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How to dress in Rome: What to wear not to look like a tourist

Published on July 22, 2018 by C. P.

Photo by Christian Sapetschnig through a Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0

Meeting a variety of travellers and tourists from a number of countries, one of the questions we get asked more often is how to dress like a local in Rome.

Is it because foreign nationals don’t want to attract unnecessary attention to themselves? Are they feeling self-conscious that they could be made fun of from Romans for the way they present themselves? Or even ripped off, having been targeted as someone from abroad? Or, again, maybe our clients want to imitate the style of those who live in Italy?

As you can see, there might be a number of reasons for wanting to blend in, but truth is, and we hate to break it to you: there is no way you’ll be able to completely pass as a local! But we promise you, it’s fine!

Blending in: a false myth

What most people fail to see when they are in Rome is that mass tourism has completely changed the way the city is enjoyed. Last year alone, 11 million people came to visit. This means that at any given moment of the year, there will be queues for the Vatican (sometimes long ones, sometimes shorter!), or the Colosseum will be packed, and picturesque alleys like those in Trastevere won’t seem that quaint anymore. So, again, at any given moment you’ll be lining up somewhere near major landmarks, maybe with a backpack and camera in hand, dressed comfortably to cope with a long day spent walking and sightseeing. That’s how we, as locals, spot you. Through a combination of:

  • you being near a must-see area of Rome
  • having noticeably visible gear such as a camera
  • having a backpack, cross body bag or similar on you
  • wearing hats (ever noticed that locals rarely wear any?)
  • wearing shoes like flip-flops or plastic slip-ons (think Adilettes, or similar)
  • wearing tank tops and/or shorts, or capri pants.

Sometimes the people we see near our offices on via dei Cartari present all of the above characteristics (after all we’re just around the corner from Campo de’ Fiori or Castel Sant’Angelo!), sometimes just a few of them. Obviously we’re making assumptions, but we rarely get it wrong.

And let us stress this once again: it’s fine to look like a traveller. Is it not what you are when you visit Rome? It’s more than fine to dress like you would at home – if that’s what makes you feel comfortable and at ease, go for it!

Truths and lies on dressing like a local

Knowing that you need to dress somehow conservatively in a few situations when you are in Rome is a whole other story: there might be establishments such as certain restaurants or museums where your attire might be frowned upon.

More importantly, some vicars or pastors might prevent you from entering their churches if your legs or legs show, or your outfit is too “skimpy”. Look for any signs detailing what you can or cannot wear, and bring with you a sarong or some other accessory that can help you correct your apparel, if need be. Even though restrictions in churches are tied to the ministers’ personal sensibility most of the times, more generally speaking your arms should be covered, as your legs (from the knees up).

 

Watch out for signs like this one when entering a church!

 

Some other things you might like to note when it comes to pack your bags for your upcoming trip to Rome:

  • We do wear shorts! Just not that often in the city. Most of the locals you meet are on the way to their jobs, and shorts are simply not acceptable in an office setting.
  • Flip-flops? Only on the beach, please. We don’t want you to get hurt with broken glass, stepping on dog poo or running into a rat – the center of Rome is simply not as clean as it might look from the pictures you see on the Internet, and open-toed shoes (with flip-flops being a type of those) are simply not guaranteed to protect you.
  • We tend to wear light colors during the warmer seasons. You’ll see lots of locals wearing black, dark blue or burgundy when it’s colder.
  • Capri pants were fashionable ages ago, as were t-shirts with big slogans. Skinny pants and patterned t-shirts are a great alternative .
  • Whatever the season, don’t forget your layers. It gets significantly colder at night – blame it on the river Tiber – and scarves or light jackets can be useful. Also, there’s a huge difference between shops and places of interests with air conditioning or heating and the streets outside: be ready to cover up quickly, if need be!
  • Finally, when considering shoes remember that any street in Rome has an uneven surface – potholes, loose cobblestones, you name it! And you’ll be doing a lot of walking on them. So, shoes that don’t offer adequate padding or arch support should stay home.
Category: Rome 101

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