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What to wear in Italy

My wife and I, along with another couple, will be traveling on the RS Tour of Sicily in June. Following the end of this tour, we will be spending several days in Rome. We know it will probably be very warm there then. We are seeking advise from you experienced Travelers about wearing knee length (Bermuda) shorts and sports (exercise) type shoes, verses long pants and leather shoes. We are leaning toward the shorts and sports shoes for comfort rather than long pants and leather shoes. We have read that shorts and sports shoes are not very common there..except for us Americans. I would appreciate any advise, observations and/or recommendations related to dress from any of you on this forum that has experienced Italy!

Posted by
1049 posts

in churches knees and shoulders and stomachs must be covered. that goes for both men and women of all ages. you don't want to stand in line (e.g. at St. Peter's) for well over an hour only just to be turned away at the steps to the basilica!

Posted by
23434 posts

This is a never ending discussion with no firm answer. It ranges from wear what is comfortable for you and maybe what you wear in your backyard -- who cares? - to dressing better. For me there is no difference in comfort between light weight cotton blended pants and shorts. We wear good leather shoes with substantial soles (ECCOs) as far more comfortable on the cobble stone and broken concrete but others wear flip flops and get by just fine. We tend to dress a notch better than the average American tourist - long pants, light weight golf shirt style with a collar. You can argue about blending in or standing out. You may not be able to blend in completely but you don't need to stand out either. When the pickpocket is looking for his next target and surveying the crowd. If he sees us, we hope he gives greater attention to the Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirt wearer standing next to us. When we dress that way we never worry about access to the churches or whether we are appropriately dressed for the restaurant. And we try not to look like we just came from Africa. We have had this practice for 20 plus years and have never had a problem pickpocket or other minor thefts and cons. All we want to create is little doubt in their mind that we might not be tourists. Just enough doubt for us to slip by.

Posted by
115 posts

I was in Rome in April. I suggest that you take a nice outfit to wear with nice comfy shoes for the evening, not just sneakers. People do dress nice specially in the evening. I'm glad I had a pair of leather shoes, flats of course, and mid length dress and nice leggings to wear with my tops. I had an issue with my leather shoes and the first night I wore my sneakers, I felt out of place, but my husband was able to take care of the issue and the next few days I had my shoes! My husband took a jacket for dinners, we packed light only carry on luggage and it was doable.

Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
5046 posts

As previously stated, shoulders, stomach and knees must be covered if you want to enter any church. It would be a shame to miss some of the best architecture and art in Italy because you weren't respectfully dressed. A pair of lightweight summer pants are not hotter than shorts, and as a bonus - no sunburned legs. DH only brings collared shirts - short sleeved cotton blend button downs and fast drying, wicking golf shirts.

As for shoes - whatever is comfortable for you to walk 5+ miles per day. I wear both athletic and casual shoes in the city. The key is good support and a non slip sole. But my athletic walking shoes are black leather, so they dont scream "I'm wearing sneakers". You'll see a fair number of Europeans wearing athletic shoes. But even with these, they tend to opt for the more stylish ones.

Posted by
2712 posts

Wear what you would wear at home. Nobody is keeping score and you will be pegged for a tourist 100 yards out. For churches, cover up. But its likely to be really hot so be comfortable or you will be miserable. A poster above spoke of husband wearing a jacket for dinner-having been to Europe dozens of times I have never worn a jacket. Maybe if I was dining at Talivant in Paris, but certainly not in Rome.

Posted by
23434 posts

I agree with Alan that a jacket would be overkill especially in the summer. I will sometimes have a sport jacket in the fall or earlier spring more for warmth than style. The rest of his comments are accurate if wearing shorts and t-shirt but if dressed nicely - probably not.

See same discussion for Spain --

See Enric comments - pretty accurate.

Posted by
39 posts

Remember that you are in a "big city", so wear more cosmopolitan clothing in order to blend in, and be respectful at the same time. Light weight long pants are fine, or knee length, flowing dresses or skirts are just as cool as shorts. As far as being turned away from entering a church for shorts, that was more common a few years ago. Last year I saw people in St Peters with shorts on, that was very weird.

Posted by
11453 posts

When we lived in Italy, my husband frequently wore a sport coat to dinner from late fall through spring unless he needed a heavier jacket or a rain jacket. It is common among Romans to do so, so not overkill. We definitely dress up a tad for dinner when traveling in Europe in general: a blouse and black slacks for me versus tee-shirt with jeans and a cardigan (my daily uniform), a button-down shirt for DH, seldom athletic shoes. I always bring a pair of leather Mary Janes to use when athletic shoes seem too casual. We only wear shorts for hiking in Europe, never in the street.

