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NYT article excerpt on what to wear (don't blame me)

John Hooper says he is often a little puzzled by Italy.

“It’s a country that seems to be all on the surface, but actually a lot of things are hidden,” said Mr. Hooper, author of “The Italians,” a cultural study of the country that was published by Viking last month. “That can be at times sinister, but it can also be fascinating and rewarding, if you go off the beaten track.”

Mr. Hooper, who lives and works in Rome as a journalist for The Economist and The Guardian, recently gave some advice for travelers wanting to see Italy from an insider’s perspective ............

What are faux pas to avoid with how you dress?

Even if you’re casually dressed, being smartly dressed helps. Otherwise people will be inclined to look down on you. Appearances count for a lot in Italy. If people dress in a slobbish way, then they can be expected to get the kind of treatment that is accorded to slobs.

Posted by
16894 posts

I would say that applies in other countries, too, even if it's subconscious. In Morocco, for instance, you won't get as much respect when dressed in plastic flip flops, even if local kids are also wearing them.

Posted by
507 posts

Very interesting yet true. My 5th grade teacher told the class to keep our shoes clean b/c shoes are first thing a stranger looks at when approaching you. Her point may not be always true. Today she would add clothing (esp torn jeans), and men need to wear a belt to keep their pants up,

Going back to the OP, think about how you may treat someone who dresses shabby in your eyes,

Posted by
4600 posts

I've been going to Europe now since the mid-80s, at which time I dressed like a starving student because ... I was one! As time went on I dressed up more and more, finally settling on a sport coat and non-jeans for most locations (having all those jacket pockets was a real bonus). But on this last trip to Switerland and France, I was surprised and disappointed to see that most people dress now like they shop at Target. Because they probably do! Even eating at a one-star full-boat restaurant in France some of the others were in T shirts and jeans (wasn't so crazy about that, but apparently it's money that talks not clothing).

So from now on the level I'm going to aim for, neat and presentable, shirts with collars, no sneakers, maybe jeans maybe not. I don't like travelling in jeans because if they get wet it takes forever to dry and they don't pack well.

Posted by
2768 posts

There is a world of difference between "nice" casual and "slobby". Yes, things are much more casual then they used to be, but being slobby still does affect how you are treated. I'm not saying it's right - in a perfect world we would all be judged on only our personality/kindness, not appearances. But that's just not how it is in reality. Looking presentable gets you treated better, and can have benefits. Upgrades, someone willing to bend the rules a tiny bit to help you out, connecting with a shopkeeper, all these things are helped by first impressions. Clothing is a key part of first impressions. People don't always want to hear that, and of course everyone is free to look however they want within legal limits, but it's something to consider.

It's as simple as pants that fit and are in a modern cut vs. baggy or too tight outdated ones. Nice walking shoes (clean within reason - not polished because you're walking all day, but clean the mud off them!) vs. rubber flip flops or ugly sneakers. A shirt with a collar for men at dinner anywhere other than super trendy or super casual places. Skirts or sundresses or pants instead of shorts for evenings or really anywhere you care about looking decent. A well fitted t-shirt or blouse, solid or stripes, not a hard rock cafe logo, for casual touring. Women, a small bit of cheap jewelry or a scarf can go a long way.

Obviously, fashion-y people know how to break those guidelines and still look great (there are stylish sneakers, dressy fashion shorts, all sorts of variations), but for the rest of us...simple, neat, unobtrustive is the way to go.

Posted by
2744 posts

I'm with Ray on this one.

It's a shame people make so many judgments based on clothing. It's one thing if your clothes are dirty or torn. But looking down on people who shop at Target? Really? If someone looks down on me because I'm wearing a fleece jacket on instead of a nice trench coat, well that is a problem for them, not me. Why would I care what that person thinks?

