How Not to Look Like a Tourist in Southern Italy

Some of the most reoccurring questions we get from foreign visitors planning to visit our bed and breakfast in southern Italy are “How should we dress?” “What should we should wear?” “What can we bring so we don’t stand out?”

All good questions, my friends and things no doubt, that other would-be travelers to the toe of the bel boot might want to know.

While your blond hair, fair skin and bright blue eyes might make you stick out like a sore thumb in a hand modeling contest, there are some things you can wear to blend in with the crowd.

Here are Four Tips to Help You Not Look Like a Tourist When Visiting Southern Italy

Italians dress by the number on the calendar, not by the number on the thermometer. If you plan to visit Italy in the winter months, be prepared to layer your clothes and don scarves,  hats and gloves.

If you are visiting in the summer, wear clothes made of lightweight fabrics. As Jessica points out in her post Avoiding Summer Faux Pas in Italy, Italians have just recently started wearing shorts … and really, ladies, I don’t see them often.

For years Europeans spotted Americans by our bright white tennis shoes. Today, well … they still do. Although white tennis shoes are sold throughout Italy – and many Italians proudly wear them – they still stand out on American feet. To blend in, try wearing dark brown or black tennis shoes or comfortable leather sneakers.

A brisk walk through any Italian city will reveal an abundance of over-the-shoulder bags. Italians use them to carry paperwork, books, glasses and IPods. So can you. Forget your backpack at home and travel instead with a dark brown or black messenger bag … You get bonus points if it is leather – or LV.

Sunglasses are to the Italian fashion scene what roper boots are to west Texas farmland. Slip on a pair of Dolce & Cabbana sunglasses – likely found at a local open-air market for less than €10 and you’re good to go.

What do you think makes tourists stand out when they visit Italy? What other fashion tips do you have to help them mix with the crowd?

30 Responses
  1. Dedene

    I always noticed how impeccable Italians are in their dress and their hair! Everyone looks like they just stepped out of the beauty parlour.
    I felt like a real bum in my jeans and T-shirt. Definitely a no-no!
    Seriously. They even look good with their hair pulled back and lip gloss-only makeup. I wish I had those genes! lol
    Dedene’s last blog post..Tagged and awarded by the Raisin Chronicles

  2. Many tourists stand out by their actions, rather than fashion faux pas, when they yell, talk loudly, rudely or expect Italians to speak English.

    I have seen some really awful stuff from Americans- and it ain’t purty.

    And nothing screams tourist like a *fannypack* -it will send you right to the nearest Italian jail 🙂
    Yes. The fanny pack. Ouch. Hence, the nice over-the-shoulder messenger bag suggestion. I know many people say they recognize American because we are so loud, but I have to say, Italians have us beat on that. Wow, these folks are LOUD! I guess the English thing gives us away, though! 🙂
    My Melange’s last blog post..The Rooftops of Old Quebec

  3. When you see someone with a big camera danging from their neck, you know that’s not an Italian, but either a Japanese or American tourist.
    Ha! Very true. For this reason I feel I am *always* a tourist here. The things I do in the name of the blog!
    Ciaochowlinda’s last blog post..Lunch, Locavore Style

  4. Hilary

    flip flops! Although they are becoming more common when not on the beach, the only acceptable ones are nicely made and frequently with a hard leather sole, no rubber ones.

    Here we often see people wandering around the center with their cruise ship attire in the winter! Yesterday I saw a lady with her rubber flips and capris!!!
    GREAT point, Hilary! In Texas we were flip flops everywhere – all of the time. They don’t here. Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. I will have to remember those tips for when I come in the fall. 🙂
    GREAT job, I now feel prepared!!
    I didn’t realize you were coming to Italy. Woo hoo! Where are you going? Glad I could help.
    Louise’s last blog post..

  6. Baseball caps that have some definite American logo. Although more Italians are wearing baseball caps still not as many as Americans. And of course kahkis. Which I love and will not give up. I think they scream American.
    I *heart* khakis, too. Remind me of my college days!!
    Martha’s last blog post..Weather and Heating Costs

  7. I add accessories to dress up my casual Canadian look. I wear earrings, add a gold belt to my nicely fitted jeans and wear a costume jewellry style necklace.