Posted by
15431 posts

Although Bermuda type shorts may not be common among older Italians over 60’s, they are common among younger generation Italians (obviously in casual circumstances, not to go to work in an office).
What is not common is wearing shorts with sneakers and SOCKS (unless you are jogging or actually doing some sports activity). So if I wear shorts in Italy, I will wear either sandals or material tennis shoes but NO SOCKS (except maybe invisible footsies) otherwise my Italian friends will make fun of me, take a photo of my socks, post it on Facebook under the caption “Tourist Fashion”. But it’s a free country, and you may not have snarky Italian friends continually making fun of their Expat friend “size” and “attire”, so wear whatever makes your boat float and nobody will care. My suggestion is to avoid leather type sports shoes and favor instead cooler “material” tennis shoes, because June in Sicily is hell hot away from the breezy coast and your feet might melt and evaporate in heavy sneakers. If you have comfy sandals like the examples below, even better (no socks with sandals either):

Rules for entering certain religious building were amply discussed above.

Posted by
18 posts

I am also thinking about this for my trip to Rome, Romans/Italians are often very fashionable and I am confident I have no chance of mimicking them. Luckily for us, probably more than half the people you will see are tourists. The thing I am hoping to acheive is to at least look European. From the Italians and Europeans I know, wearing athletic clothing outside of the gym/jogging track is a big no no. To the same tune, as someone has already said, wearing white socks when not at the gym is a HUGE faux pas. They are disgusted at even the thought of this, no-show socks when legs are exposed and dark coloured socks are a must have. I am planning to stay away from overly bright colors/patterns, and I am going for natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, leather rather than polyester etc..


Posted by
2136 posts

Since this topic has come up again, it made me think of another factor that needs to be considered. How will taking shorts fit in with your packing strategy?

Since you will be taking the RS tour and are highly encouraged to only take a carry on sized bag, space will be at a premium. A pair of shorts wouldn't take that much room, but you need to think about what you would wear with them. Will it require different shoes, such as sandals? Can you coordinate them with shirts you can wear with slacks?

My wife and I take just a carry on when traveling. Every item needs to earn its keep. I can stay almost as cool wearing nice travel weight slacks that would be more versatile.

Posted by
2768 posts

You can wear both. Not at the same time, obviously, but different situations call for different clothing. A day touring and walking 10 miles vs. going to dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. Going to the beach vs. going to a religious service. And so on.

You can't wear shorts at churches, and in Rome you will likely be going to churches at least a couple times. It's easier in the fall/spring when heat or cold isn't too much of a concern, then you just bring one casual pants (jeans?), one nicer trouser, and various shirts.

In the summer heat my husband brings two lightweight pairs of long pants, one shorts, and one chino type pants. Then several short sleeve shirts (tshirt, polo, button), and a long sleeve shirt for evenings. No suit or sport jacket. Two pairs of shoes - a comfortable but not horribly ugly sneaker (think retro style, not a bulky running shoe) and a leather type shoe. For shoes one could also do a sandal, a loafer, or a non-leather walking shoe. The shorts are basically only for resort/beach areas. If it is ridiculously hot then he MIGHT wear them in a city, but only with a polo or button shirt - shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers just seems too casual. Same for me, I MIGHT wear shorts but if I do it's with a nice blouse and sandal, although I actually have not ever brought shorts, just skirts and dresses and capri pants. Women can be more comfortable and look nicer in a sundress vs. shorts.

It really is a balance. People will be wearing basically every type of clothing you can imagine, but looking presentable just...feels better and I really think you get treated a little better. But you have to be comfortable, too. There are plenty of ways to do both, it's not like you have to pick comfort or style.

Posted by
5 posts

Rome will be hot and crowded in June, so just be comfortable. On a day that we were visiting places like the Colosseum or just walking through the streets, I wore a very casual, short, lightweight skort, a nice-ish tank/tee with leather slip-on sneakers. That way I was comfortable but not sloppy. On a day where we went to the Vatican or anywhere more formal, I wore a summer tank dress and put a lightweight wrap in my purse so that I could drape it around my shoulders when it came time to enter. In the evenings, I dressed up more, but nothing over the top. My husband wore Bermuda type shorts (except church/museum days) with polo shirts and it worked out great.

