I spent four months in Rome in 2008. After I read your JW page, I opted to bring just one pair of jeans. I regretted that decision when I found jeans are much more common than I believed. You can dress comfortably. I wouldn’t recommend your sorority sweatshirt and sweatpants, but jeans are very common. Scarves are very common. Dress in layers because you’ll notice the weather can change quickly. Always have an umbrella!
Ashley, Colombia, MD, USA
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you for contributing, Ashley. Your email is why we welcome everybody’s point of view on what to wear, where. There is no definitive answer in this section. Travelling women should make their clothing decisions based on their age, whether they dress for comfort at all costs or more formal reasons. Everybody is right. Most important factor — always think cultural correctness. We ask readers to read through all the suggestions and then make their decisions based on their own needs and wants.
In Italy, wearing shorts or miniskirts will label you as a foreigner (especially an American) very quickly! And if you are travelling in Autumn months, pack a waterproof jacket or an umbrella. The weather can become quite cool and rainy during the afternoon and evening hours in Tuscany.
Christine, Raleigh, USA
When traveling in Italy, don’t ever wear short skirts. Even if you see Italian models wearing them, it is not considered the norm. Men will see it as an invitation to grab your bottom and pinch you. There’s an unfortunate stereotype that North Americans are ‘easy’, and this will only further that idea. Sneakers are only worn for playing sports like soccer, but you can get away with them if you must. Don’t wear sneakers to restaurants however. Good comfortable leather shoes are more appropriate. In religious places it is considered immoral to dress too revealingly and they will not let women in with their arms showing or a short skirt. Skirts must be ankle length, or wear pants. Carry a light sweater to throw on over your arms. Jeans are not rare among the younger kids, but don’t wear them baggy. Italy is the fashion capital of the world! To blend in wear fitted pants (or if you must wear jeans make sure they are snug for both men and women). Money belts and fanny packs make you stick out as a tourist. I’d suggest a purse, leather totebag or backpack. I would not suggest you wear clothing specific to other ethnic groups if you want to blend in though here has been more ethnic diversity in recent years. Deodorant is not common in Italy and is very difficult to find, so pack your own ahead of time. Some people suggest bringing a silk scarf along to cover your arms for a church but you will only look silly. Remember above all churches are places of worship; if they have art there that’s only secondary. Remember to respect the people worshipping there by trying to dress appropriately. Hope this was helpful!
Shanna, New York, USA
Be sure your clothes fit well. Italians hate sloppy or oversized clothing and will stare at Americans traveling alone or in groups who just don’t get it. They feel that presenting a “bella figura” is a personal responsibility, even when traveling.
Judy, Santa Cruz, USA
In Italy be as conservative as possible. If you have blonde hair, cover it up as the Italian men will be like bees round honey.
Rebecca, Oxford, England
After spending three months studying in Rome and traveling many other places around Italy, I noticed how differently you are treated if you dress well. Wearing the same top, one day with jeans and sneakers and the next day with black slacks and black leather boots; there’s a world of difference! Italians appreciate people who are well-dressed and give them more respect and attention.
Christina, Front Royal, USA
Pants were fine, especially the black, gray and khaki. Blue Jeans are not as commonly worn as they are in the United States, however one or two pair would be okay, depending on your packing practices. I went on an excursion to a village on the Mediterranean Sea. I wore long khakis which were great for the time of year and the visit to the cathedral. I wish however that I brought some shorts for the beach since my pants got wet from trying to wade.
Marsha, Ohio, USA
I visited St. Peter’s in Rome during the summer which is very hot and humid. To other JourneyWomen I suggest wearing a skirt which covers your knees. What I did was to carry a skirt and a scarf in my small travel bag. I would wear my skirt on top of my shorts and cover my shoulders with my scarf. That way I was sure to fit in anywhere — since sometimes they don’t even accept long Bermuda shorts. I would also suggest those zipped shorts-pants. You could add the bottom parts of your pants when needed. This advice is also good for most churches in Italy.
Sophie, Quebec, Canada
For five weeks of study and travel in Italy, I tried to pack light. My absolute *best* pre-departure buys are: Dark sunglasses – they protect your privacy, believe it or not. People (especially Italian men) can’t tell if you’re looking at them, if you’re looking desperately for a street sign, if you’re feeling less than confident. Mona Winks is the name of a book not clothing – I’m not being paid to plug Rick Steves’ self-guided tours through famous European museums – honest. But this book was worth every pretty penny I paid.
Megan, Winnipeg, Canada
Feel free to be glamorous and stylish in Italy. I was in Rome and Florence in December when it is quite chilly. I noticed many of the women were wearing beautiful floor-length, wool sweater coats (mostly gray and black) and I bought one in Florence for $40 US and a beautiful silk scarf to drape over it ($4 US). With high-heeled black leather boots I packed from home and black leather gloves (bought from the marketplace in Florence),I not only looked and felt totally Italian vogue, but I stayed warm too.
Sabrina, Miami, USA
Don’t wear sleeveless or strapless clothes if you intend on visiting churches, even if it’s just to view the art. A cardigan, scarf, or short sleeved shirt/blouse to cover-up will come in handy. Also, no matter where you go, you could feel dumpy and under-dressed in comparison to the well-dressed Italian women so make sure you are comfortable and stylish by dressing in a classical & minimalist way. This leaves room for the accessories you are sure to buy while in Italy.
Joelle, Halifax, Canada
I studied abroad in Italy last year, and one of the things I learned was how important fashion is to the Italians. Call me naive, but I felt tennis shoes and jeans were the perfectly logical choice for long day trips and weekend excursions. I stuck out like a sore thumb at the beginning… then I learned. It’s not that dressing casually is all that bad–it just gives you away as an American, which would be good and bad in certain situations. Comfortable yet classy shoes are a great asset, as are quality–but not necessarily extravagant–handbags. After all, as I forgot, Italy is one of the fashion capitals of the world. “When in Rome…”
Jennifer Bryant, Athens, Georgia
When visiting Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome don’t wear shorts, or tops with plunging necklines. Conservative decent dress is respectful.
Chelsea, Manilla, Philippines
It tends to rain in Venice all throughout the spring and summer so don’t be surprised when the entire city floods as the canals overflow. Just pack a pair of sensible shoes and an umbrella as you don’t want to be wading through the 3 inch deep water in San Marco square in open toed sandals.
Leslie Ehm, London, England
When you travel in Italy, wear long, loose, comfortable skirts with flowing long-sleeved blouses. Short, tight skirts, shorts, and bare arms are not permitted in the many churches one might visit there.
Mary Smith, Oakdale, USA
I traveled in Italy and would like to pass along this advice. When visiting St. Peter’s in Rome make sure your shoulders are covered and that your shorts or skirt comes to your knees. The guards will NOT let you in if you do not meet these requirements.
Stephanie, Philadelphia, USA
I have travelled in Northern Italy for the past three years, and yes, no sloppy clothes, no fanny packs or money belts (as suggested by RS). A good leather purse makes you look like a local. Young Italians do wear jeans, but very trendy jeans and always with high heels (not the best choice for walking on cobblestones). Also, no Vancouver fleece. I always pack cotton and linen in black, and try for one great dress that can go to museums or out for dinner.
Leslie, Vancouver, Canada