Ah, Italy, the land of pizza, pasta, Ferrari, and fashion! Packing for an Italian holiday can be tricky if you don’t know what’s appropriate and what’s not. You want to be comfortable for sightseeing during the day, but what should you wear to dinner in Italy?
There is no formal dress code in Italy, but it is considered respectful to dress well for dinner. Italians are fashion-conscious and make an effort to look smart when going out for a meal. It’s worth packing decent shoes, a dress for ladies and a jacket for men traveling to Italy.
Fashion and food are central to Italian culture, and Italians pay attention to both. Visiting Italy means exploring this – the eating part is easy, but getting Italian style right isn’t always. Taking care to pack something a little dressy for dinner shows that you are trying to be part of the Italian vibe. And what’s more fun than dressing up, right?
What to wear to dinner in Italy
Dining out in Italy is seen as more than just a meal: it is an evening of entertainment with good food and good friends. It is, therefore, to be savored and celebrated, and you dress accordingly. Typically, Italians will dress up more for dinner than Americans do, even wearing a suit and tie or little black dress to an inexpensive osteria or local trattoria. They’ll definitely dress up for dinner in a ristorante.
Traveler tip: An osteria is a casual restaurant, usually with a different set menu daily. A trattoria serves local and seasonal favorites. A ristorante is a more formal restaurant.
Of course, style also differs, depending on where in Italy you are. In Milan, for instance, fashion capital of Northern Italy, people are very fashion-conscious and over-the-top. In Venice, the weather will often influence what people are wearing – you’ll see Italian women wearing real fur coats in winter. Rome and the south are more traditional and modest and tend to frown on overly revealing clothing.
If you’re into designer labels, Italy is where you’ll wear them – discreetly, though. If you stick with the classics, though, you can’t go wrong.
A basic rule of thumb for dressing for dinner in Italy is that you don’t need to worry about overdressing. But this doesn’t necessarily mean throwing a blazer over your old jeans or wearing socks with your sandals. In general, Italians favor a fitted, tailored appearance and pay attention to the quality of materials used in clothes and shoes.
Another Italian rule is to dress appropriately for the season rather than simply the weather. Italy has four very distinct seasons, and you’ll need to check the weather before packing. Also, remember that Italians tend to eat late, so it may have turned chilly by the time you have dinner.
Traveler tip: Italian restaurants will open at about 7 pm, but don’t be surprised if they’re empty. Italians will often only have dinner at 9 pm.
Here are some basic guidelines for what both men and women should wear to dinner in Italy.
What should women wear to dinner in Italy?
The Italian phrase la bella figura refers to the Italian woman’s style: dressing to highlight your best points, not only of your figure but also for the occasion.
Women should always change for dinner in Italy, even if you’re a tourist and going somewhere casual. If you’re going to a smart ristorante, you’ll definitely want to dress up. Here are some ideas for what women should wear to dinner in Italy in different seasons.
What to wear to dinner in summer
Italy, especially Southern Italy, is very hot and humid in summer, so you will want something light and airy. This is also your chance to play with some color – although black is always appropriate at night, you can enjoy your pastels in summer.
- A summer dinner is your chance to bring out the dresses – your favorite LBD, a pretty wrap dress, sundress, or maxi dress is great. If you’re planning to go for cocktails, eating in a smart hotel, or a Michelin-starred restaurant, definitely pack a cocktail dress.
Traveler tip: A dress is an excellent choice if you’re not going to be able to get back to the hotel to change before going out for the evening.
- If you’re not a dress person, a loose blouse and pencil skirt or pair of light long pants are appropriate for summer.
- There are some gorgeous rompers or jumpsuits which are as pretty as dresses and just as comfortable.
- A pair of tailored capri pants is acceptable, so long as you wear a dressy blouse.
- Sandals or espadrilles are perfect, flat, or with a wedge heel.
Traveler tip: Avoid the temptation to wear heels because many Italian towns have cobblestones which are hard to walk on in heels.
