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From American Coed to European Chic

Last week I was walking down from Piazzale Michelangelo and as I neared the bottom of the hill, I spotted a group of young men. I immediately thought to myself, “oh, they are so American!” They weren’t even close enough for me to hear what language they were speaking, but I could tell they were American a mile away because of their clothing. They wore variations of the standard male collegiate uniform — jeans or kakis (baggy not fitted) with button-up shirts topped with Patagonia half-zips… and boat shoes, you can’t forget the boat shoes!

I think this excerpt from the local English-speaking newspaper in Florence sums up the difference between American and Italian styles nicely:

“Asked to comment on the clash of styles, professor of international buying and marketing Fabianna Vannucchi offered, ‘I would say that we Italians have more style, more taste, more sense of beauty and more creativity.’ Harsh but true. Vannucchi went on to describe Americans as ‘practical,’ which ‘reflects in their fashion.’ American students go for what is easy and inexpensive, whereas quality over quantity is the fashion rule Italians live by.

In addition to the relaxed nature of American aesthetics, the article goes on to discuss how most college students, in an attempt not to stand out, dress almost identically. American college students can be very brand focused (#guilty), which is probably why they seem to all dress alike no matter what college they hail from.

Now, I am not advocating that you buy a new wardrobe before you visit or study abroad in Italy, or anywhere else in Europe. I certainly don’t, and I stay pretty true to my personal style while here. I think the take away from the excerpt above (and full article, which you can read here) is that you should make minor adjustments to your wardrobe and keep a couple key concepts in mind when packing — dressier, classier (i.e less skin and not a lot of shorts), higher quality, and more tailored. You don’t have to completely abandon your American style, just put a bit more effort into it.

I think living, visiting, and studying abroad means that you should embrace everything — the art, fashion, cuisine, the way of life, etc. No doubt Italy has influenced the way I dress. It has certainly taught me the value of buying fewer, yet higher-quality pieces.

Here are some tips for embracing your inner European fashionista while abroad:

  • Select clean, simple lines and items that fit (not skin tight and not baggy)
  • Select dressier items/outfits (think more dresses and skirts, less gym clothes)
  • Avoid short-shorts and skimpy dresses 
  • Replace your sneakers (or boat shoes) with a pair of Converses or Superas
  • Select jeans over kakis (you can never go wrong with jeans!)
  • Only wear your workout clothes in the gym (especially Nike running shorts and baggy t-shirts)
  • Stick to seasonal-appropriate clothing only (Italians are serious about their clothing seasons, boat shoes are a perfect example, an Italian would deem them completely inappropriate for winter!)

Lastly, I should add that I am not advocating against American fashion or that I don’t own or wear the items in the left column, because I do. I am just saying that embracing a new style abroad — like the way you embrace new foods, sights, and ways of life — is an important component of experiencing a new culture!

Has anyone experienced this “clash of styles” when you were abroad?