Are there any dress codes in Rome?






Have a look around and the answer (a resounding “no) will become immediately clear. Some time ago, Romans, and many other Italians as well, decided to emulate us Americans and go casual, and they have done so with a vengeance, although men and women have chosen different routes (more about the ladies in a separate chapter) to sartorial freedom.

How things have changed!!! Italy and I go back a long way and when I first came here as a college girl I remember being terribly impressed with the elegance of everyone I met, men and women alike. Donatella and Marisa, the Italian teachers at the Syracuse University program in Florence, were physically extremely different, one blonde and curvaceous, the other slim, small and dark. But they were both terribly elegant, coming to work in suits or twin-sets, with just the right amount of jewelry, and the inevitable Hermes scarf, tied to their handbags and I remember writing to my aunts Ruth and Selma, who had been schooling me in how to dress, about what I had observed and now wanted to imitate.

A few years later when I was in Rome to do the research for my doctoral thesis, I remember noting how even the most lowly secretaries at the Foreign Ministry, wore suits, stockings and pumps, and looked as if they had stepped out of the pages of the Italian Vogue. But that was 30 years ago and today, go to any Italian ministry or office and most of the women are casually dressed in pants (jeans), although perhaps with tight fitting tops and sling-back shoes.

And the men!  Back then, even when they were in casual corduroys or slacks, Italian men always looked fantastic. No short socks for them. Their trousers were always the right length. If they knotted a (cashmere) sweater around their shoulders, they looked as if they had been born that way. Their leather jackets were neither too new nor too old. They were always carefully shaved, and their hair was thick and beautiful.  Fantastici! Bellissimi! One didn’t know which one to look at or flirt with first.

Today, it’s a whole different ball game, especially for younger men in Rome . With the exception of the very few – bank executives, members of parliament, journalists (but only those who cover official government meetings or doing interviews with VIPs), just about everyone you will see looks as if they are, literally, on their way to a ball game — or about to play in it. Sneakers, running shoes and trainers have replaced those wonderful Italian leather shoes. Jeans and baseball caps are ubiquitous, just as they are in the U.S.  And once the weather gets warm, baggy bermudas or, even worse, clam diggers (worn not with sandals but with trainers), reveal all too many unattractive male legs.

In my neighborhood, Trastevere, where there are many students as well as men who don’t seem to have steady jobs, or men who are artists (or would-be artists), people show up at the bar for their morning coffee in a state in which in bygone days no respecting Italian would have allowed anyone else to see him.

To make things worse (at least to my mind)  many Italian men seem to shave only once or twice a week (I call it non-designer stubble), a great many are bald or balding (this is said by some to be the results of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986, by others to be the effect of the hormones in meat), and since until recently the most popular male look has been shaved heads and goatees it is often hard to tell one guy from another. (Recently, full beards seem to be back in, which at least puts an end to the unshaven look.

Oh. And I forgot tattoos, of which most young people under the age of 40 seem to have at least one, if not more. This also is a copycat style from what once was the domain of U.S. bikers. But this, too, appears to have swept much of the length of the Italian peninsula (although I am told elegance is hanging in there up in Milan; I myself haven’t been up there in seven or eight years.)

This casual and sometimes unkempt attire spills into restaurants, churches and museums so if you are not from a generation which thought one should always get a bit dressed up for theaters, concert halls and nice restaurants, you can fill your suitcases with jeans, sweaters, running shoes, sandals and not much else. Just a couple of provisos.  Some churches do set some limits on summer bareness (short shorts and scoop neck tops are really a no-no). And although lawyers still have to wear jacket and ties when they go to court) there are only a few high-end restaurants (those in five-star hotels mostly) where men still must wear jackets.

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