Like Ugly Betty

Versione italiana qui 🙂

About four years ago, just after my relocation to London, I wrote about the challenges I was going through when facing myself with a new culture and with the general idea, widely spread here across the Channel, about the typical Italian man. I haven’t yet translated that article into English, but it can be summarized with the few points below that I stated in the same very post at the time:

  1. I don’t like football (soccer, for my American pals. But I don’t like American football either)
  2. I can’t play the mandolin
  3. My Father is not a Mafia boss (but I’m not sure about his ancestors)
  4. I don’t have a Vespa
  5. I don’t have a Fiat Punto
  6. I’m not a playboy (I’d like to add: I’m not a “lady-killer”, or a man-killer, for what that matters…)
  7. I don’t know Domenico Modugno’s songs
  8. I left my Mamma’s nest before turning 30!
  9. I respect the traffic regulation as much as I can and I never run red lights (I do sometimes now that I ride a bicycle…)
  10. Silvio Berlusconi is not speaking in my name and if the Vatican weren’t in Italy, many people in my country would be freer to be much happier (at that time, SB was still Italy’s Prime Minister. The Vatican, alas!, is still in Italy. And too many times makes it!)

These were the main answers to the questions that I found myself getting from my colleagues in the new London office.

After all these years, I came to the conclusion that an 11th point should be added to the list and it’s time that we all face the truth: 11. I’m not fashionable.

No, fashion and I don’t get along together. Not only I don’t keep one single piece of Armani or D&G in my closet (which means that I don’t devote 2/3 of my salary to shopping), but I usually don’t wear those dressy garments that, on certain people, make you wonder whether the guy is a mannequin from Harrods came to life or just someone who has too much time (and sense of style) in the morning. I’m more the “jeans and (T-)shirt guy” (jeans and a hoodie outside the office), and whereas a pair of jeans and a shirt on certain people may turn to be something really trendy and chic, on me… On me they are just a pair of jeans and a shirt. And I’m fine with it!

Back in 2009, when I was just starting my new life across the Channel, keeping up the good name of the Italian fashion and our good taste in dressing (for those who have one) was pretty simple: I had only two other fellow countrymen in the office, who even didn’t work in my same business unit. I was alone, no competition, no comparisons with anyone else. On top of that, I was certainly paying much more attention to the cloth I picked from the wardrobe (rather than letting them randomly fall on me), probably because I wanted to impress or because I was feeling boosted by the compliments about my way of dressing. I remember that during my first year, I diligently followed the dress code and wore a suit (with a tie!) every day. Then I stopped with the tie, but I kept using a suit from Monday to Thursday. Eventually, I dropped the suit habit in place of a simpler nice pair of trousers and a shirt. Now there are mornings when I’d go to the office in my tracksuit and trainers, and I fear that might happen soon.

Yes, back in the old days it was easier. Now the growing of the Italian population in the office seems to have slipped out of hands, my suits got forgotten in the back of the closet and the burden of reminding the across-Channelers that Italians know it better is not on my shoulders anymore. I secretly thank God for that, I’ve never wanted that responsibility!

Let’s admit it though: I look at those chaps who seem to have just stepped down from a Milan’s Fashion Week’s catwalks with admiration and yes, wondering if I could be able to do the same. Fate wanted that in the last two years I’ve been sharing my office space with just one of those.

Jacopo is a lovely fellow-countryman of mine, whom I love to bits, whom I enjoy getting lunch and sharing a good laugh with everyday and whom I should probably thank for being one of the few occasions I’ve got left to speak some Italian before I completely forget it. Well, Jacopo is the bloody mother-Vogue in person, and while someone could say that a blind sloth would dress better than me, thus I’m not entitled to judgement, I believe that he really is! If I am the living proof that being gay does not go along with knowing of fashion, style, interior design and all those bullocks, Jaco is the breathing, walking evidence that sometimes being gay does mean that it’s not what one wears, it’s all about how. Every morning, when he walks into the office (always giving himself those 5 minutes of delay so that all the attention can be on him), you can literally see flashing lights all around, you can actually hear one of those pop-dance Lady Gaga-like songs while he makes his way to his desk (in a step-bit, step-bit way along with the song) and I end up thinking “I’ve got the same very jacket in my closet, why didn’t they provide me with the instructions to wear it that way?!”.