But you will see people dressed in every way possible. I just knew I would enjoy Rome more if I kept my feet comfortable; I never want to call a day short because my feet hurt. And I wanted to alleviate any heat issues by wearing lightweight clothing. We saw so many people wearing sport shoes and it was fine. And there is nothing wrong with looking like an American in shorts and sport shoes. ;)

Posted by
133 posts

Just wear what you want to wear. Simple as that.

Posted by
1625 posts

When we were in Italy last June I was surprised at the humidity, hot and sticky. We found that when we were in the tourist areas around famous sites wearing shorts in the daytime and at night was fine as you see al kinds of people in shorts and other casual dress styles. For shoes, husband wears sketchers type sandals and I wear open toe sandal.

We found that once you get outside of the tourist areas things change . Our AirBNB was located in a normal residential neighborhood and we felt VERY out of place when my husband wore his shorts into a restaurant around located by the apartment, he was the only one there in shorts and we were the only non-locals. When we go back we will make sure he wears his long pants at night when we are not in a tourist area.

When you say "sports shoes" are you taking sneakers? Converse? Running shoe? There are so many options for comfortable shoes that are not sneakers. Start looking on the Zappos website for ideas on comfortable shoes that are not looking like you just got off the track. With the heat we were both happy that we had some foot ventilation.

Posted by
31 posts

Shorts and tennis shoes will have you stick out as a foreigner. Sadly, if you are a foreigner, you will be targeted more for pickpockets, etc. (Please, read up on this and take lots of precautions!) Obviously, most people will know you are a foreigner when you open your mouth-- but, for me, I did not want to stand out in crowded areas or on the subway system. Without knowing your ages, you could opt for shoes that don't look like you're heading to the gym (Asics, for example) and pick a bit more sleek "sneakers" or even things like boat shoes with good insoles. Make sure they are comfortable!

I wore dresses most of the time I was there. Yes, the Vatican will ask you to cover up if they feel your outfit is not appropriate.

Bring extra socks (and underwear!). I was so sweaty after walking around (and I'm from the desert) that I was washing our socks in the hotel sink every day!

Posted by
160 posts

I try to respect local cultures when I travel. I have had multiple tourists ask me if I speak English and for directions when I travel, mistaken me for a local. Not when my kids are with me though !

If you go to the beach in the US and see a man in a Speedo from another country you may chuckle and think it’s silly. It’s his culture and the norm but he doesn’t fit in. He may not care and you may not either but for me I do try to respect the terroir.

We met friends from Sweden at Disney and they were curious and perhaps shocked at how some Americans wear work out clothing when they clearly aren’t working out!!

Dressing for the locale is kind of like learning a few words in the local language. You will engender more respect.

Posted by
15998 posts

This is a never ending discussion with no firm answer.

And that's the tall and short of it. You will see tourists wearing everything and anything including other Europeans so very casual dress isn't restricted to Americans by ANY means. Google up some pix of "tourists in Italy". Shorts? Yes, lots of cargos or knee-lengths on the fellas. Athletic shoes? Lots, on the locals too, and (gasp) even white ones. When you are putting many sightseeing miles every day on the plethora of surfaces in Italian cities (wet marble or polished stone is DEADLY slippery), comfort trumps style EVERY time. Sturdy, broken-in shoes are the single most important item to go in the suitcase/on your feet, regardless of style.

My rule of thumb is to dress as you normally would for your own style of travel. Wearing stuff that is strange to you might make you uncomfortable plus there's usually little need to buy a whole new wardrobe unless everything you have involves a lot of care or is unsuitable for the climate. The only departure from that would be to accommodate special customs, such as requested 'modest' attire for the churches. If it's hot, below-the-knee capris work well for women, and some of the fellas do the convertible (zip off ) pants thing. Shorts of reasonable length are perfectly fine for most sightseeing, and you might arrange your schedule so that you aren't visiting churches every day? Bermuda shorts won't be a problem at some of them but we do so many unscheduled stops into random basilicas that we just don't take the risk.

You will not be able to help looking like a tourist so don't worry about it. Being a "foreigner" doesn't make you a target for pickpockets; being a careless tourist with wallets and purses is a different story. That's who the light fingers are looking for. :O)

Our style of travel? Clean, tidy jeans and lightweight tailored shirts. Period. That's all we take although we don't travel Europe during the hottest months, and we do not eat at posh places requiring 'dress' clothes. Two pairs of comfortable walking shoes, athletic or otherwise. We've never felt out of place, been given the hairy eyeball by restaurant staff or anyone else, nor been pickpocketed.