I want to be comfortable when I travel. If a restaurant or entertainment venue has a dress code that I can't live up to (and that is totally their right and not a problem in my eyes), I just won't go there. No way am I bringing dressy clothes on vacation. Dressy clothes and vacation don't belong in the same sentence in my world. And I don't want the extra weight in my suitcase.

I know some people enjoy dressing up and being fashionable. That's totally fine; it's just not me.

Posted by
2768 posts

Carroll, the reason you might care why that person cares what you look like is that it can help you. Think a vendor at a market giving you a sample of their cheese. An airline agent squeezing you onto an overbooked flight instead of the slobby guy next to you. A hotel offering to store your large suitcase in their closet for a few hours against policy. A restaurant giving you a better table, with a view, instead of being shuttled to the back. A guard letting you into a room in a museum that he is closing - you get 3 minutes to see a few things you'd have missed otherwise. These things are determined by someone's impression of you, and looking nice AND acting nice are the way to make a good impression.

I shop at Target. Target has perfectly presentable clothes, even some pretty fashionable stuff for younger women. A blouse and jeans/slacks, a scarf or necklace, and a trench coat, all from target and some decent walking shoes and I'm good to go. It's not about being "dressy" (although I'm sure business attire helps, too, it's not realistic for touring). It's about being pulled together.

Posted by
2744 posts

You make some excellent points, Mira. Thanks for the food for thought.

Posted by
3262 posts

I'm with Mira on this one. I think dressing like a slob would be a lack of respect to myself. Again, IMO.

Posted by
8293 posts

Just this past weekend I read about a major airline ( Qantas?) which has instituted a dress code for its business class airport lounges. It costs $900 per year to use the facilities and people were complaining about the very down-market look of some of the members ... shorts and flip flops, and other less than business attire. Sometimes you wonder if people like that were brought up by raccoons.

Posted by
5837 posts

Nice thing about active travel (ski, bike, hike) is that form follows function is the prevalent clothing rule. The style thing is left to color(s). None of your fellow travelers cares about your dress and your inn keepers and B&B host will take you in even if you are soaking wet and look like something the cat dragged in. They may have you shed wet gear in their mud room and would want you to remove wet boots too.

Posted by
247 posts

I wore tennis shoes (white ones!) , solid colored tee shirts and some khaki travel zipper off pants/capri's all through Europe. I was practical, comfortable and absolutely not fashionable. I didn't do my makeup, wear jewelry or do my hair in any special way. I was simply clean, unwrinkled and friendly. Every local I met in Europe was very welcoming and helpful (except for a couple of British cabbies) and no one gave me weird looks.

If a restaurant gives me their "worst" table simply because I have white tennis shoes on and no makeup, then that is appalling. It is a very minor step away from seating someone differently in your restaurant because they have skin of a specific color, because they choose to bleach their hair, or because they speak another language.

I have no interest in dressing in a way I find uncomfortable just so I can get some supposed perks out of someone else. If places you go to judge you by how you dress, then you're going to the wrong places. :) In my experience all of Europe has casual and openhearted people who judge you by your manner and not by your clothes.

If you dress fashionably at home, then dress fashionably in Europe. If you want to feel pampered while on vacation and if you think dressing up is your key to getting that pampering then that is up to you. I found it neither necessary nor required.

Posted by
247 posts

shorts and flip flops, and other less than business attire. Sometimes you wonder if people like that were brought up by raccoons.

Really??? Wow.

I fail to see how a $900 a year business lounge has anything to do with being a traveler in Europe?

Posted by
8293 posts

Hmmmm. I have hurt your feelings. I personally don't care how you dress. Sorry if I touched a nerve.

Posted by
1194 posts

I think a lot of this comes down to culture. My mother was raised in a British based country and used to rant about how people dressed in the US. In her country, people did not go into town in work clothes - they dressed up. So going into town in work clothes was basically stating "I don't respect your culture". Well, at least it was interpreted that way by some people.
One thing I'd like to point out. I repeatedly see people making this one logic mistake - that you have to chose fashion or comfort. That you have to choose travel gear that looks hideous or clothing that looks nice. This either/or thinking is a big lie. With a little work you can find travel clothes that look quite normal. You can find shoes that look like regular shoes but have the comfort of sneakers. Yes, most people are nice and will accept you no matter how you dress. But why not go the extra step and try to blend in?
In the end, when we choose to dress up for dressy cultures we are saying "I respect how you do things here".

