Last night, I went to a concert featuring a friend of ours who is an incredible pianist. (She started with this, and my jaw was later found rolling on the floor several rows back.) Knowing how my local friends get all dolled up for casual get-togethers, I donned a dress and jaunty boots for the concert, hoping the ensemble was fancy enough to look appropriate in a room of Italian fashionistas. As it turned out, the Italian fashionistas all wore jeans. Skinny jeans. With black patent leather pumps. I did my best to stifle the sore-thumb sensation and focus on the music, but I couldn’t help wondering how everyone else in the room knew to wear the same thing.
At least I can now add to the list of occasions for which I am aware of wardrobe expectations:
Concerts: Skinny jeans, black patent leather pumps. Note: not a dress.
The playground in spring: Skinny jeans (preferably colored), Chucks, t-shirt with rhinestones, short trench, giant glasses. Note: The only item of these I possess are the glasses, but if I pretend they are Dolce & Gabbana rather than €5 knock-offs, do they count for a complete wardrobe?
Summer weddings: Cocktail dress, shimmery wrap (essential), strappy stilettos, and up-do. Note: I almost got this right the first time, but failed to bring a shimmery wrap. Alas.
Winter weddings: A black dress. Or pant suit. Just so long as it is black. Note: not red.
Dinner at friends’ houses: For some, church clothes; for others, sweat suits. It’s all very trial-and-error and dependent on the hosts, the weather, the proximity to major holidays, and what we’ll be eating. Note: Oh, help and bother!
We are attending a graduation dinner tonight, and I am trying my best to narrow down what I plan to wear so that I can make sure to put on something else. This isn’t one of those situations where expat literature or even Clinton Kelly would be of much help. Rather, it reminds me that the classic combination of time and discomfort zones is a necessary, if inconvenient, good. What can I say? Classic is always in.
We didn’t move to Italy for the novelty, though I may never quite get over the thrill of cypresses standing sentinel around long-forgotten castles or the cappuccino breezes swirling through bars each morning. We moved here, quite simply, because here feels like home. Italy is where we breathe most freely, where our lifestyle clicks into place, where we want our children to grow up. It’s imperfect, of course—(Ask me sometime how the legal hoop-jumping is going. On second thought… please don’t.)—but even with its quirks and frustrations, this is our choice. I feel immensely privileged to have been granted that choice, to stir fresh tomato-basil sauce in my kitchen overlooking Mt. Subasio, to button Natalie in her pink school smock, to attend concerts and weddings and enough dinners that I occasionally know just what to wear.
There is so much beyond the language to learn in a new country, but it’s the best kind of learning—even the awkward fashion lessons—because each realization puts down another root in my chosen home turf. And while I am sure to show up to tonight’s event in the wrong outfit, at least I will wake up tomorrow with my wardrobe list one step close to complete.