    I carry a little day pack as many Europeans do, wear a money belt under my jeans and carry a handbag over my shoulder.
    Great tip! Dressy jewelery can make you look better and feel sexier!

  8. Jean

    Being an American tourist, I have much sympathy for the breed, and besides, no matter what you do, people always can pick out foreigners.

    However… I have to say, the all-American look is sloppy. We beat everyone for sloppy. And the poor kids. *shudder* If you want to fit in more, just neaten up a little.

    T-shirt and jeans and a baseball cap can be lovely and chic, if the fit, detailing, and accessories are lovely and chic. Maybe it has to do with not being afraid to look a little sexy rather than striving only for comfort.
    I love that theory. Women here do tend to look sexy, even in jeans and a top. I think the “baggy” thing is a big part of that!

  9. carol

    Darn, Cherrye! I thought you were going to tell me how to look just like that hottie in the sunglasses. (Is that you?)
    Oh course. I mean, no. It isn’t me. 🙁 She is a cutie, isn’t she??

  10. Things that yell tourist in Rapallo: those knit athletic outfits – Italians wear them at the palestra, not on the street. Also, tee-shirts with writing on them that makes sense. Italians wear tee-shirts with English nonsense on them, preferably executed in glitter. Baggy pants of any ilk on ladies are not Italian.
    “T-shirts that make sense.” That is lol funny. It is funny because it is true. Ahhh … All of your other points are true, as well. Thanks for the input!!
    Fern Driscoll’s last blog post..The Best Thing I Ate Last Week

  11. Oh someone already said that…how about the loud talking down the street? Yes yes, we know you are American, you can lower your voice now.

    Ha. That is funny. I often think the same thing. But do you really think Americans are louder than Italians? Mamma mia they are loud!
    Katie’s last blog post..Losing is half the battle

  12. j

    Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses for less than 10 e!? Are you sure they’re not knock-offs?
    No, no, J. That was Dolce and Cabbana. 😉 Definitely knockoffs! ha

  13. J. I’m sure those glasses are knock offs which would make me nervous about how well they would protect my eyes from the sun.

    There is nothing wrong with being a tourist. We are tourists and most people can tell because we are walking around with maps or guide books. However, I agree with Jean, it’s the sloppy thing. I don’t get it. Why on the same long flight do the French and Italian tourists look put together at LAX but my fellow Americans are wearing oversized T-shirts, sweats, etc.

    Comfort doesn’t have to mean sloppy.
    You are right, comfort doesn’t have to mean sloppy. I even think fitted warm-ups would look nicer than big, baggy tees. Ironically, my Italian husband LOVES how casual we are in America, so we should be proud of that … I guess. 😉
    nyc/carribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Is there a patron saint for passing the written exam for an Italian Drivers License?

  14. I love this post Cherrye and all the fab comments too.

    I also love that the American language and the English language have so many little differences. For instance do you know what a ‘fanny’ is in English? LOL! I’d definitely be leaving my ‘fanny pack’ at home! amanda
    That is so funny, Amanda. I am sure the name comes from that meaning, but isn’t it crazy how we say things and never think of why we say them?!?
    Amanda @ A Tuscan View….’s last blog post..Brace yourselves…

  15. I have a friend who is an Italian psychiatrist and who wears jogging suits always. She will be happy to analyze anyone who wants to criticize her. (She dresses up occasionally for some of my parties and it feels like a great gift.)
    I like those sneakers up there.
    It’s true that American visitors often dress like homeless people and often wear beach clothes in the centers of great world cities. I am working on some Bulgarian phrases in which to reprimand them.
    I find Italians are loudest in groups together. You have to pick your restaurant with care if you want to have a conversation! At dinner parties I just smile and nod like a bobblehead, because I can’t make out a word. I have probably agreed to every immoral and illegal possibility by now.
    That is funny. Smile and nod is my “I don’t have a clue what you just said” response, too. I asked P this morning if he thought Italians or Americans were louder … know what he said? He doesn’t think Italians are loud! lol
    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Working…

