The Best Dressed Man in Bologna

Here we are again in the dead of a seemingly neverending winter. But, hell, that’s what Februaries are for. I hope that you all are staying toasty and layered up, because I seem to have found myself overseas, some four thousand miles from home, and it’s just as fucking frigid. But, here I am, doing some old fashioned reportage for you old fashioned readers, on the city of Bologna, Italy and its denizens.

Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity to experience a new culture, see new places, and speak a new language, but that doesn’t mean you can slack on the language of style. I wanted to give you all some useful and well-needed style advice for a trip or semester abroad because, let’s be real, a wardrobe consisting of Nike joggers, your smelliest hoodie, and your favorite pair of sandals might not cut it. Today, we’ll be taking a little tour through the Bolognese style and all its little quirks. 

My first stylistic impression of Bologna was that there must’ve been some terrible accident right before my arrival because, as far as the eye could see, everyone was wearing black. Much to my surprise (I had already queued up the Gordon Lightfoot) there was no shocking and songworthy industrial accident—people just really seem to like the color, or lack of it. Every street is dotted with black-clad figures looking like out-of-focus extras in a Powell and Pressburger movie, though sadly Europe isn’t all in black and white. Black coats, black berets, black bags, it’s universal. 

Beyond the black, which appears as a stylistic unifier throughout the city, Bolognese fashion diverges into three categories, generally based around age, that catalog the fashion seen on the streets. 

First up: university students. In their constant presence around the Piazza Verdi and in cafés sipping on endless espressos, they contain by far the most diverse set of styles seen in the city and also (sorry) probably the least interesting. It’s just about what you would see at Brown: puffers, beanies, sweatpants, with lots of slim-fit chinos and jeans carrying over from the last zeitgeist—timeless fashion indeed—the primary ethos being to keep warm, look stylish later. This hits men’s fashion the hardest, where the desire to look good clashes with the societal necessity to conform to an outdated idea of masculinity to create guys who care a little but not too much about how they look, only succeeding in looking boring and terribly uniform. Be it skinny tech fabric pants with a sweatshirt or dark sweater, or the (why, god, why) universal presence of slim-fit chinos in navy or charcoal, the menswear for the younger demographic in Bologna is very lacking.

The womenswear of the university, however, is much more interesting and stylish, and frankly has me looking to them for style points. I’ve noticed a definite preference for wrap coats—belted coats with no button closure—in very soft-looking woolen tweeds or cashmere textures. It provides a very carefree attitude (the tenor duende, to be sufficiently romantic) that I myself have been trying to capture in the spirit of the city. Such a spirit motivated my purchase of a mid brown llama hair overcoat, ulster-collared and belted, with unstructured sleeves, to give me the overall impression of getting back into bed as soon as I left it.

In general, the fashion of the university student is conservative in nature, following closely by the solid dark colors and traditional country patterns that make up most of their wardrobe but with some definite influence from modern trends (the puffer jacket and heavily tapered pants, for example) that are now bordering on obsolescence. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops as the warm season approaches.

On the other side of the style spectrum we have, the great, the not-yet-late, old-people fashion. As many of you know, looking at old people with drip is basically a national pastime for anybody who is interested in style enough to even acknowledge this sentence. Their steely command of style, generated from years of experience, can be a great source of inspiration for anyone interested in classic styles and silhouettes. The older people are carrying the banner for classic style, and boy are they doing it well. Big loden coats (perfect for keeping you warm and starting off your Austrian farmer era), wide brimmed hats, ancient yet beautiful derby and oxford shoes in addition to a smattering of old fur coats and rural patterns galore. The sheer style exuded by the everyday people of Bologna is amazing and something I have never seen before. In no way, shape, or form can I fit another coat in my suitcase, but if I don’t get my hands on an oversized tweed or green loden I might die. 

The last, smallest category is the urban professionals, generally stuck between old and young fashion. This category is an avenue for me to point out things I don’t like about the outfits of the bankers I pass by on my way to class. It’s mainly a motley assortment of slim cut black suits, low rise pants, tie knots so garishly large it’s a miracle these people are getting oxygen to their brain, and short overcoats that don’t even cover their knees (in black, of course). This is an expected development as us young people enter the doldrums of business life, especially in the realm of menswear. As mentioned before, outdated modes of masculine expression have rendered the attempt to pay attention to the tiny details of style “unmanly” or “effeminate.” This problem is amplified when businesswear and suits are required for the job, as the world of the suit is a world of tiny details (in which many young people are woefully inexperienced).

There you have it, folks. You are now an insider on the collective unconscious that is Bolognese fashion, a triumvirate of romance, the struggle of adulthood, and long swooshing overcoats that make you feel like a Parisian private detective. I’ll keep my nose close to the ground, dog pee notwithstanding, on the lookout for you, dear reader, and any more fashion tips I can find in the old city of Bologna. Mail me some cookies in the meantime.