How to Dress Like an Italian: Study Abroad in Milan

March 29, 2019

One of the things I was most excited to learn about during my semester abroad at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, was fashion. Immersing yourself in the world of fashion is one of the greatest ways to learn firsthand about your host culture’s values, perception of beauty, and history. Why is fashion so significant in Milan, and how can you dress like an Italian while still maintaining the essence of your personal style? These are questions I’ve been thinking about over my first month in Milan.

If you want to learn how to dress like an Italian, and, more importantly, how to break fashion rules like an Italian, here are my best insights.

Getting Started

First and foremost, before you pack for your semester abroad, do a wardrobe purge. Not only will this make packing a whole lot easier, it will give you a clean slate to work on. No matter where you study abroad, you’ll likely pick up some new clothes somewhere along the way, so be sure leave some room in your luggage for new acquisitions. If you are going to study in Milan, make sure you also determine a reasonable clothes budget before you leave. As a fashion capital, Milan can be on the pricey side. However, with a little planning, you’ll have no trouble revamping your wardrobe on whatever size budget.

Let Basics Shine

As elegant as they look, Italian outfits are usually very simple. If you’re new to outfit planning, here are some guidelines for an Italian-style everyday outfit:

  • Quality over quantity. Italian outfits consist of few pieces, but each piece is good quality and works hard in the overall look. Buy strong pieces that will go well with a wide variety of outfits.
  • Limit your color scheme. Wearing 1-3 colors is perfect.
  • Wear larger prints. It’s an easy and very Italian way to make an easy outfit look more thoughtful and artistic.
  • Accessorize sparingly but bravely. See my later point on accessories…
  • Layers for colder seasons. During fall and winter, Milanese people always wear stockings under dresses, skirts, or cropped pants.

Best Foot Forward

Because you can expect to do a lot of walking around the city, a good pair of sneakers is your highest priority. You can’t go wrong with a basic white sneaker. I see a lot of Adidas Stan Smiths, Jack Purcell Converse, Vans, Nike AF1s, and Veja. Trends in Milan change constantly but these will always be around. Otherwise, just buy any good quality sneakers that appeal to you and work with your wardrobe. Besides sneakers, the other shoes I see most frequently are black ankle boots and combat boots. If you want to wear heels for a more formal event, save yourself from the cobblestones and go for a more chunky heel.


Milanese people adore accessories. Go as big, colorful, and bold as you want to with glasses/sunglasses, jewelry, and hair accessories. Scarves, gloves, hats, belts and bags are usually more understated, but they can be bolder depending on the occasion and the person. Note: if you want to look more Italian, don’t wear a giant backpack to class. Opt instead for a more formal looking, or cleaner-style backpack or messenger bag.

When In Doubt, Monotone

A monotone outfit is always a good idea in Milan. I’ve seen people of all ages in Milan dressed head to toe in purple more than once. You can either wear all the exact same shade, or wear different shades of one color.

Fashion Week

If you happen to be in Milan for fashion week, throw all my previous suggestions out the window. Fashion week is about having fun, being creative, and taking risks! And, honestly, that’s a core principle of Milanese fashion any day of the week.

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