I came to Milan because it’s “The Fashion Capital of the World.” It’s where famous Italian designers and houses grew their reign, where inspiration meets innovation, and where craftsmanship is valued to great lengths. I take great appreciation in that people actually care about what they wear and while I can’t afford a lot of the clothing I see in the shops, nothing stops me from admiring through the windows like a child at the gelateria. Fashion wise, it is amazing how different Milan is from Austin, and from the US as a whole, in many more ways than I had thought.
Fabric & Textiles
I went to a fabric store in Milan, and it wasn’t quite what I wanted. The ones in the US let you stroll around and choose your fabric in private, letting you use your five senses to determine if it’s the right one for you. While waiting to get your fabric cut you can shop for needles, thread, embellishments and more. Here you tell them what fabric you want, for example jersey cotton, and they give you some options. Prints aren’t very common in these smaller fabric stores. You’d either have to find a larger store or get it custom-made. The fabric stores also don’t always sell other sewing supplies. You have to go to these “Asian dollar stores” or the supermarket for those. These “Asian dollar stores” usually have no name, but they sell just about every knick-knack you will need for cheap and they are always run by an Asian family, with everything sporting that “made in China” label. I miss getting to browse the large warehouse-like fabric stores in the US. I feel weird having someone watch me as I inspect and choose a fabric; I feel like I lose my inspiration and creativity under pressure.
Shops of Milan
I was at the Milan Centrale train station the other day to get my bus pass. The train station doubles as a mall and I decided to walk around and see what they had. Later I walked down a big pedestrian street with a lot of similar stores. I went in to compare. This one shop in particular, Tally Well, had a similar assortment of clothing in each store, but their prices and displays were a lot different. The train station was cheaper and had a warmer tone to all its clothing and displays. The Tally Well on the street had edgier clothing, with blacks and whites being in the middle of it all and kitschy t-shirts with graphics like “I love you / you’re problem”. The contrast of these two stores really explains a lot of Milan. The train station is safer; anyone can go in and feel like they can buy something; the atmosphere is inviting. The one on the street feels more Milanese; edgy, forward, powerful, and fashion fierce. It’s for people who are serious about fashion and they way they express themselves.
I met a guy on the tram. He lives outside of Milan but defined the city in a very simple way: “Milan is very expensive for the expressive person.” While a lot of clothes aren’t ridiculously priced, it still comes at a cost due to the fast fashion concept. Zara restocked every 2 weeks. That is people going in every two weeks to buy clothes to show they are the most fashionable of them all. But it doesn’t stop there. People in Milan want to look rich, but often aren’t. My Italian teacher explained it this way: “Men in Italy wear their pants low so you can see their Armani underwear waistband. They all want to show off, but 80%, if not more, of those are fakes. The purses you see on the street? Most of them are fakes. Italians want to look rich, but they don’t want to work.”
Walking the Fashion Quadrilateral
Next to the Duomo, the largest gothic cathedral in the world, is the Galleria. Built in 1865 to commemorate Italian unification, it features several pricey boutiques and restaurants. Here is where the very first Prada store was opened in 1913. All the shops in the galleria have the same lettering in their signs: Gold letters on a black background. Walk out of the galleria towards Via Montenapoleone and you’ll enter “The Fashion Quadrilateral.” You know you’ve reached it when Ferrari’s zoom past you like no big deal, and when there are security guards in front of every shop and building. Here is where flagship stores of every famous brand you can think of reside, Armani, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and more. You’ll hardly see any price tags, but if you do, you probably can’t afford it. Some stores you have ring and then be buzzed in. Others have more employees than customers walking about, intimidating window shoppers from going in. Several haute couture fabric stores lay around, selling a meter of fabric for more than what your entire outfit is worth.
As intimidating as the price tags read, walking around the the fashion quadrilateral is an exciting and beautiful experience. Not only are the clothes and accessories beautifully designed and crafted, but their displays are made with just as much quality. I was excited to walk down Via Montenapoleone during Milan Fashion Week. Everything is buzzing, people are everywhere, and everything is sparkling with beauty.
The Everyday Dress Code
In America you might see a few people stand out or dress super stylish, with the rest of them wearing basic t-shirts and jeans. In Italy it is a bit different. T-shirts are can be seen around 20% of the time, but instead of a graphic tee you’ll see a nice blouse with a quiet print. Looking down this tram I can only spot one pair of bright sneakers, they’re not even Nikes, they’re Adidas. Looking around some more I notice the types of colors worn. Nothing is neon and nothing is bright, except for one outfit worn by a child. I see someone wearing black & white and conclude it is the brightest outfit on the tram. I see greens and reds and blues and more, but everything is a darker tone than what you would see back in the USA. The only exception may be some business casual shirts colored pastel blue.
I picture myself on a bus in Austin, what would I see people wearing there? A lot more burnt orange, a lot brighter colors, and a lot more t-shirts and “norts” (Nike shorts), etc. Comfort seems to be a lot more important in American vs. Style in Italy.
Italians are very prideful about their country, and when it comes to clothing, if it’s made in Italy, it has to be good. While a lot of their knock-offs may come from China, it still appears Italian thus they still feel patriotic towards their country. Italians take pride in the goods coming from their country and I think that is where a lot of their love for fashion stems from. I see women walking their dogs in stilettos down the street and I think, “Only in Milan.” Comfort is for within the home and style is for outside the home. I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the Milanese fashion, but alas I don’t have the budget or the closet space to keep up with their stylish fashion. In fact, I’m so behind that I don’t think I would have enough time to shop for even all the basics I would need in my wardrobe. I have 3 and a half months left to figure out the Milanese fashion culture, challenge accepted.
This article originally appeared on the UT BBA Study Abroad blog