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Inside an Italian Teen's Closet
Discover what young people consider cool in one of the world's fashion capitals
At the moment, I'm staying in Italy for the better part of a year. While here, my husband, nearly 2-year-old son, and I live with all my in-laws, including three teenage nieces. With teenage girls, there are a few things you can always count on the world over: One of them will either have a case of the giggles or be in tears by the end of lunch (every single day), they're always up for a slumber party replete with manis and pedis, and they are the arbiters of cool.
Since they make it their job to tell their parents (not to mention us aunts and uncles) when they're wearing something outdated and embarrassing (at least to them), they tend to be the ones setting the trends in their neighborhoods. Despite the fact that Italians are among the world's greatest fashion designers, many of the young Italians I know, who live in southern Italy and specifically on the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples, are heavily influenced by all things American.
In fact, over the last couple of years, they have yearned for (read: begged their American zia to get) clothing featuring the American flag. Another item their American fairy godmother (read: io) had to pick up for them in the States was New York Yankees caps and tees. Yes, fans of other baseball teams are eating their hearts out right now. The truth is they just associate the N-Y in the Yankees logo with NYC and have no idea who Derek Jeter is (or for that matter that the Yankees are having a terrible year).
To keep up the American theme, the kids are all sporting Chuck Taylors. That's right. Converse sneakers are their favorite kicks. The popular styles include anything in neon and, you guessed it, red, white, and blue stars and stripes. Now that the summer has arrived, they wear sandals. But no Italian would be caught dead wearing plastic flip-flops anywhere but inside his or her home (as slippers) or at the beach (and even there it's iffy).
In fact, my plastic Old Navy flip-flops in various shades are a dead giveaway that I'm all American when I walk on the street here. Yet, you might see women – older and younger alike – wearing sandals that go up their leg like a boot or actual boots in the summer heat. It makes my feet sweat just to see them, but this is the style nowadays.
For many years now, my Italian friends (male and female of all ages) have been paying top dollar for anything Ralph Lauren, especially button-down shirts, jeans, and polo shirts. Of course, I often bring these items (from the much cheaper American outlet stores) to them as gifts. They also like Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, and U.S. Polo clothing. The prices for these brand names are outrageous on the island (and presumably in the rest of Italy), so these are coveted and cared for if received.
My nieces also like any tees with American writing or even Disney characters. Of course, these designs have to be of the more sophisticated and adult variety now that they are teenagers. The teenage boys also appreciate these kinds of garments. Back when my nephew was a teenager, he liked pro-football and pro-baseball tees. Now in his early 20s, he still wears the New York Giants championship T-shirt I got for him a couple years ago. He'll even sport the Jets shirt we gave him. He doesn't know any better – and neither does anyone else here.
What is really different from American teens is the sizes people wear. Americans tend to wear things a bit baggier and longer than the folks here in southern Italy. The girls wear short shorts and short skirts in the summer. Everyone – male and female – wears skinny jeans all year long.
I've broken my husband of this habit, but he still goes for straight leg and never ever anything remotely baggy or boot leg. No one would wear a sweat suit on the street unless they were working out. Khakis and slacks are appropriate. Most of the time people wear button-downs with sweaters in the cooler months. Again, my willingness to throw on a sweatshirt and jeans – with my hair in a ponytail, God forbid – for a supermarket run shouts, "American" at them.
There may as well be an observation deck for foreign tourists at an Italian beach because they couldn't be more different in what they wear or their behavior seaside. First, everyone wants to get as much sun as possible, and they rarely use sunblock despite all the medical warnings. They will poke fun at you endlessly for your 50+ SPF. (I use 70 on my son and me, which provides non-stop fodder for them to laugh in my face.) And while my son is sporting a protective rash guard shirt and board shorts and I'm in my tankini or one-piece bathing suit, the Italians are practically naked.
Just about every woman – regardless of her age and body type – wears a two-piece bathing suit, even most nonnas in their 70s and 80s. Many women well into their middle age sport thongs and itsy-bitsy bikinis. They shouldn't but they do. Little girls – around my son's age and until they are about 7 or 8 – don't even wear a bathing suit top, which has every American guest I have ever had fearful of taking photos of the beach; they think it would be considered child porn, and they worry about pedophiles lining the shore. The men, many of whom are sporting short board shorts or speedos, might be justifiably provoking these kinds of concerns. But in Italy, this is just how it is.
Of course, the teenage girls would never be caught dead in a one-piece bathing suit. In a way, this is good because they are not as hung up on size as we Americans. Teenage boys reading this, I know what you're thinking. You'd like to convince mom and dad to pay for a trip to Italy to see these girls in tiny bikinis. Remember, behind every teenage girl in a bikini on an Italian beach stands an Italian father and if not, there's a zio or nonno or two. Think again.
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