This spring, while travelling in Italy (I still can’t even believe that’s me saying that!), I wandered in and out of what seemed to be countless adorable clothing shops. Many of the shop owners I spoke with in Rome had stories of being a second or third generation storeowner. Each had their own ideals of which European cities provided the best fabrics, and shared stories of train rides throughout Italy to source out the most perfect items for their small storefront collection.
They spoke of the fabric, colour and texture of clothing as though each were unique pieces of art, which was, of course, music to my ears. (When I understood their broken English through their thick Italian accents, that is.)
Even the whole experience of trying on clothes there was something I’ve not known before! First of all, the storeowners provide honest feedback. Interesting concept, eh? They seem to be more interested in a customer looking fabulous than they do in making a sale. Upon exiting the fitting room, I’d be greeted with a pair of discerning eyes. As Jeff and I chatted with each other about our likes/dislikes, the storeowner would weigh in with his suggestion, “Colour no good for you.” Or “You need bigger size.” One gentleman even said, “No! No good. Not for you!” (He was totally right by the way!)
On the flip side, when I’d step out in some flattering design that looked tailored for me, there was a surge of exclamations and emphatic approvals, often in Italian at first, and then they’d move to broken English again. “It was made for you!” In one shop, as the owner continued celebrating the fit of his garment on this foreigner, he grabbed a scarf off of a compartmentalized shelf, each cube showcasing a perfectly folded length of beautiful fabric, and expertly tossed it around my neck. “Bellissima! It’s now perfect!”
(Yep, I bought the scarf.)
Another difference is that the sizes are much different from North American sizes. It was not uncommon for me to need to try a medium or large shirt, or a 32-36 pant. For me, this was all part of the fun of the experience of buying clothes in Italy. I’m not accustomed to trying on pants and going up size after size, each one still too small to get past my thighs! And to be honest, I never moved to a negative space in my mind at all. I quickly realized it was a European sizing thing, not a “Marisa’s body” thing.
However, not all people were thrilled to be in “larger” sizes. I overheard countless other American and Canadian tourists complaining about the size of the item they were trying on, many saying they refused to go up another size, even though the item they were trying on was gorgeous. I saw women who entered the store excited to purchase something unique from their trip to Italy, leave the store frustrated and downcast, all because of the “larger” European sizing.
It’s funny how fashion can mess with our emotions, eh?
In one shop I went in, they had a section clearly marketed to tourists. I glanced at the display and quickly turned away to browse some of the more unique pieces on the rack. From the corner of my eye however, I caught glimpse of a graphic tee, and once I read it, touristy or not, I had to have it! It’s cheap, it’s poorly made, it probably won’t last more than one season. But I love it!
“Do not compare yourself to others.”
If only it was as easy as throwing on a tee shirt…