To dress like an Italian, you need to start thinking like an Italian – clothes are about self-expression.
Why do so many British men take our few days of summer sunshine as their cue to dress like a jumble sale on legs? Gents, you can do better. Here we take some fashion prompts from our Italian brothers, men who know the meaning of style. We have the raw materials, we have the know-how – here’s how to put it all together like a true Italian.
Italian good looks have less to do with the availability of bespoke tailoring in Naples or Florence, than with your average Neapolitan’s attitude to style. As Teo van den Broeke at Esquire says, the only word of Italian you need to know is “sprezzatura”, or “studied carelessness”. Casual sophistication that stops just short of “peacockery” is what makes Italian men look so darn good.
We have no excuse for looking like something the cat dragged in. As Benjamin Fitzgerald at D’Marge says, “It’s not like in a modernised world, men in North America, Australia and Asia don’t have access to the same quality goods as your average, classy Italiano.” Italians are thoughtful and creative about their clothing combinations. If you want to look as good as they do, learn to think like they do.
Own your clothes
If it’s baking outside and you’re crammed into the same navy blazer you wear to your Christmas party, you’ll end up looking like your clothes own you, rather than the other way around. Summers call for linens, cotton linen mixes and experiments with seersucker – your clothes aren’t a uniform, after all.
Start thinking of your body as the canvas and your clothes the palette. You’re the artist. The key to Italian dress-sense is to invest in clothes that suit your body shape, skin colour, age and aspirations – and the weather.
Dress down without it showing
Here’s an exercise for you: Try your suit on minus the tie. How does it look? Chances are without your necktie and with your top button undone, your collar looks oddly mis-shapen. That’s because formal shirts are only designed to be worn with a tie.
Now try a crisp cotton shirt with a more structured collar designed to be left open at the neck – a causal shirt, or weekend shirt will be that little bit bolder too. See the difference?
Despite the popularity among northern Europeans of slim fit unvented Italian suits, as Idle Man says: “You’ll rarely see an Italian man fully suited up and uncomfortable”. It’s actually a rarity to find an Italian in full formal attire. You can’t be both buttoned up and expressive. Start thinking about how to bring casual flair to your formal wear. That’s Italian style.
Work with texture
Another experiment: Put on a pair of chinos, a cotton shirt, and your summer blazer. How do you look? Not bad perhaps, but somehow not as good as you’d like.
Run your hands over yourself – notice how the textures of your clothes are all the same? That’s what separates you from stylishness.
Incorporate texture into your wardrobe – clothes that feel nice. Swap that cotton shirt for the softness of a cotton-cashmere polo and notice the difference. You’re on your way to that all important “sprezzatura”.
Learn your colour theory
Have you ever noticed how well the Italians understand colour? How else could they wear those pastel shades without looking like mad parrots? It’s all in the colour wheel – opposite colours contrast and should be used sparingly – they’re the bright splash of a pocket square or silk tie.
Complementary colours are closer together on the wheel. That’s your tan chinos and sky-blue cotton cashmere crewneck. And don’t forget your colouring either – dark skinned, brown eyes? Try swapping out that pale blue for an olive-green crewneck – same style totally different look.
Ditch your baggy trousers
No matter what his body shape, any self-respecting Italian knows how to buy a pair of trousers that fit. If you’re slim, flat fronted trousers are for you. If you enjoy your pasta a little too much, you’ll need to accommodate a wider girth without looking like a sack of spuds.
Look for a slightly higher rise and perhaps a single pleat – baggy trousers just make you look fat. Your chinos should follow the contours of your body without pinching, bulging, sagging or puckering. And go for a half break that sits nicely on top of your shoe – that’s making like an Italian.
Learn to loaf
Nothing evokes the puritan work ethic like a pair of polished Oxfords. And while that’s exactly the impression you want to create at the office, it’s not the vibe you want when you’re relaxing at home or with friends.
Idle Man are bang on when they say: “Italy is the birthplace of the driver shoe and of course the horsebit (or Gucci) loafer.” Leave your formal shoes for formal occasions, and instead embrace the laid back stylishness that comes from impeccable Italian styling with the softest of leather uppers!
Are you holidaying in Italy this summer? We’d love to hear any Italian style tips you picked up while you were away. Tell us all about it on our Facebook page.