Scarves. Let’s talk about scarves. Not the wool ones that your Grandma used to knit for you. I mean the glamour and fancy ones, made of linen or some other thin and nice to touch fabric. I’ve got some and I use them, but I feel like I need instructions for those too. I was discussing this bit just last week with Jaco himself and three other colleagues. We two have this one scarf, very similar in colour, type and fabric. I paid mine about € 8, five years ago at Celio’s, in Rome. I have no idea where his comes from or how much he spent on it, the fact remains they are similar. I like to wrap it around my neck in a light way and then close it with a loose knot so that it becomes an important item on me that meets the eye. Jacopo’s scarf and the way it fits him it’s all a different story! I gave myself some time to look at the precise movements he does when he puts it back on him, just out of curiosity and for the sake of my social researches, of course. He takes his scarf, he kind of throws it in the air and just let it fall on his shoulders, where the scarf naturally lays around his neck, as gracefully as a petal and then down along his chest, forming creases and waves as perfect and symmetric as the ones on the gown of Michelangelo’s Virgin Mary in his The Pietà. I realize that there’s no difference between the way my Mom used to wrap my body in her 2-metre long scarf when I was a kid and what I actually do (and look like) now.

Jacopo's scarf's waves as perfect as the Michelangelo's Virgin Mary's

Jacopo’s scarf’s waves as perfect as the Michelangelo’s Virgin Mary’s

Boots. Last year I got to know a friends’ friend, a photographer, a really handsome guy and again, somebody who could break down all the barriers of prejudice with his dressing just because “yes, I can”. I remember one day he came around wearing a pair of black boots (Wellies style, but cooler!) with his jeans tucked in. I love boots, on both men and women. They probably represent the aggressive, transgressive and rebel side of me that I’ve never let out completely. Looking at his boots, I was thinking “With my trousers tucked in my boots I’d just look like a fisherman in the canal”. Few months ago I had to go to a dress-up party with the theme being “Your hero”. I picked Neo from The Matrix as my hero to dress up like, not because he is really my hero (well, I’d die to be able to have whatever I want instantly uploaded into my brain!), but because I wanted to wear a long black coat and nice cool boots with my trousers tucked in. Three days before leaving for Malta (where the party would have taken place), I hadn’t yet found something to put on my feet, until I happened to come across a pair of black Dr Martens boots that I immediately fell in love with. Now, this is Dr Martens we’re talking about, not cheap stuff, way more expensive of what on average I spend on shoes and clothes, without considering that I had never treated myself to a pair of Dr Martens boots before.  I wanted those shoes, they had to be mine, and not only because they would have been perfect on my Neo’s outfit, but because… I just wanted them! I obviously had to justify to myself the price which wasn’t worth it a one-night use, so I placed the order through Amazon (with super express delivery), promising to the good and responsible inner voice of mine that I would have used them after the party too. My boots arrived, both the party and the outfit went really well (although I didn’t’ win the best-dress award, a Bart Simpson-guy did, just because he showed up with his skateboard and all painted in yellow!) and the moment to wear my boots and make all those £££ well spent arrived. I wore them in several occasions, leaving my jeans out though, even to go to the office on a Friday or to get caught by the flood of the Thames (note to self: the zip on the back doesn’t make them good for fishing in the canal). Two Saturdays ago, while I was getting ready to go for a walk down the village, I accidentally kicked one of the boots while picking my Converse from the shoe-rack. What the hell, I said. Let’s do it. I put them on, tucked my jeans in, wore my worn-out hat and off I went for my walk.

My Dr Martens boots

My Dr Martens boots

And then I said to myself “This is bloody London! No one gives a rat’s arse of the way you dress and in case they do, they bloody don’t say it!

And if they don’t give a damn, why should I? I leave to others the responsibility for the fate of the Italian fashion in the world. I enjoy my boots, my worn-out jeans and my 90’s style that sometimes keeps coming back. And thank you very much!

Jacopo, I’m still intrigued by your scarf move anyway!

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