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The Knack

How To Be More Italian

Love your mamma, learn to cook and never wear your gym kit in public, says an American who married one

I got lured to Italy the clichéd way: by an Italian man. In less typical form, however, we’re still together 16 years later, which has given me ample opportunity to study Italian men up close. From a style standpoint, they are a breed apart. And thank god for that. These are the only men in the world who actually care about what their wives and girlfriends wear and have a thoughtful opinion on it. I’ll never forget my very first visit to Milan when my then boyfriend, now husband, told me to change the outfit I’d selected to wear out that night. And you know what? He was right. Even now, as my own Los Angeles-born and bred brothers look perplexed, pained and/or bored when asked to comment on my appearance, the Italian is a cheerleader of beauty and an ever-faithful style sheriff. An Italian just knows.

As for how they dress themselves, it’s with the same careful consideration – not to mention hard-fast rules – that comes into play when Italians meticulously prepare their food. Most of these well-dressed nationals refuse to be seen in an airport without a collar on. The only time they wear running shoes is when they are actually running. They pair swim trunks with button-down shirts. And they make wearing a gold necklace on a tanned neck – something I was always convinced I hated – look like a million bucks. Beware of an Italian man who does not dress well – he’s clearly lost his mind.

Here are MR PORTER’s 12 rules for being more Italian:

01. Your mother is a holy human being

You must treat her as such. Never say no to her food. Never say no to a second, or third, helping of her food. Weekly phone calls are mandatory, if distance makes an in-person Sunday lunch impossible. If you live in the same city, be prepared to be present every Sunday and let her do all the prep, cooking, serving and cleaning up. She loves it.

TRY THESE

  • Gucci Appliquéd Striped Cotton-Jersey T-Shirt

  • Incotex Four Season Relaxed-Fit Cotton-Blend Chinos



02. Wear your father’s and grandfather’s clothes from when he was your age

Your mother and grandmother have saved them for this very purpose. Vintage clothes are generally a no-no with respectable Italian women, but for Italian men’s certain social circles, it’s the mark of true class if they come from the family closet.



03. Loafers and other slip-on shoes are for weekends only  

Lace-up shoes are for the working week, ragazzi. No-socks is OK in the summer months, but a very classic Italian will not flash his ankles, ever.

TRY THESE

  • Gucci Elanor Horsebit Webbing-Trimmed Suede Loafers

  • Rubinacci Marphy Leather-Trimmed Suede Loafers



04. You will have at least 15 suits

In 15 different shades of sapphire and navy blue. However, never share the details of your personal tailor, nor ask another man details of his. This is top-secret, classified information and a humiliating admission if you do not already have a good one. Also, a man should always be wearing a collar at all times: so if you’re wearing a T-shirt, you need a collared jacket on, too, and if you’re wearing a collared shirt, you don’t need a jacket.



05. Learn to master at least one important meal

The surefire way to impress your guests is to master one meal and make the meal while your guests are over, so they notice how relaxed you are in the kitchen. Your mother will teach you how to do this blindfolded.

TRY THESE

  • Brunello Cucinelli Slim-Fit Two-Tone Knitted Cotton Polo Shirt

  • Canali Stretch-Cotton Twill Trousers



06. Never walk around in public in your exercise clothes  

Under no circumstances. All Italian men arrive at the gym wearing suits, and they leave wearing suits. In between, they change, work out, shower, and change again. The funny thing is how flashy their workout gear is: Italians are not afraid of very tight, very colourful stretch tops and bike shorts – it’s the same situation on the ski slope.



07. Never split the bill

It’s tacky. If you’re with men only, you should treat them. Then they should treat you. It goes like this until infinity and everyone feels so much better about it. Like buying rounds at the pub. And never let a woman pay for the bill in a restaurant. Ever!

TRY THESE

  • Bottega Veneta Intrecciato Leather Billfold Wallet

  • Valextra Tallone Pebble-Grain Leather Coin Wallet



08. Don’t eat lunch at your desk

Even if you’re in the middle of a heated debate, the proper thing to do is put your pens down, walk out arm-in-arm with whoever you were just yelling at, and cool down at the nearest trattoria for an at-least-two-course, one-hour meal on the white tablecloth. A glass of wine is still totally acceptable, but hard alcohol is a definite no-no. You will return to work a new man.

09. Iron your underwear

Even the little iddy-bitty, tiny-little, tighty whities, or stretch briefs, which are absolutely still acceptable with Italian men, including the Serie A winners, who get stripped down to the little guys by their fans once a year. Please make sure yours are done with extra starch. All Italian maids know how to do it.

TRY THESE

  • Dolce & Gabbana Two-Pack Stretch-Cotton Boxer Briefs

  • Ermenegildo Zegna Stretch-Modal Boxer Briefs



10. Never talk about your job at a dinner party

Or  cocktail party. Nobody wants to hear about it. Instead, you need only discuss your passions, which are your last holiday, your next holiday, your dream holiday, and food.



11. Ride your bicycle to work

Preferably while wearing a gorgeous custom tailored suit by Brioni, Rubinacci, Caraceni or your little secret tailor, with shiny shoes and no socks in the spring and summer. Sunglasses, hard leather briefcase a must; tousled hair and suntan a plus. Open shirt and no tie, also totally acceptable.

TRY THESE

  • Boglioli Blue Dover Slim-Fit Virgin Wool Suit

  • Prada Square-Frame Tortoiseshell Acetate and Silver-Tone Sunglasses



12. Care very deeply about what your wife is wearing

Or your girlfriend or daughter, and be prepared to have an opinion or discussion about it. Men who don’t care about fashion are not cultured.

Ms JJ Martin is the founder of LaDoubleJ.com

Sprezzatura essentials

  • Ermenegildo Zegna Blue End-on-End Wool Suit

  • Jil Sander Blue Slim-Fit Cotton-Gabardine Suit

  • Loro Piana Button-Down Collar Micro-Checked Linen Shirt

  • Prada Stretch Cotton-Blend Poplin Shirt

  • Gucci Webbing-Trimmed Leather Loafers

  • Bottega Veneta Intrecciato Leather Briefcase