How to dress in Rome: practical tips and style ideas about what to wear in Rome to get the dress code right and blend in with the locals.
One of the questions I receive more often is how to dress in Rome.
In particular, I get asked to confirm or deny some ‘truths’ that circulate on the web but that seem puzzling. I will give you some examples (long answers about each are below):
Is it true you cannot wear shorts in Rome (no)
Is it true Italians don’t wear runners? (no)
Is the dress code for the Vatican as strict as they say (yes)
So today, as a complement to my packing lists for Rome that you can find here I decided to put together this guide about how to dress in Rome and answer all your curiosities.
Plus, I will give some style tips on what type of clothing works best in Rome not just for comfort, but also style and blending in with the locals. I hope you find this useful!
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How to dress in Rome: frequently asked questions
Rome is a larg, varied, cosmopolitan city and you will see a variety of fashion styles.
You will see a little bit of everything however, depending on what you are used to, you may find it a little more formal than other places, especially when it comes to people age 30 and up.
The easiest way to think about it that the Roman take on ‘dress down’ is closer to what many call ‘business casual’ than ‘casual’!
Sports gear such as tracksuit bottoms, for instance, are for sports only, men tend to wear polo neck shirts rather than plain t-shirt and women love to accessories, especially for going out in the evening.
Here, some more details.
Can I wear shorts in Rome?
Yes. In summer, the only season when the weather in Rome is hot enough for shorts, both men and women can wear shorts for sightseeing.
The reason why you may have heard otherwise is, I believe twofold.
One has got to do with style.
Italian women tend to not wear shorts in the city: shorts of any kind tend to be the prerogative of teenagers or very young girls and you are unlikely to see a local woman wearing them in let’s say a restaurant or at work.
The same can be said for men, although there is a little more variety here: while shorts are not restaurant attire, they are ok to wear for sightseeing and men won’t stound out for them too much.
The second part of the answer has got to do with the Rome dress code for churches and especially the Vatican and main basilicas.
In churches, shorts and mini skirts are not allowed (see below) so if you are planning on an afternoon of sightseeing with a lot of church hopping, shorts are not a good idea.
All that taken into account, for a standard day of sightseeing in Rome in summer, shorts can be great!
Can I wear sneakers in Rome?
I encounter this over and over again on the web, the notion that Italians don’t wear runners but this is absolutely 100% not true.
Italians tend to not wear sneakers/runners in mosy office environments or if we dress up for a night out in a nice restaurant or the theater. We tend to be pretty formal in that sense!
However, we absolutely wear them to go sightseeing and for dress down days.
Not wearing sneakers to sightsee in Rome is the worse thing you can do for your feet so if you encountered that advice, please ignore it and run away!
What is worth knowing, however, is that Italian tend to wear fashion sneakers more than full-on runners so if you want to blend in opt for fashion statement rather than white gym shoes or full-on running shoes and only have them for sightseeing, then change into slightly more formal wear in the evening.
Another good alternative and very popular with Italians are Camper style shoes.
They strike the perfect balance between the comfort or the sneaker and the leather shoes and are very much in fashion with both men and women, so they can be a good investment.
You can find my recommended shoes for Rome here.
Is the dress code for the Vatican enforced?
Yes. The Vatican, as well as the main basilicas in Rome, apply a strict dress code that wants no shorts, no mini skirts, no sleeveless tops and no revealing clothes (no bareback, bare belly etc).
The dress code is enforced inside the Vatican buildings (St Peter Basilica, the museums, Sistine Chapel), the Vatican Gardens, and technically applies to all churches in Rome however, in smaller churches it tends to be less strict.
To be on the safe side and respectful, avoid this type of clothing when planning on entering a church or use a pashmina to cover your shoulders/ legs should those be bare.
Some churches do provide wraps for you but many don’t, so use your judgment before entering a church should you think your attire may come across as disrespectful.
