Legwear: The rules of engagement in Italy

When I moved to Milan from America four years ago, I had a cold hard lesson in the do’s and don’ts of Italian culture. I longed to blend in and to shed any Americanisms that had followed me here. I can say after four years, I play the Italian part quite well. I of course have never managed to shed my American accent or 100% of my homeland’s cultural tendencies, but I know when and who I can flaunt them in front of.

Last week I had a friend visiting from home. During her time here she was criticized for her desire to put cheese on pasta with fish and drink cappuccinos at all hours of the day, and she reminded just how many unspoken ‘rules’ there were in this country. As I was thinking about her cultural faux pas, I realized she had committed the cardinal sin for Italian females: bare legs in November with open toed shoes!

If you want to know how you can spot an American or English woman amongst a group of Italian women, she is the one that forgoes the stockings in the wintertime. It’s not that our legs produce more heat or have built-in insulation mechanisms that exempt us from the cold. We’re freezing of course, but we just can’t be bothered, especially when we’re in a dress, on our way out on a Friday evening, to put on a pair of tights. I have of course amended my ways, so I’m trying to think back to my mentality in my pre-Italy days. I can remember walking very briskly, I would say slightly running, from the car to the club in wintertime, with nothing but a cocktail dress and a tiny purse. It was like running on scalding sand on the beach in August. A few minutes of quick pain and then you’re in the water.

I would never dream of doing that now. First, because I’m getting old. Pneumonia doesn’t seem the right price to pay for a night out in a cute outfit. But worse than pneumonia would be the stares I would be forced to endure God forbid I went out barelegged in Milan in December.



If you stroll down any shopping street in Italy, you’ll see that there is a true culture for legwear. Entire stores dedicated to just tights and socks. At home, we might say, how do they stay in business? I’ll tell you how. I now have a whole drawer in my dresser dedicated to my tights, leggings and socks. When I was teaching English in Milan, I remember having the ‘legwear discussion’ with one of my female students, and it has been engrained in my memory ever since. Bare legs, even in semi-brisk weather, is a no no. And the rules don’t stop at the ankles. Your feet must be shown the same meticulous attention. First and foremost, unless you’re going to the gym, no white socks should be worn, ever!

My question: What if I’m wearing boots and nobody can see them?

Her response: Never, ever!

I thought nothing of it until I was at the airport, had to take my boots off to go through security, and was in the cross hairs of some awkward stares due to my poorly-chosen socks that day. You should also plan wisely before you go shoe shopping to avoid any raised eyebrows by the sales clerks.

My days of buying white gym socks in a six-pack is clearly over, but shopping for everything below the waist has gotten much more fun.

Colors, patterns and glorious materials; Italian women may be on to something. My newest find, as you see above with Wolford’s socks, is velvet: my lucky little feet!

One who is not from here may argue that there are too many cultural ‘rules.’ However, there’s something about the way that women dress in this country that is so polished and well thought out. Every aspect of their outfit is carefully planned and well articulated. Way back, many many moons ago when I would bare the bitter cold with no tights and no scarf, my outfit was missing out on the best accessories.



In addition to being the best accessory that can really ‘make’ an outfit, they’ve become an essential part of my attire. Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t leave the house in the morning without make up on. Well, I have, but it’s not pleasant. So why let my legs fall by the wayside? The perfect, natural-toned legwear is like make-up for your legs, and nothing can compare to flawless gams.


– by Heather