What to wear in Italy

This may seem trite, but I want to dress appropriately while in Milan, Como, CinqueTerre in a few weeks. I assume Milan could be a little dressier, but want to be comfortable. Are jeans appropriate in these areas or will I feel like I want to dress up more? Would I want a summer dress for evenings or are pants always acceptable. I realize tourists are casual these days, but don't want to look over or under dressed anywhere and look like I'm a foreigner......

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

I was in Milan a couple of weeks ago, and was again impressed with the sophisticated look of many of the Milanese. This was older and younger on the trams, on the streets, in the Galleria, even on the Metro. I think that Milan and Paris are similar in that respect - people want to look good there. Of course there are the others, and I saw many, who didn't seem to care, but I believe they were in the minority and many of them did not appear to be Italian.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10884 posts

They were probably Americans who had been told to wear anything you want. You can but why should you?

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5770 posts

I've found that blue jeans are great for wearing on airplanes and during cooler weather. You can wear them several times without washing. Once the weather starts to get warmer, I switch to lightweight khakis.

Posted by Katherine
Philadelphia, PA, United States
173 posts

You are going to look like a foreigner no matter what you wear. All of us might as well have "American" tattooed on our foreheads--one look at any of us and they will start speaking English if they know how. I wear pants and turtlenecks (or nice tops for summer) all the time (not jeans, just because I don't like them and never wear them) and dress up by adding a scarf. We've been all over Italy a number of times and I never felt inappropriately dressed. If you want a dress, take one. It's easier to avoid shorts and T-shirts with messages. You'll never have to worry.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

Hi Pam, Wear whatever you want. It should be warm in late May, but if you like wearing jeans then go for it. Maybe a lighter weight jean would be good. I bring a skirt when traveling in warm weather, but if you are not a skirt or dress person, then don't pack them. Capri's are good. If you want to dress up more in Milan, bring one nicer top to pair with your pants. Lake Como and CT are both casual. Don't worry about looking like a foreigner. You will, no matter what you wear.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5770 posts

There are two different schools of thought. Here's mine: Good for you for not wanting to look like you're there to mow the lawn (to quote Rick Steves). Resort towns such as Como and CT do have a more casual approach to dressing, with shorts being more likely to be seen. But in the larger cities, you'll see Italians dressed less casually, esp. in Milan which is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Although it's true that you will likely not be mistaken for a local, that's no reason (in my book) to dress like you're wandering around Disneyland. Again, that's my opinion. Others will disagree, but I'm concerned that too often the tone of those opinions is "Who cares what the Italians think about what you wear?" Too often, this is put forward as an argument of fashion versus comfort. I think that's a false choice. As for blue jeans, these days you will find them worn by Italians of all ages except the very oldest. And before someone decides to blast me for my opinion, let's all remember that the point of this bulletin board is in large part to allow for expression of a variety of opinions and experiences. Happy travels.

Posted by Pam
Folsom, CA
15 posts

Thanks for all the great responses. I appreciate all the input. Trying to begin my light packing and want to include what is most flexible for all 3. Great replies.
Ciao!

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10884 posts

Michael is closer to the truth. I recommend people avoid jeans. Not so much from a fashion standpoint but from care. Jeans are heavy and hard to careful when packing light. Second, I believe you should always a bit better than you peer group. I know there is an ongoing argument that you cannot blend in. I disagree. I do think you can blend in or at least not stand out. And pickpockets look for obvious targets. I plan not to be obvious and so far we have done a good job.

Posted by Bryan
Rome, Lazio, Italy
288 posts

As an American living in Rome, I have to say that while I don't always "appreciate" the way that some Romans dress, yet it is almost always better than the way that MANY American tourists dress. On any given day when walking in front of the Pantheon (part of my daily routine), I see Italians dressed in tasteful business casual-type clothing, and Americans in contrast wearing clothes that look like they just finished their workout in the gym (basketball shorts and tee-shirts). Sometimes it is rather embarrassing to see how Americans dress. Dress tastefully and with a healthy measure of self-respect, and you'll be glad you did.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

When I said "wear whatever you want" I was specifically talking about the items Pam mentioned. Some people like jeans and some don't. There is nothing wrong with wearing jeans in Europe. Many Europeans wear them. For women there are very nice dark wash jeans that can be dressed up. Also for women you can find lighter weight jeans. My jeans dry as fast as other pants, though I don't wash them in the sink. I try to stay in at least a couple of places that have a washer. Pants are always acceptable. In warm weather I bring a skirt, but if you don't like wearing skirts or dresses then don't. I personally don't wear shorts, but nice capri's are acceptable almost anywhere. Consider where you are going. In Milan will you be going to a fancy restaurant that you would particularly need to dress up for? FYI, when I went to Germany to visit relatives they wore shorts and tank tops with sayings on them. Granted it was VERY hot, but they did own these articles of clothing. They are females in their 30's. Oh, and they are not Americans living in Germany. They are German.