Good to know: you can find here out full packing list for Rome in summer with tips on what to wear for the Vatican in hot climate.
Can I wear flip flops in Rome?
Yes, you can wear flip flops in Rome however, I urge you to consider if you should.
Rome is a busy city with very uneven and very dirty street (Romans love dogs but not as much cleaning up after them….)
Flip flops put your feet at high risk of injury and dirt and also do not give you the support you need when you clock in those 25k a day Rome is famous for.
Also, flip flops are considered beach wear by Italians so you are unlikely to see locals waring them.
Very light leather sandals in flip-flop style are, however, common: just apply common sense as, while they may make you stand out less, unless they have a good sole, they pose the same risks as standard flip flops.
How to dress in Rome style ideas
Italian women love linen pants and they are very much the staple item of clothing for summer.
They are breathable, versatile and don’t cost much, so you and get a selection at a low cost.
They are perfect for churches, sightseeing in the sun (they help protecting your skin, much better than shorts or skirts) and you can dress them up or down.
Wrap dresses are also popular with Italian women and if you choose the right pattern/ color, they can be perfect for travel as with one dress you can easily go for day to night
When choosing, make sure you pick a dress that gets below the knee (for churches) and get a pashmina to go with it should the neck plunge too low.
A jumpsuit is not the easiest item of clothing to pull off but Rome women love them and they are wonderful for summer. They make you feel dressed up and together while staying comfortable and they keep you well covered for churches etc.
They are a perfect day to night item.
Shirt dresses are another item for Rome.
They tend to be on the dress down side so if you want the versatile you may want to be able to dress them up for the evening with necklaces or bangles, but they pack small, keep you fresh in summer and look good with walking sandals.
Fitted, tailored jackets and coats
Rome women love their curves and their top jacket tend to be clinched at the waste so if you want to embrace their look, you can get a mac with a belt or a tailored type of leather jacket.
If you prefer a more sporty yet very acceptable look then you may also like puffa style jackets: they came into fashion a few years ago and never left again!
Just be careful with them though as they cannot take the rain so you want to make sure you have an umbrella too or they soak up every drop!
You can have a look at my recommended packing list for Rome in October here.
In winter, staying warm is priority for Romans (we are a cold bunch) so whatever coat you have back home is likely to be ok in Rome. Dressy woolen ones are great for look but may expose you to Rome’s rain, eater proof jackets and winter coat are best
Polo shirts for men
Italian men love polo shirts and they use them extensively during the day but also on nights out(except to go to very fancy restaurants).
If you prefer long sleeves, then a long sleeve shirt is a good option too. The one thing Italian men do not wear are short sleeve shirts: these give you away as a foreigner which is of course not an issue unless you are trying to blend in!
Ankle boots are a great item to have in Rome. Less bulky to pack than tall boots, they will protect your ankle form the cold and uneven street surface of Rome and are a versatile look you can use day to night.
Rome women use the interchangeably with pants and skirts
Tights are a fashion thing in Rome and if you want to have fun with them, you can!
Rome women love to change tights colors to match their clothing so don’t be afraid to move away from black and embrace grey and brown but also dark green or even a wine color, usually the easiest to pull off and the most versatile. Very bright colors tend to be prerogative of children but darker ones are suitable and common at all ages.
A summer hat is likely to give you away as a tourist and to be honest, there is very little you can do about it but embrace it!
Rome gets awfully hot in summer and you need to stay protected, at pretty much and fashion cost. To minimize the look damage, try to stay away from baseball caps for women an opt for a fashion alternative such as a straw hat for women
Best sandals for Rome
Rome gets hot in summer and sandals are a must-have but you really want to make sure you get the right ones, not to damage your feet. For look and style, opt for sandals with a good sole and good straps securing them at your feet. Avoid heels and, if you want a little extra height, opt for wedges.
I hope you enjoyed this short guide on how to dress in Rome and it gave you style tips you liked. Safe travels to Rome!