Italian women are known all over the world for their effortlessly chic style. Their secret lies in la bella figura, which literally translates to “the beautiful figure.” This oft-heard expression, however, refers to making a good impression, ‘dressing to impress’ if you will. This key tenet of Italian philosophy underscores the country’s deep-set cultural appreciation for aesthetics, presentation, manners, and of course, beauty. In Italy, every situation is an opportunity to embrace la bella figura. This is why you’ll see exquisitely dressed Italians during an ordinary supermarket run or a doctor’s appointment.
It’s no surprise that Italy is known around the world for its legendary style icons and fashion houses. Prada, Armani, Gucci, and Fendi are just a few Italian brands that share a “look” that is simultaneously casual, seductive, yet elegant. The most famous style icons, such as Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, and Anna Magnani, were always careful never to show too much skin off the screen. A slightly unbuttoned shirt or a black skirt a few inches above the knees was more than enough.
The guiding principles of Italian style can be summarized by four qualities: sobriety, sensuality, elegance, and informality. Although they seem to be incompatible, these qualities actually balance each other out. Most importantly, the Italian style is rooted in slow fashion. This encourages investing in quality over quantity–along with recuperating aging pieces to give them new life.
In other words, buy less but buy better. The goal? To build a capsule wardrobe of basics that you can mix and match to create unlimited outfits for any occasion (casual, formal, and everything in between). Every Italian woman knows that balance is key, which is why your closet should be 80% essentials and 20% statement pieces (like a colorful coat or printed pants), to add a touch of personality. Keep reading to discover the 7 staples that form the foundation of any Italian woman’s closet!
The White T-Shirt
As Italian icon, Isabella Rossellini teaches us, a white cotton t-shirt works with just about anything. Whether you’re styling jeans or a fancy evening skirt, few items can compete with the versatility and staying power of a great white T. I prefer a loose fit so I can layer my T-shirt under a sweater and easily tuck it into pants and skirts. In Florence, I stock up on white t-shirts at my local merceria (haberdashery). Just make sure you purchase 100% cotton t-shirts, otherwise, they will lose their shape after a few washes.
The Black Pants
I’m a pants person and feel most confident when I’m wearing trousers. I have fun dressing them up with a blazer for a business meeting, or down with a graphic sweatshirt on weekends. Once you find the perfect pair, it’ll simplify the outfit pairing process. Classic black pants, with a high waist and wide leg, are flattering for all body types. I always recommend investing in a pair of chic, comfortable black trousers to complement the other staple in your closet: blue jeans. I love these black elastic pants by the Florentine brand Bastah, designed and produced in Tuscany using high-quality fabrics.
The Printed Blazer
A tailored blazer is one piece of clothing that is always on trend. The one I’m wearing is by Juliette Brown, a fashion house based in Florence that designs contemporary, fashionable women’s suits. Most people associate a blazer with their “workwear uniform” but if you choose a fun print, like a peacock pattern, it’s perfect for the weekend, too. Plus, the sharp yet feminine tailoring gives me an instant confidence boost! A blazer is a must-have for every stylish woman. It is an easy, sophisticated way to make a statement both in and out of the office.
The Leather Handbag
An Italian woman never leaves the house without her leather handbag. It doesn’t have to be designer or super expensive, what matters is that it’s a well-made, classic design that will last forever. In Italy, handbags are considered family heirlooms that are passed down through generations. In fact, most of the leather bags I own were gifted to me by my mother and grandmother, including the one that I’m wearing. It’s a vintage Coccinelle leather crossbody bag that was recently repaired by Stephanie, an incredible leather artisan, and founder of Frau Leman in Florence. If you’re on a budget, check out vintage shops and thrift stores; the price-quality ratio is much better for second-hand purses.
The Camel Coat
A camel coat is one of the most elegant items in any closet. It’s a versatile piece that will make you look put together and complements nearly any color. I love to pair mine with light shades such as white and pink, but it also pairs well with darker colors like black or navy. Although I own lots of outerwear I wear my camel wool coat the most, especially during the autumn and spring, where I layer it according to the season. If you invest in a camel coat made with 100% wool, it will stand the test of time. I love to shop for winter wear at the Florentine brand Tiche.
The Statement Sunglasses
Sunglasses are a small but mighty accessory. A key element of Italian style, few women would dare to leave the house without them. Sunglasses are not only functional, but they can also accentuate your features and complete an outfit. When buying, be sure to find a pair that complements your face shape. If you decide to go bold, opt for minimal accessories and neutral shades to let your sunglasses stand out. I always shop at Antica Occhialeria, an excellent optician in Florence that carries a great selection of classic designs with contemporary details. I especially love these black shades by Gucci.
The Classic Loafers
I’m a big fan of loafers and own many pairs of them. Like a camel coat, loafers are easy to slip on and immediately make your look more sophisticated. And since these shoes are completely flat, they are a great alternative to sneakers. If you’re new to loafers, start with a classic black pair before you move on to colorful prints and patterns–but don’t overlook fun fabrics! Suede might be more difficult to care for but it will add an inimitable Italian touch to any outfit. You can even consider velvet slippers for the ultimate luxe touch.