  16. Amanda – yes it’s a ‘bumbag” in Australian English – fanny is something else (eeek!)

    I’m almost 6 foot and blonde so no point trying to blend in. I live here so I dress however I want – if I look like a tourist so be it. The one thing I’ve stopped wearing is short shorts in the summer (too much harassment from gross septagenarians). Long shorts seem to be ok though. I even had a pair of maternity long shorts when I was 9 months pregnant which were from Oviesse.

    I remember, though, that I went through culture shock when I first moved to a college town in the US from Australia. It was Saturday night and I was going out to I put on makeup and a dress. Everyone else at the party was wearing jeans, birkenstocks and no makeup. 🙁
    Bumbag? Love it. Let’s call it what it is, right? Where did you move to in the states? I noticed a big change like that when I moved from Texas (where we dress up) to Orlando, Florida (where they didn’t.)
    kataroma’s last blog post..Solids!

  17. I’ve been meaning to write about that whole “dressing for the calendar, not the weather” thing for awhile – it confounds me. Massive fur coats despite balmy early spring weather? Wha? That alone guarantees I’ll never fit in! (Well, that & the fact I couldn’t ever wear fur…)
    I know. I wore flip flops to my friend’s house on a really warm day last spring and got “in trouble” for not wearing socks! ha ha

  18. Actually I was in Austin, TX- they may dress up in other parts of Texas but not in Austin!

    BTW- I loved Texas!
    Ha. That is funny. Austin is great, but I could see where they are more casual than the rest of us Texans!
    kataroma’s last blog post..Very Roman trattoria

  19. This is what I’m talking about! Specifics! I love this post right down to the shoes!

    Jenny’s last blog post..The Moreton Bay Challenge at Redcliffe Parade & Foreshore

  20. Jana

    Going to Italy in 6 weeks. I enjoyed reading some of the tips on how not to look like a tourist. So if I purchase an over the body handbag that is not leather, I am a dead giveaway. I am getting the impression we should wear nicer t-shirts, gouchos, or capris? Anyone have other suggestions? I suppose jeans are a dead giveaway, too? Would be interested to know.
    thanks, Jana
    Ciao Jana. I hope you see the response from NYC/Caribbean Ragazza, as well as it is chock-full of helpful hints. Your messenger bag doesn’t have to be leather. I bought one in Italy that isn’t leather and use it often when I travel. Nicer t-shirts, as well as short-sleeve button up shirts are good, and in the summers I see a lot of girls with tank tops and a little sweater they can remove. Only recently have I seen girls here wearing shorts, and even then it is only at the beach. They do wear a lot of skirts, capris and the longer shorts, as well as jeans. They are also always wearing a big pair of sunglasses-even indoors! Hope this helps. Thanks for reading My Bella Vita.

  21. Jana, have a great trip. Of course you can wear jeans, just stay away from “mom jeans”.

    Messenger bags are great (I assume that is what you are talking about and can be fashionable). I would avoid back packs as they are an easy target for pick pockets.

    Regarding t-shirts, simple, plain cotton shirts are fine I think other comments are talking about wearing big oversized ones with slogans on them.

    Capris are perfect as are longer shorts (bermuda).

    Basically Italian/european cities are not as casual as we are in the States. Leave the jogging wear at home unless you are actually jogging. You can wear sneakers and lots of italian do but not the big clunky cross trainers. Nike, Adidas, Puma, timberland etc. make comfy shoes that are perfect for walking long distances. Break them in before you get here.

    For visiting churches remember shoulder and knees must be covered. Some places like St. Peter’s Basilica are very strict about this. If you are wearing something sleeveless/strappy you can just cover your shoulders with a shawl.

    Hope this helps.
    Thanks for answering this! Great tips, as usual.

  22. alexandria

    Hi, I’m traveling to Italy in late September. I tend to dress up here in the states but I am totally confused as what to take with me… is white allowed? Also, will it be beach/pool weather?