Posted by
247 posts

For me comfort and casual are synonymous. Perhaps I have odd feet but after many hours searching online and in stores and many pairs returned and bought trying to find something else - in the end white tennis shoes worked best and that's what I wore and will wear again. If I find a pair that are more fashionable that don't make my feet hurt of course I'll go with those. Happy feet = happy travels.

I have no hurt feelings Norma.

I just don't understand why anyone wants to change the way they dress simply for another person's pleasure.

Cindy you are exactly right. Culture shapes everything. I come from the workaday Midwest where flashy clothing and dressing up is very rare. I'm from a protestant German family and my parents and grandparents lived for many years in Amish country. I was raised to believe that the look of a person's clothing matters very little and that chasing trends and changing yourself to impress others is just vanity. Its the connections you make with others, and the person you are inside that matters. Maybe its old fashioned and stupid but this is how I see the world. Should I change my beliefs and my behavior just because I'm visiting another country? No thanks. :)

If you are respectful and modest and clean it should be sufficient.

If a Buddhist monk traveled to Italy in the traditional robes would everyone take offense that he wasn't fashionable? More than likely they'd just see him for who he is - a Buddhist monk. It wouldn't be offensive because everyone would realize that his clothing is a reflection of his culture and his religious and personal beliefs.

Posted by
11613 posts

Norma, which group was brought up by raccoons?

Posted by
8293 posts

Good point, Zoe, it was a bit ambiguous the way I phrased it. The ones possibly raised by raccoons are the ones who go to posh restaurants and other "nice" venues inappropriately dressed in shorts and flip flops, or other lawn-care wear. Surely all adults know there is a time and place for everything. All mothers have told their children that.

Posted by
1194 posts

@back2italy - I was raised in the same culture as you. A small village in the Midwest populated by a lot of Germans, many of Mennonite and Amish roots. Even these sects show that clothing is important - they have their own "uniform". If clothes weren't important at all then any long skirt and long sleeve top would be OK (but they are not). The same for the Buddhist monk - he is in "uniform" for his religious beliefs.

But most of us do not have our dress constrained by religious belief. For us, it is merely "I want to" or "I don't want to" wear something. I believe that there is a huge difference between flashy look-at-me! fashion and looking "nice enough" for a dressy place. I wouldn't wear jeans to church because of the culture. Neither would I wear a rich sparkly silk top or 5" heels. There's a wide gap between high fashion and work clothes. Again, this is not either/or. When I go to another culture I try to dress for that culture. For example, when I go on missions trips to Africa I wear a skirt out of respect for the culture. In that culture, only prostitutes wear pants. I would not want to make the other women feel uncomfortable by my pants so I leave them at home. I also cover my shoulders and collar bones for the same reason.
Many Europeans want people to dress nice. It's a part of their culture and I wear dressier clothes when I'm over there. I'm just shifting my clothes to a dressier side of the continuum. I do it so not to cause offense. Isn't that what grace is all about?

Posted by
247 posts

I feel like this discussion has shifted from the point of the NYT article into a discussion of semantics of each person's definition of what is respectful.

Certainly in Africa or a Middle Eastern culture that is drastically different from your own you would make changes to avoid insulting someone's religion or to make them think you were a prostitute. I don't think that was the point of this thread.
The NYT article was talking about "dressing up" because you "get better treatment" not because you are offending a religion or insinuating that you are a streetwalker.

Dressing up is a personal choice and not a requirement religiously in Europe. If you wear a clean tshirt and a pair of clean khaki pants you are not walking around any European country looking like a prostitute. Therefore you are neither offensive nor immodest.

To see how Italians dress every day I encourage you to drop in on Google street-view in any Italian town in a random residential area.

How many people do you count in shorts and sandals or jeans and a short sleeve shirt in Milan Italy at the below link? Clearly this isn't "dressed up" to walk the streets of Milan...which is a fashion capital of the world. I even see one person in leggings... and to me those are offensive and immodest the way most Americans wear them (I don't need to know what kind of undies you have on under there!).

https://www.google.com/maps/place/24030+Milan,+Italy/@45.523103,9.174879,3a,75y,302.95h,92.89t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sqYfYdJWslxMeQaIEDdSFuA!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x4784000034bfa209:0xb7208de4f999b8ac

Ok so maybe you'll argue that Milan is more "westernized" than the rest of Italy. So lets try another place shall we?

Here's a random place I dropped into in the suburbs of Florence a place called Prato. Look. Its an Italian wearing jeans and sneakers! And is that a pair of shorts I spot in the background?

https://www.google.com/maps/@43.870503,11.110773,3a,41.2y,174.01h,82.84t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sGkfpU25-sy6GLu32jtMLzQ!2e0

If you feel like dressing up, then do so. But please don't try to tell the travel virgins that you have to dress up to get good service because its simply not true. Clean, simple and friendly is all that is necessary.

Just like in America if you dress up, you're likely to get more attention from salespeople or restaurant staff. They'll target the person who looks like they have money to spend. Is this an "authentic" experience? Yes. But you can have an equally authentic experience in clean regular clothes.

Also, the Amish and Mennonite wear plain clothes because they do not think a person's clothes should be important. "To the Amish, a dress code is employed to prevent vanity and boastfulness, encouraging the Amish people to conform to their community and to focus on qualities other than outward appearance. " Source: http://people.opposingviews.com/amish-dress-code-1750.html

Posted by
3262 posts

I guess it is semantics, because when I refer to someone dressing like a slob it is not because they are in inexpensive and comfortable clothes…It is because he/she looks like a slob; either because the clothes are ill-fitting, dirty, mismatched, pajama bottoms, etc. You can have nice style with inexpensive and comfortable clothes…you just need to pay a bit of attention to yourself. If you watch the scrapbook videos, you'll see the difference on some of them that show the group, some dress like slobs others do not, but they all appear comfortable. You are not just representing yourself when you travel. Again, IMO.

Posted by
524 posts

I agree with Mia's viewpoint and found Wray's comment true "you are not just representing yourself". I think you can be true to yourself, but dress according to the standards of the country you are in, also. There are ALWAYS generalizations, but if most italians don't wear shorts around the city...I won't wear shorts either. If they, on the whole, are more put together in their daily lives, then I will try to be put together also. What does that mean? Well, I'll wear as stylish of walking sandals I can find, a pretty skirt and top, maybe a scarf or necklace. I'll look like a tourist for sure, but dressed as smartly as I can while touring their country and trying to follow the unwritten "rules".

I am one that truly believe that the nicer you appear, you are treated better. That's fine that some people couldn't care less...but I do. I want the the nicer table, to be smiled at, to be treated friendlier. Is it right..no...but's fact. Doesn't hurt that I like to dress fashionably anyway.

Posted by
247 posts

I will tell my husband he has to wear some of these latest fasions while we're in Italy. Obviously I'm completely wrong...we have to fit in!

From the Milan Spring/Summer Mens 2015 fashion show:

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/model-walks-the-runway-at-the-etro-spring-summer-2015-news-photo/451089358

This would be good also:
http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/model-walks-the-runway-at-the-etro-spring-summer-2015-news-photo/451101988

Or maybe the picnic blanket patterned suits for dinner?

And YES we can wear Pajamas in the streets! Look!

http://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/news-photo/model-walks-the-runway-at-the-etro-spring-summer-2015-news-photo/451089492

Posted by
524 posts

Those are pretty funny. It's unfortunate that we are treated by how we present ourselves on the outside, but we are.