- If you’re going for open-toed shoes, make sure those toenails are painted – Italian women are very well-groomed.
- Linen is very popular in Italy and always looks classy. Other fantastic natural fibers for staying cool are cotton and bamboo.
- Sparkly and lacy are acceptable in the evening but not during the day.
- If you’re going to be on an island or in Northern Italy, bring a wrap, cardigan, or light denim jacket for when the evening turns cool.
- Wear light and natural make up.
- Most Italian women carry a leather purse at night – leave your backpack at the hotel and pack a tiny bag for the evenings.
- Use accessories to mark the shift from night to day – a belt doesn’t take up much space in a suitcase, nor does costume jewelry.
Traveler tip: Rather than packing lots of accessories, take one or two and buy more in Italy. Handbags, belts, and scarves are lovely souvenirs to buy in Italy, so look out for them at markets and stores.
What NOT to wear to dinner in summer
- Leave beachwear on the beach – tank tops, swimwear, sarongs, and wraps don’t belong in restaurants.
- Never wear flip-flops away from the beach or swimming pool.
- Don’t wear shorts in the evening, especially short shorts and denim shorts. Denim shorts are way too hot, anyway.
- Avoid revealing and low-cut tops and crop tops in family restaurants – this style is more appropriate for a bar or disco.
- Avoid a fanny-pack (bum bag) and carry a good purse.
What to wear to dinner in spring and fall
It starts getting chilly in the evenings in fall, although in Southern Italy, it will stay warm until October. Likewise, early spring is still cold but gets warm during the day. Remember that it can rain a lot in spring, so pack a cute fold-up umbrella or rain poncho.
- Always carry a light cardigan for cooler evenings.
- Italian women often wear wraps or scarves, so add some of these as a warm layer.
Traveler tip: Churches and religious buildings, like the Vatican, have a dress code: you need to cover your shoulders and knees. So, you’ll need to carry a wrap or scarf with you when you’re sightseeing if you wear shorts or a tank top. These rules also apply to men.
- Swap your sandals for comfortable ballet flats (adorned with pretty flowers or blingy stones) or a pair of short boots.
- Dark, fitted jeans are always a good idea.
- A fitted white or black T-shirt is appropriate for casual restaurants.
- A jacket or blazer will upgrade most outfits from daytime casual to evening smart.
- Pop your leggings under a tunic or dress for a cozy layer.
- Tights under a summer dress are a good idea for spring or autumn days.
What NOT to wear to dinner in spring and fall
- Avoid acid wash or distressed types of denim.
- Don’t wear yoga pants, logo T-shirts, or tennis shoes. Italians don’t do athleisure.
- Leggings are not worn as pants in Europe.
- Definitely don’t wear socks with sandals and never, ever knee socks.
What to wear to dinner in winter
It can get icy in Italy in winter, especially in Northern Italy, where it can snow. You’ll want to wrap up warm, but Italians like to layer and wear fabulous coats rather than sloppy sweaters. Italians also tend to wear monochrome colors in winter, such as black, grey, and camel.
- Traveling to dinner, you’ll need a coat, scarf, gloves, and hat. Italians love trenchcoats and other belted coats that emphasize the waist.
- Black skinny jeans are great for winter, dressed up with a wool jacket and scarf.
- A fitted wool or cashmere sweater can look as lovely as a top.
- A classy pair of shoes or boots will make any outfit look dressy.
- Italian women tend to accessorize, so put on those earrings.
- Most Italian women wear make up in the evenings.
Traveler tip: It’s really tempting to wear those gorgeous new leather boots you’ve just bought, but new shoes can give you blisters, so save them for home.
What NOT to wear to dinner in winter
- Avoid your casual jeans, including flares, fades, light blues, or ripped denims.
- Don’t wear a tracksuit, no matter how trendy.
- Ditch the sweatshirt or fleece.
What should men wear to dinner in Italy?
