167. In Style

I am always alert to how people do themselves up in a Italy.

Much has been said about la bella figura (which literally means “beautiful figure,” but figuratively means making a good impression), and there is no question that the average person on the street in Italy cares more about looking nice than the average American does. You can easily pick us out: we’re the ones in the sweats and the gigantic, puffy running shoes that have likely never been used for even running to catch a bus.

So too go my choices, for the most part. But on heading to Italy, I do try to up my game a bit in the shoe department while still wearing something comfortable enough to walk the 10-plus miles per day that I typically do when traveling. So it was with great relief that I noticed that people of all demographics are finally wearing sneakers there, too. Not usually the fabric running shoe style, but white leather tennis-style shoes, sometimes with a little glitter or bling. So I could feel perfectly au courant without sacrificing comfort.

Lots of white sneakers at the Duomo in Milan
You can pick up a Dolce & Gabbana number at the Gucci shop for $1200

I always take note of the appearance-consciousness of the young men there too, who seem to care more about how they look than any American bro would admit to. When I was in Italy in 2018, I noticed that the boys sported a hairdo that I named “the shelf,” basically a gelled, straight blob of hair jutting either up or out in front.

Boys sporting “the shelf” in 2018

The shelf has now morphed into a hairdo with short sides, the shorter the better, and a mop of curls on top. If you pay attention, you can catch the boys fluffing up their curls with their fingers when they think no one’s looking. Here’s a picture of one I got from the web.

And here’s one I snapped in a gelateria:

On the Facebook Italy Travel Planning group that I follow, people express a great deal of anxiety about what to wear, particularly on their feet. Americans think Italians will be judging their appearance, and finding it wanting. When actually there, they discover that no one really cares, and upon returning home, they post to the group, telling upcoming travelers to relax and do what’s comfortable. So no need to buy fancy sneakers or maintain a curly mop of hair. But it is kind of fun to make a brief gesture towards la bella figura anyway.

My humble attempt at Italian-style sneakers. I felt very with-it with the silver bling in the back.

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