People obviously can wear what they are comfortable in, but be armed with this knowledge. Many people, like me, want to make the best impression we can be, so we asked the questions.

Posted by
2765 posts

Reminds me of the person who showed up for job interview here recently for a receptionist position. On the phone she was great. Showed up at a professional office in flip flops, baggy jeans and a hoodie. Shortest interview in the history of interviews. It was very apparent she adopted the "don't judge me by my look" attitude, but ... her look was not reflecting our business so she lost an opportunity.

Like it or not, it matters.

Posted by
2127 posts

Didn't know raccoons wore flip flops!!

I take a lot of Target long-sleeve solid color (mostly black or very dark pink) T-shirts on trips, and paired with a scarf and a nice solid-color black skirt or skinny jeans, I look (IMHO) quite presentable. In fact, I've had many people from various countries comment to me that I look very nice, and I'm often surprised they comment about my being so thin (as they say) 'for an American.' So, we may be judged not only by what we wear (as is the case even in America).

For dining in very nice restaurants, I'd stick with the black skirt and wear ballet flats instead of the Merrells.....maybe toss a shawl around my shoulders if it's chilly.

My husband insists on traveling in a navy sports coat (the multiple pockets as mentioned by another poster), and he is absolutely convinced it results in better service. The sports coat then gets hung or placed in the overhead, and then is only used for a few dinners out. My husband's rationale is likely correct, as we have had gate agents look at our seat assignments (after I had been scrambling on line or with call centers trying to upgrade) and ask us if we would not like better seats (bingo!). And, we've often been upgraded to nicer rooms when checking in hotels/inns. We've been served complimentary wine/desserts in restaurants. But, we are also very polite and kind in our interfaces. So, if you wear a sports coat and are a jerk....maybe not so lucky.

My husband does NOT wear the sports coat for daily touring...but we look presentable. We've been allowed to go on an earlier-than-booked Scavi tour at St. Peters, and were able to switch our reservations (on the spot) to a timeframe about three hours earlier at the Borghese (when the sign said they were sold out for 4 days), and we had two local gentlemen in Florence ask their waiter to send us each a glass of wine from their very special bottle of wine (that the waiter explained to us that was a wonderful vintage wine that the restaurant kept just for the host gentleman)........and on and on. And, most recently, we had a rep in one of the airline clubs offer to change our reservations (without the fees) and allow us to keep our business class mileage upgrades (usually not allowed when changing) when she realized we were going to have two down-days in Atlanta (being proactive to avoid an ice storm in Nashville/NY). How one presents himself/herself......the whole package, not just the clothing, matters in one's general success in life. There are exceptions (sure), but generally this is very true. And, one does not need to spend a lot of money or dress uncomfortably to look presentable (again, my Target t-shirts).

Now, in defense of those who travel in shorts and what some might consider 'sloppy' apparel, likely you will also have stories of being upgraded, too.

On the other side of the coin, I do remember the taxi driver at the Athens airport who greeted us with 'hello, millionaires' and then tried to scam us by adding an extra E30 to our fare (before the flat rate airport fare was put in place in Athens), but we very oh so kindly did not pay it (acted like I needed to get more cash) and asked the front-desk rep (who came out to kindly interface). But, that could have happened if we were flip-flopped!!

But, we don't strive to 'dress to impress.' It's just how both of us dress here in Nashville when going out and about, unless we are running to Home Depot or working in the garden (and trust me, you would NOT want to see me in that mode.....nor would people on planes or in other countries).

To be clear: absolutely nothing wrong with jeans, provided you have a nice (think long-sleeve Brooks Brothers type) shirt for a man, a nice blouse or pullover for woman with a scarf or choker, and decent, comfortable shoes.

Now, Norma, I'm going to look out tonight for those flip-flop wearing raccoons!!!! I always thought they just stuck with the same brown/black uniform :)