    Hi there. It really depends on where you’ll be going in Italy at the end of September. Last year September was cool in Calabria, then it warmed back up-way up-in October.

  23. JP

    Omg that’s hilarious. I found this post while doing a search on your website for what to wear in Calabria?!!! I will be there in… three weeks? As soon as I get a moment I’m going to buy your guidebook 🙂

    Thank you, JP. I hope you have a fabulous time in Calabria. You are visiting at a great time of the year.

    .-= JP´s last blog ..A ticket to Italy =-.

  24. Well, I have the genes, but I still didn’t fit in. I quickly noticed that Italian women all dye their hair! It’s true. Natural greys just won’t do.

    Also, another good tip. Leave those bold prints at home.. Nothing says American Tourist louder than that.

    I was JUST explaining that to someone this week! Great tips.

    .-= Mimi Torchi Boothby Watercolors´s last blog ..Sunshine Award =-.

  25. sally

    Im traveling to Positano in July. Any dress code? and is eating out a real fortune? i can’t wait though it looks amazing. I hope to meet an italian romantico!! im blonde so will stick out like a sore thumb for sure. Any tips on where to eat, visit etc would be greatful


    Hi Sally. Check out Ciao Amalfi for some info on the Amalfi Coast.

  26. Magdalina


    Bella Vita 😉 My fiancee and I are going to Rome next year end of June 2011. We’re really concern about what to pack and what to wear while in Rome as we don’t want to look tourists. We’re taking the open bus tour (hop off and hop on) and we might do a bit of walking as well.

    We both normally dress up here in our home country. We often dress up when we go out shopping for clothes or going out for a coffee, lunch or dinner except if we’re going to the beach or out to the country side. We normally wear shorts and sleeveless top or white short dress for beaches and my fiancee wears shorts and shirt to the beach. Sometimes I wear a nice summer dress or winter dress with my high heels appropriately when we go out for lunch or dinner. However most of the time I usually wear tight skinny jeans to pair up with my thick high heels and a nice tight top when we go out to shopping malls or going out for coffee and dinner.

    My question is: Is it okay to wear tight skinny jeans with thick heels and a nice tight top with my big over shoulder bag? I was hoping to put my dslr camera on my normal medium over shoulder bag as I don’t want to carry a camera bag.

    I also would like to wear a nice summer dress just above my knees.. (not very short) while walking on the streets with my white tennis shoes or flat sandals, is this ok?? I don’t want people to know that I’m a tourist.

    I understand that we have to cover our shoulders, legs and arms going inside churches as I am a catholic woman that’s not a problem with me.

    I hope you can help me with my queries. Feel free for everyone to write some tips for me regarding my queries.

    Thanks a lot!

    Ciao!! I look forward to hear from everyone 😉


    Sounds like you have the style to fit in well in the bel paese. Just be careful about the shoes you choose. If it were me, I’d rather look more like a tourist and be in good (comfortable) walking shoes than look stylish and kill my feet early in my vacation! Enjoy your trip and thanks for stopping by!

  27. Kellie

    Leaving for Italy in 2 weeks. I have planned to pack basically capris. I was going to bring 1 pair of jeans (does color matter), 3 dresses (I remember to carry a sweater or shawl to cover shoulders if enter church etc), the dress are just below knee length. I tend to wear tank tops (white, black, red, no bright colors). I had planned to bring 1 pair flip flops, 1 pair wedge heel (figured harder to walk in the italy stoned streets/sidewalks) than if in an actual heel), 1 pair tennis shoe or would I be safer in a teva style shoe instead? Is it hard to walk in heels on the streets/sidewalks)?

    How bold is too bold — in color (for shirts/tanks/tops)?


  28. Stephanie

    My husband and I are spending 10 days in Italy…Rome 5 and down to Naples for 5….the tricky thing is that we are going the last 2 weeks in September.

    Any suggestions for Fall wear? What about out on Capri in September?

    I definitely know the obvious donts but any new “do’s”?

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