THE KNEES. A little nun yanked her out of line. I’m pretty sure it was the nun that suffered from exhaustion that year

Posted by
4370 posts

People were being denied entry at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.

Posted by
13697 posts

Personally? I'd never wear shorts on days I expected to visit Italian churches. In fact, we don't pack them at all as we tend to pop in and out of so many on an almost daily basis. While it's possible that you could gain entry to some churches and religious institutions (shorts/skirts above the knee, sleeveless shirts and low-cut tops are not allowed at the Vatican Museums in Rome) why take the chance? I've seen visitors with exposed knees either refused entry at the doors of some basilicas, cathedrals and churches or, in some cases, loaned some sort of cover-up.

As far as I know, the rule doesn't apply to very young children. Upper elementary, middle schoolers and above should dress appropriately: knees and shoulders/upper arms covered.

Editing to add per the post below, we do wear jeans for sightseeing, including the churches, but clean and tidy, no rips or tears.

Posted by
1957 posts

This reminds me of a moment during my first visit home after moving away for school - we were getting ready to go to services, and I said that I was just going to wear jeans, and my dad lit up and put his foot down -- 'if you show up in jeans, I will drag you out of that chapel myself.'

I don't think I've noticed this in Italy but I guess it's because I just wasn't paying attention to it.

Posted by
21857 posts

I know some folks have trouble understanding the concept of covered shoulders and knees. I once watch two southern Baptist ministers from Texas argue with the guard in front of the Milan cathedral loudly that as men of God they should be permitted to enter. They were wearing long short that just made it to the top of the knee. The guard kept shaking his head "No" and pointing to the sign. We never saw them inside.

Posted by
3350 posts

My experience has been that if a warning has been given by a trusted source (like Rick), it is for good reason, and it pays to follow it.

First and foremost, it is respect for the customs in a country where you are just a visitor. Second, you avoid the disappointment of being turned away, or are delayed until you can conform to the restrictions. And yes, this rule is usually enforced. I simply don't wear clothes that bare my shoulders or knees when touring places where I might encounter these situations.

And it's not just in Italy. There are many countries where modest dress is strictly enforced when entering places of worship.

Posted by
2742 posts

I mean sometimes people do get missed by the monitoring, but it is pretty common to be denied entry. I don’t know about very little kids, but definitely for school age kids, teens, and adults.

It’s not about “dressing up”. Jeans, sweatpants, a long skirt made out of paper maps, a very long tshirt on a short child, anything goes as long as knees and shoulders are covered. Bring a blanket to use as a sarong if you want, as long as it covers your knees you are good to go.

As an American Catholic, the rule confuses me (I wear sleeveless and above the knee length clothes to mass frequently, as do most other women). But it’s the rule in Italy so I follow it, I don’t want to not get in or be disrespectful.

Posted by
1889 posts

We saw 3 or 4 young women looking very annoyed at the entrance to St. Peters in Rome on our last visit there.
They were all wearing above the knee spaghetti-strap summer dresses.
No matter how much they were trying to persuade the entrance guards, they weren't going to be allowed in.
We wrapped our scarves around our shoulders, and went past them into the entrance.

Posted by
13079 posts

Not sure if you are a man or a woman, but if you are a man, most men's shorts are actually Bermuda shorts that do cover the knees. All you need to do is make sure you wear a t-shirt and not a tan top, so that your shoulders are covered.

If you are a woman, and you are wearing a miniskirt or short shorts, all you need to do is carry a light
pareo/scarf in your purse, and wrap it around your waist when you visit a church. You can use a similar garment to cover your shoulders if they are exposed.

You can use the Google Streetview feature on google maps to see many photos taken inside the St. Peter's basilica and see how people are dressed (many photos are taken in summer). You will see plenty of men in Bermuda shorts (most at the knee level) and some women with a pareo wrapped around their waist to cover their legs.

Posted by
99 posts

Best to view dressing modestly as a sign of respect - not a rule to somehow be evaded.
Consider cropped / capri pants in a light color and material like linen.

Outside of the church, shorter shorts are much more common than they used to be - especially in the heat!
Italians tend to wear their shorts tailored in nice material, ironed, not too baggy, etc.

Posted by
1146 posts

For men, I have never seen shorts that cover the knees. I have been in more churches than I can count including St Peters and never have been approached. I think, women are selected more than men. Men need to remove hats and no sleeveless t-shirts.

Posted by
948 posts

I will wear my zip-off pants for church and cathedral days.

I have never seen a pair of below-the-knee men's shorts. Those would be capris, no? Knickers?

Posted by
3173 posts

Took our two teenaged granddaughters to some Italian churches and basilicas two years ago. It was 90-100° most days but they were up to the fashion and respect task of arranging a gauzy scarf around their shoulders and/or waist to gain admission to the churches without being turned away.

Posted by
842 posts

"I have never seen a pair of below-the-knee men's shorts. Those would be capris, no? Knickers?"

They're called "manpris". I kid you not. They were considered fashionable by some a few years back.

Posted by
1787 posts

We were just in Italy and it was very hot. My husband wore pants and I wore capris but our young adult children did not. Our clothes were outdoor hiking clothes so breathed better I think. I am not suggesting you do what they did but just wanted to convey recent experiences.
The young men wore longer shorts and short sleeved shirts with no issues. My daughter had dresses that were just above her knees. One was short sleeved and the other was sleeveless but not bare at all. Neither caused any issues. The only one who had issues was my son’s girl friend. My son’s girl friend was always having to wear something over her clothes. She wore spaghetti strap dresses and rompers and those were a clear no no.

My daughter wore capris on my recommendation to the Vatican and said, consistent with our experiences, that only those with bare clothes were targeted. She said it was just too hot and wore dresses after she and her husband joined us.

Posted by
2880 posts

They're called "manpris". I kid you not.

I think you are talking about a type of shorts called Pinocchietti (small pinocchios) in Italian. I truly hoped the human race had moved on.

strictly enforced

Do you obey the speed limits only when you know there is a speed trap ahead? Enforced or not, if you are entering as a tourist and not to speak with God, shoulders and knees must be covered. There is no room for debates and arguing.

Posted by
1277 posts

And, just so we do not think people only let their lack of judgement and awareness of their surroundings show while in Europe....
I have seen 50 year old women in tight , ill fitting,, backless dresses for the church funerals of elderly uncles.....
And was at a church funeral last week where the pastor refused to start until the adult grand sons took off their ball caps. No, these were not orthodox jews. These were run-of-the mill, low protestant red necks.

Posted by
1070 posts

Well dressed male wearing shorts = oxymoron.
Male wearing socks and sandals = not dressed sufficiently to be seen in polite company.