Americans on vacation in Italy typically dress for a day at Disneyworld in abbigliamento sportivo (sportwear or casual attire). Italians tend to ventirsi for an avventura, a word that can translate into both adventure and romance -- and ideally combines a little of both. In Italy clothes don’t merely cover the body; they send messages to express, impress, attract, amuse, define and seduce. What you choose to wear (indossare) translates into “il linguaggio dello stile” (the idiom of style), which can reveal as much as spoken or written language.
The point isn’t merely vestire gli ignudi (to clothe the naked) but vestire bene (to dress well). This can mean vestire con eleganza discreta (to dress with understated or subtle elegance), vestire alla moda (to wear fashionable clothes), vestire a festa (to wear one’s Sunday’s best), vestire splendidamente (to dress to kill) or vestire per fare colpo (to dress to impress).
In Milan, a capitale della moda (fashion capital), you can see a beautiful indossatrice (model) wearing the latest vestiti firmati (designer clothes) on the passerella (catwalk) at a sfilata di moda (fashion show). On the streets you’ll also see the occasional modaiolo (a trendy fashion victim) dressed in modo appariscente (in loud, flashy clothes). Yet very few Italians seem to have no dress sense (non avere gusto nel vestire). Most look well dressed (ben vestito) in a simple shirt (camicia) or blouse (camicetta) with slacks (pantaloni) or a skirt (gonna).
However, an Italian camicia doesn’t just cover the skin. You might go out In maniche di camicia (shirt sleeves) or a camiciotto (casual shirt), but you wouldn’t want to end up in a camicia di forza (strait-jacket). In English, the child of rich parents is said to be born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In Italian he’s nato con la camicia (born with the shirt).
If you put a great deal of effort into a project, you can claim to sudar sette camicie (sweat seven shirts). If you absolutely forget an appointment or a chore, you could say that it was a case of dimenticarsi di qualcosa come della prima camicia (forgetting something as totally as you’ve forgotten your first shirt).
Shirts aren’t only for people. Italians are so fashion-conscious that they even think of food as “dressed.” If you want poached eggs, for example, ask for uova in camicia.
Words and Expressions
vestito in bianco or vestito di bianco -– dressed in white
vestire di nero –- to dress in black or in mourning
sfilare sulla passerella –- to walk up and down the catwalk
farsi un vestito nuovo -- make yourself a new dress
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language.
Click below to preview a terrific documentary on Valentino, who created the dresses in the photo above: