Italian women have a reputation for their beauty and their sense of fashion. I personally think that the reason for this is their confidence. When you pay attention on the streets of Italian cities, Italian women are not necessarily the most beautiful in the sense of all looking like models, but there is something about them – whether they are young or mature, slim or a bit bigger. They do not necessarily dress in expensive clothes but they know what suits them and how to wear the right outfit. And then there is this sprinkle of gioia di vivere and confidence. In Milan, there even is a special term, “sciura”, for very fashionable, confident women in the later stages of life. Beauty in Italy comes in all sizes and stages of life.
I find shopping for clothes in Vienna quite stressful and not fun at all. When I enter a shop, I may be lucky if somebody approaches me and asks if I need help. Viennese shop assistants (and waiters) have a reputation for being – let’s put it diplomatically – not the most courteous (you could also say they are rude). But in addition to that, I sometimes have the feeling that some Viennese shop assistants think the customer needs to earn their attention. Furthermore, if they think you do not fit their “mold”, they will tell you in your face that you are “not a fit for their brand” or “too fat” (Both happened to me and friends. Side note: I am a size 36/38 (US 6/8)). Hence, I do most of my shopping online (I started that long before Covid) or I buy things on trips abroad.
When you enter a shop in Italy, it feels completely different. The people in the shops actually try and help you buy something. (Even when writing this down, I have to smile that I consider this basic service something special.) At first, I am always a bit sceptical. I am too used to how it works in Vienna. I just want to have a look myself, pick some items, try them on and make a decision quickly. I avoid shop assistants checking on me because I am used to their mean comments and looks. But Italy is different.
Last week, I went into a store in Milan, because I spotted a jacket in the shop window. As always, I had a mission: take the jacket, try it on, decide and leave quickly. While I was in the changing room, a shop assistant came to check on me. “Can I help you with anything?”. “No, no, I am fine, thank you,” I replied in my usual way to avoid the looks and mean faces. The jacket did not really look great on me when I put it on, I just wanted to get out. “Let me bring you the shorts with the matching pattern, I am sure they will look great on you.” Oh no, there I was, in the changing room, waiting for the shorts. Then I remembered, she did not even ask for my size. But that was not an issue. Two minutes later, she breezed back into the changing area and had the shorts in the right size. I tried them on and looked into the mirror. I was not sure. Do I look fat? Is it too tight? Are the shorts too short for my age? Is the pattern too bright?
I went outside to look for my partner, but when I opened the door of my changing room, two shop assistants were already waiting for me. “That looks great,” they both said with a big smile and starting to pick on the shorts and top to make them look better. “Are you sure? I feel I am a bit too big and old for this,” I questioned. “Not at all, look around, Italian women love this. Try the jacket you picked.” She quickly went inside the changing room, helped me get into the jacket and then the two ladies showed me how to wear it. “That’s it, beautiful.” I looked into the mirror. I did look great in it. And then another shop assistant came by, stopped and said “Che bella!”.
I am well aware that being nice to a customer and making compliments is a great sales strategy. Of course, they wanted to sell me their products and, therefore, they told me I look great. But I did not have the feeling that they just said it for the sake of it and that it was not true. Very often, I encounter sales assistants who tell me I look great and I clearly do not. The ladies in the Italian shop, however, really tried to find things which had a great fit, they took away the ones which did not. Yes, they wanted to sell me something – but something which actually made me feel good about myself.
Let me end this Postcard with some wise words by Sophia Loren: “Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful.” Instead of constantly beating ourselves up, telling ourselves that we are not enough, we should all awaken the Italian woman inside us. Have fun, love yourself, you are amazing and beautiful!