What to Wear in Italy: An Italian Style Guide and Packing List

By Nick Hilden
Woman looking at building

Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world and with good reason. Few places on Earth deliver such outstanding experiences in food, art, architecture, history, and, yes, fashion. In fact, fashion is one of the things the country is best known for. There’s a reason that any list of the world’s most luxurious brands will feature so many Italian names. You might be feeling a bit stylistically intimidated and wondering what to wear in Italy so that you won’t look like a tourist.

While it does pay to look spiffy, you don’t need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe of Versace or Fendi. Below you’ll find a solid overview of how to dress in Italy, as well as a helpful packing guide.

A man with an Outbreaker Backpack in Italy.

The Best Travel Backpack for Italy

The first thing you need to consider before traveling to Italy is what bag will best suit your needs. From my experience, a carry-on-sized travel backpack is your best option, particularly if your visit to Italy is part of a larger trip through Europe. When you’re getting on and off planes or trains at different European capitals, you don’t want to put up with the hassle of repeatedly checking and collecting baggage.

I recommend the Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack, which I have personally carried through many years of travel. The Outbreaker Backpack fits within carry on guidelines while maximizing the packability of every square inch afforded to you. From my experience having tested a wide range of bags from all the leading brands, the Outbreaker offers more capacity in a carry on than any other travel backpack.

At the same time, the Outbreaker has unrivaled organization. With multiple compartments featuring an array of pockets and packing features, you can put everything in its place. And it’s comfortable enough to wear for hours on end, which is essential when you find yourself lost in the backstreets of Rome trying to locate some hard-to-find Airbnb.

Style Guide: 8 Must-Pack Items to Wear in Italy

This article is a style guide for traveling to Italy, so that you can adhere to Italian fashion better than the average traveler. This is not a complete packing list. 

Here are my eight biggest style tips for packing for Italy so you look as chic as any Italian on the street.

Wear Clothes that Fit Well

Italians don’t dress that much differently than people in other European countries. Yet, for many people, Italians are the epitome of chic. Why? Because Italians care about how well their clothing fits. Yes, some Italians rock a $2,000 tailored wool suit, but even cheap clothes look great when they fit well.

Fitted shirts, snug pants, and streamlined blouses are hallmarks of Italian fashion. Even when women’s fashion embraces a bit of drape—like linen culottes—the waistline is cinched or tailored to perfection.

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on the newest “stylish” clothing to look quintessentially Italian. Just get clothing that fits well.

Your outfit can be as simple as a great-fitting t-shirt and jeans, and you’ll look and feel appropriately sophisticated.

Embrace Wool and Linen

Italians have an almost mythical ability to look put together all the time. They manage this effortless brilliance with a great fit and a few simple, seasonal fabrics.

Merino wool is a great travel fabric because it handles sweat and heat in the summer and cold and wet in the winter with the same ease. Pick up a few basic merino wool t-shirts and finish off your stylish packing list with one to two merino button-downs, and you’ll be prepared to explore the ruins of Rome or the cafes of Florence like a local.

Keep the prints simple. Better yet, opt for solid neutral colors to mix and match for multiple outfits that work at sunset happy hour or a late night club in Campo di Fiori.

The same goes for linen. I’ve never been the biggest fan of linen since it can wrinkle in transit. However, summer in Italy gets hot, and linen is the coolest fabric for sweltering days. Find a pair of linen pants or shorts you can wear while exploring the town and bring along a nice linen top to wear with jeans or shorts for happy hour aperitivos by the river.  

Pack Button Downs and Collared Shirts

Italy is the place for a simple, classic button-up. Even if you’re not a button-up kind of person, you’ll want at least one nice-looking shirt for going out. Especially once you see how classy Italians can be. 

I recommend a nice linen or cotton blend long-sleeve button-up that breathes so you can roll the sleeves up during the day. Transition into a put-together nighttime look by adding a blazer or just rolling the sleeves down. 

A nice button-up shirt goes a long way—for men and women—but it shouldn’t look stiff or formal.

For summer, add a pop of color with a fun print for going out during the day or clubbing at night. Bring at least one nice shirt with a collar in Italy so you don’t stick out. The Italian dress code demands it. 

What to Wear in Italy for Women: Short Shorts are So Chic

Italians love a nice pair of short shorts, and not just for women. Guys, girls, grandmas; everybody wears shorts, and they’re probably a lot smaller than you’re used to. If you’re traveling to Italy during the summer, get ready to wear shorts that show a little thigh. Italian style is pretty skimpy. 

Pack a pair of colored travel shorts, and you’ll look like a local. Opt for a little extra “Italian” touch with a wild pattern if you’re looking to make an impression. When it comes to shorts, there are no rules. Go for it.