Posted by Dave
san francisco, CA, USA
55 posts

Bryan & Michael, How about for my 13 year old son? Wifey and I don't wear T-shirts, but our son loves them. He will take advice, though - he's becoming very fashion concious as he is beginning to notice girls. :) He'll dress for meals, but I'm asking, here, about daytime tourist activities.
We're going in July, so knit polo shirts will be too warm for him. Any ideas? Dave

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5770 posts

Don't get me started on what Germans wear. :-) As for T-shirts on teens, I've seen lots of Italian kids wearing them.

Posted by Denise
Lake Forest, CA, USA
1391 posts

If you want to add just a bit of flare in Milan, add a scarf. Everyone is wearing themmen and women. Better yet, buy one when you are there. There are some great shops right by the Duomo. Otherwise, wear what is comfortable for you. Have a great trip!

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5770 posts

I know this isn't exactly what Mike is saying, but the idea that the locals and pickpockets can always spot ALL tourists a mile away is an unprovable one. How do you know? I've been mistaken for Italian by some locals AND we've never been targeted by pickpockets. It's true that there are SOME tourists (probably MOST tourists) who can be spotted a mile away, and my assumption is that OP doesn't want to be one of those. Good for her. Happy travels.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I saw many younger people wearing t-shirts with English words on them. I don't think they actually came from an English speaking country though, because the words didn't quite make sense.

Posted by Mike
Virginia, Virginia, USA
39 posts

I am in Rome right now and the trend is definitely jeans. With regard to the men, they don't wear the baggy type like many younger Americans (20's and younger). For men, they wear the more tapered, no "fake" fading jeans (usually seen on 30 somethings and older) or skinny jeans with or without the factory "fake" fading (mostly 20 something and under).

Posted by Mike
Virginia, Virginia, USA
39 posts

Forgot to add...the locals/pickpockets can spot a tourist miles away.....so although it's wise to perhaps not wear some style of clothing you would normally wear back in the States in order to blend in, I wouldn't go overboard with trying to be "CIA deep undercover" and do a whole wardrobe change of style like you will fool anyone and everyone. If you don't have certain physical features of what the majority of the true blooded Italians have, dressing like them won't do much to avoid being seen as a foreigner. Just my observation.

Posted by Mike
Virginia, Virginia, USA
39 posts

Once you spent time in country, in any country, you will pick up the local mannerisms and any specific "traits" particular to the locals, dependent upon the region you spend the most time in..maybe the way they walk/their gait, etc. Pickpockets have a very good idea who is local and who is a foreigner or a recent transplant, fresh off the boat so to speak and are settling in to the area. The pickpockets do all day is scout out new targets to pick. It's sort of like a few co-workers I work with who are former Dept of State Diplomatic Security agents who use to work the various foreign embassies and consulates in the US in addition to being stationed overseas; whatever country they spent time in or whatever foreign embassy/consulate they provided security for in the US, they picked up the particular mannerisms and traits of that country's populace. Pickpockets do the same thing; they pick up on the local mannerism and traits of the local area they reside in and can differentiate the locals from the foreigners pretty dang good.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1841 posts

After going to Europe 9 of the last 10 years, soon to be 10 of 11, for a month, I take my ExOfficio wardrobe, 3 sets of each item. Packing light, washing out in the sink when needed, quick dry, fashionable? I don't know but it certainly is OK for me, from Scandinavia to Portugal, from France to Eastern Europe to Turkey, I always seem to dress the same but take different weight stuff depending on the weather. I also take good Clarks walking shoes along with a pair of sandals.

Posted by Roxanne
Dallas, Texas, USA
70 posts

Maybe it doesn't need said - but don't forget if you're going to visit the Vatican or other churches in Italy that there is a code of dress.

Posted by Karen
Atlanta
800 posts

Dave-for your son-very light button down collared shirts. Lots of young men wear them, UNtucked (if you didn't know that already) with shorts or jeans. Old Navy has lots. They are so much cooler than t shirts. Though my son did not get nearly as hot as I did and also wore jeans and t shirts. Young people look the same everywhere. I did also made sure he had one pair of khakis and a nice shirt to wear to nice restaurants. And he had to wear the long pants on church days. Pam-if the weather is warm enough I do suggest a summer skirt or dress. I wear Naot walking sandals with my dresses and can walk all day no problem. They are not e cutest but they don't look completely stupid with a casual dress.

