Fashion in Florence

My last 2 weeks of June were spent in Florence, Italy, taking a class on Italian Fashion. The trip was sponsored and accompanied by Ronda Chaney, head of the Fashion Design and Merchandising Department of Cañada College in Redwood City, California. American Institute for Foreign Study in collaboration with Canada College arranged for a variety of speakers, living in Florence to educate and enlighten us. Field trips were also planned which included museums in and around Florence, highlighting fashion and textiles. These included the Textile Museum in Prato, Italy, a short train ride from Florence, the Ferragamo museum, the Gucci museum, the Bardini Museum, featuring the work of Roberto Capucci, Nana, a feather atelier near Florence, which makes feather costumes and headdresses for many of the fashion houses, the costume gallery in Palazzo Pitti and The Leather School of Florence. We happened to be there during the Pret-a-Porter Menswear show, so of course we had a field trip there as well. This menswear shows happens twice a year in Florence in January and late June. A similar show for women’s wear happens in the fall and the spring in Milan. While I loved all of the field trips, getting to see the upcoming menswear was my favorite since trends and details in menswear often show up a season or two later in women’s wear. The well-dressed Italian man at the show had a distinct style. Men’s pants were shorter, above the ankle, rolled up to show a shoe without socks. The jackets were short and very closely fitted, almost the too small look. Shoes, bags and belts showed off the bright colors of mustard, green and bright blue.
Spending 2 weeks in Florence, focusing on fashion was a luxury without words. I was inspired continually. In addition to the excellent daily classes, just being in Florence for a length of time enabled me to focus not only on what the Italians were wearing but display windows teasing the fall fashion. Ronda Cheney gave us an exercise of viewing store windows, which I will find forever enlightening. The Italians are masters of window display.
Because I was there in June, not only was it hot – in the 90’s but full of tourists. Italian women are fairly easy to spot because they are the better dressed. The Italians may have Mussolini to thank for their “put together” looks when he took over the country after the WW2. In 1935, Mussolini introduced the “uniform”. In the 40’s, women began to distinguish their individuality with accessories. Then in the 50’s Italy received a lot of money from the Marshall plan to develop fashion and leather goods in Italy. Europeans were experienced tailors and many came to Florence to pursue their craft. Italian fashion was given a further boost when Life magazine did a 14 page spread on Italian Fashion in 1961.

Max Mara window in Florence
What trends did I see? For starters, Italians wear a lot more color than Americans, both in solids and in prints. Floral shift dresses, worn above the knee walked side by side with stripes of all widths. Black and white stripes as well as oversized polka dots were the most prevalent. Italians are using stripes around the body this year, and surprisingly enough, it does not make them look fat. Two inch wide stripes in black and white striped Ponte’ were used in wide pants, shift dresses and full skirts. Wide pants were both full and mid-calf length, sometimes with deep pleats in front, worn with belt loops and narrow belts. Narrow pants were just as popular worn just above the ankle in brocade or solid color drapey silk. Medium width full length pants looked new in oversized geometrics and oversized florals. The shoes were incredible, but I will not go into that since I would never be able to describe the varieties. Florence will always be the shoe capitol for me.
Heavy lace dresses, above the knee and cotton eyelet were favorites for dresses and blouses. The gypsy look is back with head wraps, double wrapped neck scarves, lots of beads, fringe on cardigans and purses, studs on leather goods from purses to skirts. Most coats were unlined, many with Petersham trim finishes. Half lined jackets with cotton printed linings, a favorite for casual wear.
Both wide and narrow pants were made in Ponte knit, a heavier and slightly smoother Ponte than I have seen in the U.S. When I checked the fabric content, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was 60% rayon, 7% spandex and 33% nylon. What this translates to is that this fabric is much cooler to wear its polyester counterparts. A higher gauge knitting machine produces a finer appearance, making it smoother and looking almost like a woven. One of my students turned me on to a source in St. Louis, Nancy Nix-Rice who has a ready to wear line but also sells her fabric. Nancy sent me her Ponte sample and this is the same knit I saw in Florence. Nancy’s Ponte is made in the U.S. has an eco-certification, has the same fiber content as mentioned above, comes in 20 colors, no stripes – sorry, and sells for $24 a yard. Go to
For accessories, oversized necklaces and earrings in man-made materials were showcased best by Angela Caputo, a famous Florentine jewelry designer. Hoop earrings of all sizes and all materials, even crocheted with small beads look newest.
While bright colors of hot pink, orange, turquoise, and bright green were in the stores and on the streets, store windows showcasing fall displayed the following color combinations: black, red and white, stone, black with orange accents, warm browns with camel. Khaki and black, black and white in stripes and oversized polka dots.

-by Sandra Betzina