What to Wear in Italy for Men: Your Blazer

If you’ve ever thought that travel blazers seem stylish and handy but you don’t know when to wear them, Italy is the right place for you. You can class up nearly any outfit with a well-made travel blazer.

Opt for a good fit over a bunch of needless “travel” features like secret pockets and rain-wicking nonsense. Find a travel blazer that you’d actually want to wear somewhere other than a plane, and you’re set. As for color, you can’t go wrong with a navy blazer in just about any situation.

Sunglasses are Stylish (and Safe)

Your mom was right: you should protect your eyes. Luckily, sunglasses are in style in Italy.

“Sports” sunglasses aren’t worn much in Italy, so leave the Oakleys at your dad’s fishing cabin. Opt for a nice pair of wayfarers, à la vintage James Dean, or timeless Ray-Bans

Vintage styles work well in Italy, so dust off some throwback shades and bask in the jealous glare of other tourists as you get invited to all the Aperol spritz rooftop parties.

If you’re not sure what to wear, you can always pick up a pair of cheap knock-offs from the guys on the street in Rome or a really expensive pair in a boutique. Your call.

Have Fun With It

The best part about traveling to Italy is that Italians couldn’t care less about what you do. If you’ve ever wanted to experiment with some avant-garde style, Italy is the place for you.

Italians can be incredibly stylish, but style doesn’t just mean coloring within the lines. Italy is full of artists, designers, dreamers, and heroes who dress a little differently than the rest. 

Try out some new styles and see what happens. If you’re authentic to yourself, you’ll always be a hit in Italy.

Invest in a Few Nice Pieces

The final key to packing for Italy is to relax. 

You don’t need to load your bag with tons of high-fashion looks. Remember, you’re still traveling. Keep your bag as light as possible when you travel to Italy. Most of the places you’ll want to visit are hundreds of years old, and Italy has lots of six-floor walk-up apartments and hilly, cobblestone streets.

Keep your packing list small with a few stylish, quality basics that you can wear with just about anything. Create a streamlined capsule wardrobe using the tips above and you’ll be well on your way to looking Italian. Remember, well-crafted, simple clothing that can be worn at the beach or in the piazza sipping an Aperol spritz is all you need.

Not sure if you’re bringing too much? Lay out all of the clothes you’re thinking of packing. Does everything go together? Can you mix and match most pieces for multiple looks? Remove items that only go with one other piece and sub in a couple of do-everything basics like stylish travel pants and merino shirts to handle most of your day-to-day looks.

The key to Italian fashion isn’t looking like you just stepped off the runway. The trick is to look as good as that old man walking to the corner or the impossibly chic barista making your coffee. If you look like them, you’re doing great.

Woman bicycling through streets of Italy

What Not to Wear in Italy

While Italians are notoriously relaxed about certain things, they can be a bit dismissive if you look out of place. Plus, Italy is more fun if you try a little to blend in. You might actually soak up a little of il dolce vita if you walk a mile in another man’s Italian loafers.

I know they’re comfy, but don’t pack Crocs or any other items mentioned below.

Leave the Socks at Home

Here’s a fun fact. Italians don’t really wear socks, or at least not ones you can see. Many Italian men and women simply buy nice espadrilles or loafers and skip socks altogether. This chic look goes well with a cuffed pair of travel chinos or culottes. The best part is that socks are one less thing to pack.

A stylish pair of leather strap sandals are also a go-to for many Italian women. Feel free to leave the high heels at home.

Don’t Wear a Snapback Cap

I love my Wallowa trail hat from Tillak, but it’s a trail hat and not built for a stylish Italian vacation. Italy is not the place to rock a baseball cap, no matter how cool it looks back home.

Caps and snapbacks immediately mark you as a tourist in Italy (and most of Europe). The best case when wearing a ball cap is sticking out. Worst case, you become a target for theft, scams, harassment, or getting ripped off by Italians. 

If you have to wear a hat to protect you from the sun, snag a more stylish travel hat for your Italian adventure or pick one up when you’re there.

Summary of What To Wear in Italy

Italian fashion is a timeless art, but you can look like a local with a few simple pieces of quality, stylish travel clothing. Opt for a great fit over a flashy look, invest in a few simple pieces, and keep it light and mobile. You’ll be living that la dolce vita faster than the sun sets over the Forum (it happens fast).

  • Get travel clothing that fits you well
  • Invest in a few quality pieces of merino wool for a versatile capsule wardrobe
  • Linen is the unofficial fabric of summer in Italy
  • Short shorts are the way to go (for men and women)
  • Dust off that travel blazer and look like a local
  • Ditch the socks and embrace slip-on shoes
  • Pack it all in a stylish travel backpack