Posted by gordon
Dover
2 posts

My lovely wife is always on my case when we travel. For her no amount of clothes and shoes are enough tend to pack and dress simply and casual (in men terms) under pack in her opinion. We are off to Italy (again) and it is a constant battle about how I should pack and dress. It goes without saying that shorts is not acceptable in the Vatican or Church. It would not be acceptable in any major US city well but in Rome they have people to tell you that you cannot enter. Yes, shorts and sneakers are acceptable (except Church) and when its 90+ wearing long pants and shirts is frankly dumb. You should not dress like many people do at Disney but if you inquiring about how to dress, you are likely not going to be wearing a muscle shirt an dirty jeans. If the thought is you are going to blend it, forget it. The camera and other tells are a dead giveaway. The observation that many Italians are fashionable is correct but remember they are going about their daily business and not on Holiday or Vacation. No way I am going to dress like people do on 5th Avenue or Rodeo drive when visiting but dressing well while casual,yup but opinions vary (cough wife). Going out to Dinner dress smartly and leave the shorts back in the room but that is a personal call. Dress like you would if in any major US City going out to dinner and I don't mean a chain. My last comment is about shoes, bottom line is its your feet.

Posted by Cathy
Hinesburg, VT, USA
33 posts

Just got back from Italy, and this was probably my first vacation ever without jeans. Much of the time it was too hot for jeans, and the only time that it was cool (Castelrotto, Dolomites), it was rainy so we were happy to have nylon pants (wet jeans suck). I had nylon hiking pants (that could roll up and button as capris, but could wear down with shoes and socks in cool weather), a pair of capris, a pair of shorts, and a medium length skirt. I was nervous that I was packing too light, but it worked out great!

Posted by Vikki
Burlington, washington, usa
20 posts

Something to keep in mind that I haven't read on this thread - clothes dryers are a rarity in Italy. Think about the drying rate of your clothing even if you don't expect to do laundry. I find I end up re-wearing the same few items and it's great to be able to wash them out if needed and find them dry the next morning.

Posted by Ken
Lafayette, Colorado
81 posts

I agree with Michael that you shouldn't "dress like you are mowing the lawn". When sightseeing in various European cities, our day will usually consist of visiting churches, museums, galaries, and restaurants. I have found that there are many types of pants and shirts that are made of cool, comfortable micro fiberseasy to wash and dry as well. Jeans tend to be hotter and take longer to dry. I personally would rather be slightly over dressed than under dressed. I'm not trying to pass myself off as a European but rather I am attempting to dress in accordance to the sites I am visiting. When we are going to an Italian beach, it's shorts, tshirt and flipflopsbut not when we are going to the Vatican. I have seen outraged Americans turned away at the Vaticanwearing a tank top and gym shorts, looking like they just finished a pickup game of basketball. I wear a shirt and tie to work everyday, so I would be uncomfortable wearing jeans and a tshirt to a church or museum. I guess it is all situationaldress casually for casual sites and dress accordingly for churches and museums.

Posted by gordon
Dover
2 posts

We just returned from Italy and while touring around for a couple of weeks, I promised myself that when I returned I would try to dispel the "how Italians" and tourists dress. In one word "comfortable"! Sneakers are worn by many as are jeans, shorts and tee shirts. The notion that shorts are not worn in the cities and only at the beach resorts is false! Yes when you tour the Vatican women need to wear pants or a dress that cover their knees (Capri's) that my wife wore were acceptable. Shirts or blouse that cover the shoulders is also necessary but that was the only Church where that attire was required. I regret worrying and following the (on line) advice. Dress comfortable and appropriate to the weather. The Italians who are going back and forth to work dress like those of us in the US would. At night it is just like in the US, casual that is jeans, shorts, sneakers and many and I mean many dressed that way during the day. White socks with sneakers or scandals is a dumb look in the US and so is it in Italy. The crazy comments I have read about not wearing white sneakers (I did not) is just plain stupid. Our tour guide who is from Milan laughed at some of the attire suggestions she read on line. In summary, if it is going to be warm and hot overdressing is just plain bad advice. More important advice is carry an extra memory card, pack sweet and low and forget about getting a decent cup of coffee, it is not going to happen. In Italy they sip coffee and do not drink it. The Gelato is however in a class of its own. Ciao !