La Bella Figura

Lapo Elkann
(I couldn’t narrow down just one photo from Pitti Uomo, so heeeere’s Lapo. Although he’s kind of hit or miss.)

How do they do it?

Italy is the only place I’ve visited where I’ve felt underdressed. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might guess that I wasn’t.

A quick stroll through The Sartorialist’s postings about Milan’s Pitti Uomo on Men.Style.Com will reveal a wealth of sartorial delights and one unassailable truth: Italians know how to do casually elegant better than anyone else.

Now, admittedly, he’s cherry-picking the best of the best. And he is shooting fashion insiders. But still, year after year, they manage to look stylish and rarely are they dated or outmoded. With a few obvious exceptions. He’s reporting, not recommending.

Is it bred in the bone? No, I don’t think so…. It certainly is an age-old thing, though. “The Book of the Courtier” might be the art form’s bible. Renaissance paintings show exceptionally (for the time) well-dressed people. Even artists (think of Raphael — the bon vivant — and his self-portrait in one of the murals in the Pope’s library, I believe) took care with appearances.

So can we deconstruct the casual elegance of the Italian man for the edification of we clueless (present company excepted, of course) Americans?

Here are a few things that I notice. If you can think of any others, feel free to chime in.

Ten Steps to Approximate the Italian Casual of Those Doing it Right.

1. Fit. Italians’ clothing fits. It is tailored to look the best it can on the person wearing it. Sometimes the wearer has tailored it himself….. Even if it is an homage to a particularly ridiculous style. I’m thinking of the too short, too tight Thom Browne look. An Italian will wear it as fashionable, but he won’t take it to extremes, and will make sure that he looks good in it.

2. Brown Suede Shoes Go with (just about) Everything. Except black trousers. Ditto for brown shoes in general. But the suede really ups the style quotient a notch. And I’m addicted to them. This has got to be the number one stylish travel tip. Brown suede shoes (often with rubber walking soles like Dainite®) are comfortable and stylish. Save the sneakers for the gym.

3. High Quality Materials: suede, tweed, cashmere, camel’s hair, worsted wool, silk. The clothing and accessories are always made of the best stuff.

4. The Scarf: long and wrapped, worn with everything when it’s chilly.

5. Layers. Sweaters, scarves, pocket squares, jackets, coats, gloves…. It’s all here. I bet you can find hats being worn. And I don’t mean sideways turned baseball caps, either.

6. Pattern Mixing. They aren’t afraid of wearing more than two patterns. The trick is to alternate the scale.

7. Colour. Italian men aren’t afraid of adding a little colour. Even with a very dark outfit, something will pop. A red scarf, for example. Or a pair of bright yellow eyeglasses peeking out of a breast pocket. In back of the pocket square, of course.

8. Grooming. Even when sporting artfully disheveled long or short hair and a three day growth of beard, they don’t look homeless. The key here is the word “artfully.” The look is deliberate and well-orchestrated.

9. Something is a little off. The hair or beard is “wrong” for the look. Or the tie is askew. Collar points bend up. Bracelets are tied at French-cuffed wrists. Those same French-cuffs are left open. Tough to pull off, it’s called “sprezzatura.” And it’s not an accident. Sart’s photo is a great example.

10. Very few blue jeans. At least that I remember. Nowadays, they tend to be white, too.

And finally, yes this one goes up to eleven:

11. Confidence. They know they look good and take pains to prove it to you. See number 9.

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