It’s always a challenge to know how to pack for a trip abroad, but visitors to Italy tend to fret over their wardrobes a little more than they would if they were traveling to, say, Detroit.
And no wonder. Italy is famous for its fashion industry, and every Italian seems to have an inner Dolce & Gabbana guiding his or her clothing choices.
The average American, not so much.
But let’s be honest: with straight, white teeth, a penchant for athletic shoes and flip flops, and a hurried, confident gait, most Americans will never be mistaken for Italians anyway.
Better to simply keep in mind a few packing-for-Italy principles, and enjoy your trip.
1. Italians, whether in jeans or silk, focus on elegance and la bella figura—presenting a “beautiful figure.” They’re willing to be uncomfortable to accomplish it. While seasons and regions dictate colors and coverage, Italians tend to wear simple, basic colors, generally darker shades. If you want to blend in at least a little, keep it low-key and classy. Add colors with accessories.
2. As a traveler, dress with comfort in mind. Wear comfortable walking or tennis shoes because you’re likely to spend a lot of time on the cobblestones. Flip flops are for the beach, but you might consider investing in a pair of comfort shoes or sandals. Ladies, if you must wear heels, wedges are best for the uneven surfaces in Italy. You may also want to bring a few bandages or moleskin; even worn-in shoes tend to rub in spots that haven’t previously bothered the foot. I like a product generally called something like “friction block.” It is a waxy substance you can rub on your feet so that your shoes don’t cause blisters. Look for it in the shoe supply area of your favorite discount shop or pharmacy.
3. Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses. The sun can be intense. Of course, should you forget or lose either, a friendly kiosk worker will gladly sell replacements. While the Mediterranean climate is often ideal from April to October, do throw in a small umbrella for sun/rain protection and a light jacket, sweater, or wrap for evenings, especially in hilly areas where it can be a little cooler at night. Yes, it gets cold in the winter, so a lightweight all-weather jacket for layering, gloves, and a scarf are worth packing. Better yet, buy leather gloves in Florence and a scarf at the market.
4. When visiting churches, shoulders and knees must be covered. In warm weather, longer shorts, capris, and dresses or skirts that hit the knee are fine and appropriate for most locations. Italians are classy, so very short skirts and shorts or low cut tops for daily wear are neither culturally appropriate nor necessary for fitting in. Ladies, tie a scarf or pashmina onto your purse so it’s handy when you want to cover your shoulders for church entry should the heat of the day dictate a sleeveless top or sundress. Many churches will loan or rent a simple wrap if you don’t meet their dress code. By the way, backpacks and large umbrellas are not allowed inside many churches and museums.
5. Laundromats are scattered around here and there, but why not simply rinse out soiled items in your hotel sink? Hotel laundry services can be very expensive, and if you’re traveling from place to place, you can easily reuse or combine pieces to create new outfits. It’s usually more convenient to travel light, so pick a color scheme or two for mixing and matching, and stick with them.
With a little forethought, packing for travel in Italy is easy. Or, if your finances allow, bring a few basics and buy the rest there.
Now that’s a thought.
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