If you’re planning on traveling abroad soon, the first thing I recommend is studying up on your destination’s culture and perusing some pictures of the locals. Just like you ought to learn a bit of the language before arriving, you should also know how to dress and act in a way that will give you the most authentic experience possible. Obviously, every location will be a bit different, but I’m going to base my tips off of my current location in Italy.
Are you sure those boots are made for walking?
One of the easiest ways to spot a tourist is by his footwear. Walking the streets of Florence, it is extremely rare to see a local Italian sporting tennis shoes and, if he is, you can be sure he didn’t buy them at Target. Like everything else in life, the key is balance. By no means am I recommending going out and buying a pair of Louboutins to take on your vacation, especially if they’re anything like my family vacation where you walk more in one day than you have in the past six months. (Unless you can afford to buy those red soles, in which case, go crazy! And maybe send me a pair?) If your heart is set on tennis shoes, go with a pair of slip on Sperrys or Keds – something simple that can match many outfits and are comfortable to walk in for long periods of time. Along the same route, but slightly more fashionable, would be classic ballet flats, leather sandals, or a nice loafer (Italian men and women love a good loafer). For those with strong ankles and a brave spirit, you could even work a cork or straw wedge into your allotted footwear. Avoid running shoes, rubber flip flops, and anything new that will cause blisters at all costs and you’ll be set.
In the states, many women have become fond of wristlets and cell phone holders, ditching the traditional purse, and most men don’t carry a bag at all. In Italy, however, the majority of people carry bags. Especially in Florence, one of the most famous cities in the world for its leather, you can see men and women carrying briefcases, messengers, sling backpacks, hobos, handbags, and every variation you can imagine. The biggest bag “no-no” while in Italy or many other international countries is a traditional backpack. Sadly, pickpockets are everywhere and can easily slip something out of that JanSport before you can even say “Ciao!” Rather than wear your backpack on your front, which is highly unflattering (it’s called a backpack for a reason, guys), try out its cousin, the messenger bag. While not as supportive as a backpack, it still disperses the weight across your body, has loads of carrying space, and can safely be slung around your front side for protection from gypsy pickpockets. The look works for both men and women and, in my opinion, is the safest option. Ladies can also consider a hand or shoulder bag, but make sure it can be fully zipped shut and gripped easily. A good zipper will keep any wandering hands from going undetected and an iron grip will prevent passerby from grabbing your bag and speeding away on that classic Italian Vespa.
Roxanne, you don’t have to wear that dress tonight (But really, you don’t)
Compared to European standards, Americans are pretty lax in their ways of dress. More than the right shoes or bags, it is crucial to know what is considered “appropriate” in your host country’s culture. For instance, visiting certain ancient or holy sites in the Mediterranean, women are expected to cover their shoulders and knees – no tank tops and cutoffs allowed. In Italy, there is a much higher expectation for dress than in the States. Rarely do they were athletic clothes, jeans with holes in them, or anything overtly sexy (no booty shorts and mini dresses, please). Italians take pride in how they dress, not in a superficial way, but as part of a lifestyle that was established centuries ago, and they dress with class and simplicity. As always, stay true to your personal style aesthetic and your own comfort level, but it is practically effortless to exchange a pair of athletic shorts for khaki shorts or a graphic tee for a chic tank top and scarf combo. When it doubt, simplify your outfit, taking out any over-the-top statement pieces, graphics, prints, or colors. If the thought of trying to keep up with a country of people who have been putting out the hottest fashions since before our country was even founded scares you, take solace in that fact that the patterns are easy to pick up on. Not only in Italy, but all over the world, after a few days of walking the streets and browsing the racks, you’ll see the trends and be able to adapt your choices accordingly.