Italian women are known all over the world for their effortlessly chic style. Their secret lies in La Bella Figura, which literally means “the beautiful figure” but broadly means making a good impression. This key tenet of Italian philosophy underscores the country’s deep-set cultural appreciation for aesthetics, presentation, manners, and of course beauty. In Italy, any situation is an opportunity to embrace la bella figura. That’s why you’ll see exquisitely dressed Italians during an ordinary supermarket run or an appointment at the doctor.
It’s no surprise, then, that Italy is known around the world for its legendary style icons and fashion houses. Prada, Armani, Gucci and Fendi are just a few of the Italian labels who share a “look” that is at once casual, yet seductive and elegant. The most famous style icons, such as Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani, were careful to never 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 with four opposing forces that balance each other out: sobriety and sensuality, elegance and informality. And most importantly, it is rooted in slow fashion which encourages investing in quality over quantity – and recuperating aging pieces to give them a new life.
During my organizing sessions and image consultancy at Florence Fashion Tour, I always recommend embracing the Italian philosophy. Buy less but buy better to build a capsule wardrobe of timeless basics that you can mix and match in unlimited outfits and occasions. Every Italian woman knows that balance is key: your closet should be made up of 80% essentials and 20% statement pieces, like a colorful coat or printed pants, to add a touch of personality.
Here are the 7 must-haves for a sustainable, stylish Italian closet.
The White T-Shirt
As Italian icon Isabella Rossellini teaches us, a white cotton t-shirt works works with basically anything, whether you’re wearing jeans or a fancy evening skirt. Few items can compete with the versatility and staying power of a great white T. It is one of my favorite closet staples, especially this year as I mostly work from home and seek comfort and style. I personally prefer a slightly loose fit so I can layer my t-shirt under a sweater and tuck it easily 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 am a pants person and feel most confident when 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 can be hard to stray away, as they simplify the outfit pairing process. Classic black pants, with a high waist and wide-leg, are flattering for all different body types. That’s why 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 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 any 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 whenever I wear one! A flattering blazer is a must-have for every stylish woman and is an easy, sophisticated way to make a statement.
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 I recently got repaired by Stephanie, a wonderful leather artisan and founder of Frau Leman in Florence (Italians repair clothes and accessories whenever they can). If you are looking to buy a nice leather handbag on a budget, try looking in vintage shops: 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 item that will make you look put together, no matter what you’re wearing underneath, and it complements nearly any color. I love to pair mine with light shades such as white and pink, but it also goes great with a darker palette like black or navy. Of all the coats I wear, I’d say my camel wool coat is the one I use the most: I wear it from autumn to spring and layer it according to the season. If you invest in a camel coat made with 100%, it will stand the test of time. I love to shop for winter wear at Florentine brand Tiche.
The Statement Sunglasses
Sunglasses are a small but mighty accessory. A key element of Italian style, few women would ever dare to leave their home without them. Sunglasses are not only functional, they can also accentuate your features and finish an outfit. Be sure to find a pair that complements your face shape and if you 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.
The Classic Loafers
I’m a big fan of loafers and own many pairs of them. Like a camel coat, loafers are a staple that 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 a 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 and velvet might be more difficult to care for but they will add an inimitable Italian touch to any outfit. In Florence, I shop at Canto Dei Ricci for the classic Florentine horse-bit loafers in several color variations.