Like Italian women, Italian men are very stylish, tending to wear what others would see as formal, tailored clothes. Business casual is the best way to describe what men should wear to dinner in Italy. Here are some ideas for what men should wear to dinner in Italy, all year round. You’ll just add some layers for winter.
A suit – or trousers and jacket
- Dining in Italy gives you a chance to wear a fabulous suit – Italian men wear them all the time, even for smart casual.
- A jacket and tie are always appropriate – but never wear a tie without a jacket. Consider a linen jacket for summer and a tweed jacket for winter.
- Chinos and a smart Oxford shirt work well for dinner.
A proper shirt
- Wear a formal shirt, rather than a T-shirt. Most Italian men wear their shirts fitted, without collar buttons or front pockets, and simply roll up the sleeves when it’s hot.
- When it’s hot, try wearing linen, especially linen shirts.
- If you want to wear a T-shirt, make sure it’s fitted and monochrome, or choose a polo shirt in a trendy color.
- Jeans are okay, preferably in dark colors and slightly tailored.
- Navy or beige chinos always work.
- Trousers can be wool or cotton so long as they’re fitted and hit the top of the shoe.
- Loose linen trousers are very cool in summer.
- Wear closed shoes, preferably leather, even if they are sneakers or loafers.
- Match your socks to your shoes – no silly or colorful socks.
- Wear loafers without socks.
In colder weather
- Tie a cashmere V-neck sweater around your shoulders to put on when it gets chilly. Italian men often add color to their wardrobe through their sweaters.
- Look Italian and wear a scarf, folded once, then with the loose end tucked through.
- Wear a peacoat rather than an all-weather hiking jacket or fleece.
A man bag
- Leave the backpack at the hotel and carry a leather bag – Italian men aren’t afraid to carry a man bag.
DON’T wear to dinner in Italy
- Never wear a tie with jeans or a short-sleeved shirt.
- No Hawaiian print shirts or loud, gaudy prints.
- Don’t wear shorts in the evening.
- Don’t wear white socks with trousers – white socks are only for sports.
- Avoid oversized and baggy clothing.
- Avoid flip-flops or sandals, especially with socks.
- Leave the baseball cap at home.
- Avoid your casual jeans, including flares, fades, light blues, or ripped denims.
- Avoid cargo pants.
- Don’t wear tracksuits, logo T-shirts, or tennis shoes. Italians don’t do athleisure.
- Never go shirtless or wear beachwear.
What to wear for aperitivo
Dinner in Italy is often preceded by the aperitivo, which refers to having a light snack and a drink to stimulate the appetite. The point of the aperitivo is not the food itself – often, the food will be complementary at a bar. Instead, it’s a social occasion where you enjoy conversation with colleagues, friends, or even a date.
Traveler tip: A bar in Italy is not just a place that sells alcohol – they usually serve coffee, drunk standing up, and light meals.
Because the aperitivo falls between the working or sightseeing day and dinner, the dress code can be confusing. If you’re meeting after lunch or a sports event, then the dress code can be very casual. However, if your aperitivo is before dinner, it’s better to be smart casual and dress as if going out for dinner. Just one rule of thumb – men are unlikely to wear a tie for aperitivo.
What to wear for la passegiata
Another Italian tradition associated with dinner is la passegiata, or promenade. La passegiata is a gentle evening stroll through the streets or along the seafront, after lunch or before dinner, from about 5 to 8 pm. Part of the promenade is stopping for gelato, coffee, or an aperitivo, and watching the passing parade.
Everyone takes part as they stroll through the piazzas, from the elderly couple holding hands to the baby in the stroller. La passegiata is often a time to show off new and stylish clothes, so people do dress up for this evening stroll. Put on your evening dinner clothes and join the walk – but remember to wear comfortable shoes.
Going out to dinner in Italy is always an occasion, so it’s worth dressing up for it and savoring the food as much as the style. It’s unlikely that you’ll blend in completely and be taken for a local, but dressing up for dinner is a mark of respect for the restaurant, the waiter, and the other diners – and may even get you a better table.