t’s an internationally well-known fact that Italians have an almost supernatural sense of style. Generally, they adapt current trends to flatter them, rather than wearing fads as though they were uniforms. The rest of us are often left feeling like it’s impossible to keep up with them.
Most impressive is how even men understand it. I was once getting my hair cut in Rome when the client in the next seat began explaining what he wanted the stylist to do, “I’ve gained weight recently, so cut it shorter than normal to reduce bulk around my face.”
“What a brilliant idea,” I thought. “Would a ploy like that even occur to an American man?” I wanted to jump up and applaud him.
Similarly, Italian guys routinely run outfit ideas by their friends, both male and female. They carefully consider his idea, ask a few questions about the nature of the event, then provide sound advice. I’m usually off in the corner, listening with my jaw on the floor. No one burst out laughing, or made fun of the guy. Everyone found it completely reasonable.
American men, conversely, seem embarrassed to care, as though evaluating your appearance were a sign of weakness. But I contend that if you don’t put a little consideration and effort into how you look, the result will be mediocre at best. It feels good to look good. And if Italy is no longer the place where people do whatever feels good, what is the world coming to?
But even these fashion gods and goddesses have their limitations. It must be noted that a substantial part of the population falls off the wagon when it comes to pajamas. It’s as though all the good taste they exercise picking out to clothes to wear in public gets thrown out the window for choosing sleepwear.
While it’s safe to say that by their 20s, most Americans have graduated, so to speak, to plain pajamas, Italians lag behind. Pants and shirt sets are available for men and women at all lingerie shops. Tradition dictates the pants are patterned with small animals, with shirts featuring larger ones. They’re pretty clearly divided by gender, with “boy animals”: turtles, rhinos, tigers and “girl” ones: rabbits, puppies, cats.
Yet, somehow, animals alone are not enough. Often, the designers throw in a few nonsensical English phrases like “Happy Sleep, Sheep’s Company” for good measure. You’re liable to see guys in their twenties cruising around their apartments in frog pajamas the morning after a late night at the discoteca, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. The irony of this gets me every time. The juxtaposition is startling, bizarre and fundamentally uncharacteristic. There’s an “all-or-nothing” approach, as if society had decided, “we’ll either be dressed to kill, or dressed like three-year olds.”
I share this information so the next time you see an impeccably dressed Italian, don’t be intimidated… just imagine them in their teddy bear pajamas.