As a born and bred English girl, I’ve always been fascinated by the way Italians look so effortlessly put together and follow sartorial rules so religiously. Here style matters. More so arguably than anywhere else; in New York or London it’s normal to see mothers dropping their children at school dressed in yoga clothes, or at the shops in their hoodies and boots, but not in Italy. Italians on the street will brazenly look you up and down without a second’s thought, which can be alarming when you’re from a country that values intellectual supremacy over style credentials.
When most people arrive in Italy, they face this onslaught of attire analysis with disdain. In London it’s cool to be individual, in Berlin intellectualism reigns supreme and in LA, laid back cool is all you need. But in Italy, and Milan in particular, what you wear defines who you are and what you think about yourself. There are certain sartorial rules that you can’t bend, and as much as you try to oppose them, eventually you will end up dressing like an Italian. But don't panic, by following some fairly simple sartorial rules you can turn this disdainful stares into looks of quiet admiration.
The best dressed Italian women know that one statement piece is the perfect base to an outfit. Simple items are then integrated to create a sleek, smart style that looks sophisticated and effortless. Statement pieces should be jewellery or shoes, so pick your accessories first and match the colour scheme of your outfit to them.
Italian women start building their wardrobes from their mid-teens, often buying just four or five pieces a season to match with these staples. They also understand what suits them, with even the less affluent women seeing image consultants. To give your look an Italian edge, the key is to smarten-up in all aspects: higher heels, simple make-up and perfectly tailored clothes.
Illustration by Alessandra Ceriani
Prada: Where would any women be without a classic Prada coat or handbag? Pick a statement piece and dress yourself around it. You can’t go wrong.
Max Mara: Centred on the ready-to-wear concept, Max Mara creates beautiful, simple pieces that ooze sophistication and classic glamour.
Versace: When you buy Versace, you’re not just buying clothes; you’re buying a lifestyle and outlook. The original Italian power-dressers, Versace creates bespoke and off-the-rail pieces that translate seamlessly from office to event.
When it comes to their work wear, Italian men are more particular than the women. Shopping is not a metrosexual chore; it’s something men take time over and pride in. Most men will have a trusted tailor and brand and a clear understanding of what suits them.
As a rule, suits are tighter, with waists slightly pulled in. Trousers are shorter, to show of your socks and perfect shoes. The gorge on jackets and blazers is also higher, creating a slicker and more masculine silhouette. A bespoke suit from a reputable Italian tailor will be an investment piece for life: the go-to brands are Brioni, Prada, Brunello Cuccinelli and Gucci.
Illustration by Alessandra Ceriani
Brioni: Gentleman’s favourite Brioni was founded in Rome in 1946 and since its foundation has gone from strength to strength, constantly challenging the British/American conventions. Robert Langdon, the main character from Dan Brown’s thriller novels, wears a Brioni suit, with one character commenting on his attire: ‘Very fashionable. You almost look Italian.’ Brioni’s style exactly.
Ermenegildo Zegna: Weaving luxury fabrics and the manufacture of tailoring, Ermenegildo Zegna is unparalleled in the RTW (Ready To Wear) market. Using ultra-fine merino wool, an Ermenegildo Zegna suit consists of 100 pieces that are all handmade. Their RTW suits are beautiful, but it’s their ‘Su Misura’ (made to measure) suits that echo their heritage of bespoke Milanese tailoring.
Canali: Established in Triuggio, near Milan in Italy, in 1934. Family-run Canali specialises in both formal and casualwear. The brand meets every requirement of the sartorial enthusiast: beautiful cuts, superb fabrics and a plethora of choices. The fabrics are very delicate, making these perfect for those who need light, travel-friendly suits.
Clockwise from top right: Prada heeled sandal, Fratelli Rosetti monk strap, Baldinini heeled sandals, Alberto Guardiani Sheraton slip ons, Versace slip on sneakers.
The first style rule I learnt in Italy is that the right shoes are everything. A clean, polished and well chosen pair of shoes can make all the difference to how your outfit comes together. Italy is famous for quality leather craftsmanship, and these are some of our favourites...
Alberto Guardiani: Traditionally, Italian men’s shoes are thinner, lighter, with a more pointed toe. Alberto Guardiani creates smart and casual styles with an emphasis on fine leather as well as a multitude of textures and colours. For women there's the stunning (yet slightly impractical) lipstick pumps, as worn by Lily Allen plus a wide range of other sexy yet elegant styles.
Baldinini: The coveted brand appeals to fashion victims and conformists alike, mixing patterns and textures with a strong eye for the female form and style. Specialising in the highest of heels, Baldinini shoes are the perfect statement from which to build a wardrobe from. For men the shoes are a more relaxed affair, with Derby shoes and moccasins in soft leather.
Fratelli Rossetti: Like many Italian brands, Fratelli Rossetti is a family affair with a long history. Today, the brothers combine their passions of artisanal craftsmanship, style and reliance on Italian materials to create everything from brogues, slippers, desert boots, women’s heels and sports shoes.