International Fashion: Italy


It could be said that all fashion is merely a footnote to Italy. Indeed, the imprint of Italian sensibility and design is almost impossible to extract from fashion itself. If the French are credited with craftsmanship and elegance, Italians treat fashion with an unswerving attention to the body.

One aspect that stands out in a cursory examination of Italian fashion is the fact that men are just as “into it” as women. Fashion has often been considered a uniquely feminine pursuit. From the dismissal of clothing as superficial and frivolous, to the claim that fashioning and accessorizing the body is a duplicitous means of seducing men, women have always been associated with the endeavor of dressing the body.

But in plenty of countries it is specifically the men who engage in sartorial concerns. (In the animal kingdom in fact, it is most often the males of the species who preen and fluff and flaunt their colors to attract the females.) So as more and more men across the globe begin to take an interest in their clothing, it seems an appropriate moment to think about some places where male fashion actually takes precedence over female fashion. Italy is a one particular country where men are famous for caring deeply about their clothing.

In many ways Italian dressing has set the standard for men all over the world. If the iconic Armani suit is any indication of the Italian influence on the fashionable male, then it is clear that men in Italy care greatly about what image they present to the world.

And that’s not even to mention all the perfectly polished handmade leather goods that come from Italy. Is it more natural for men to care about fine shoes and leather briefcases? Perhaps. But regardless, if Fendi, Gucci, Prada, Armani, Versace, and Dolce and Gabbana are names that ring a bell, then you know what an impact Italian designers have had on the world of fashion. When Armani dressed Richard Gere for the infamous film American Gigolo, it seemed that every man needed an Armani suit. And it was OK to care about the smallest details of that suit.

Armani and Valentino have certainly made themselves into demigods of fashion. As the recent film Valentino, The Last Emperor revealed, Valentino was in fact Lord of his own Empire. Indeed, fashion appeals to this desire in all of us — the hope of becoming kings and queens of our own kingdoms.

Despite the unfortunate recent collapse of men’s Vogue, the famous Sartorialist continues to snap shots of well-dressed men all over the world, inspiring even the most sartorially-challenged guy to care about the fold of a tie or the cuffs of his pants.

Just a few words about Italian women… Perhaps it’s because Italian women are blessed with extraordinary proportions (think Sophia Loren), but Italian women do have a unique penchant for showing off their curves. Their clothing is not particularly revealing of skin, but it is usually ever-so-body-conscious. Skin tight jeans and femme fatale dresses characterize women’s clothing in Italy. And everything is complimented by a pair of those fantastic Italian leather high heels.

Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren

If men’s fashion is revered in Italy, then women’s fashion is an attempt to gain male attention. Italian women want to stand out, not blend in, and they indeed want to be noticed for their sex appeal. So if Italy is a country where everyone pays attention to men’s clothing and where women are admired for being womanly, perhaps we all stand to gain from looking a little more carefully at that nice pair of cuff links.  Because maybe it’s in respecting men’s clothing, after all, that everyone can come to know more fully the worth of fashion itself.

A few books on Italian fashion in general:  Fashion, Italian Style by Valerie Steele. And Maria Luisa Frisa has written a book: Italian Fashion Now that will be released in February of 2010. On men’s fashion in particular: Men’s Style: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Dress Russell Smith and The Men’s Fashion Reader Peter McNeil.

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1 Comment

  • Ingrid Mida August 13, 2009 07.03 am

    Thank you to Heather who found my blog and invited me over! I write about fashion and art and am delighted to discover your blog!


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