Nothing like a trip to Italy to solidify my commitment to resale. Walking around Rome, Florence, and Milan amid the summer swarm of tourists, I saw an Italian woman dressed to perfection every time I turned a corner. Often she was sailing down a crowded cobblestone street on a bicycle, taking in the unseasonably cool weather, unbothered by cars and Vespas threatening to mow her down.
Wide-legged, high-waisted pants, v-neck top, a wide belt, flats, and a wide-brim hat that somehow stayed on while biking.
If she wasn’t on a bicycle or scooter, chances are she was walking a shiny-coated dog of the weiner variety.
Not that I think I can replicate her exact look or her carefree vibe. I am too klutzy for a bike, and my hound dog pulls me down when I try to walk him. Splayed out on pavement is not a classic Italian look.
Maybe I could capture the essence of Italian style with a few wardrobe additions. But … hmmmm… those looks were not available in the stores we saw. I found my most loathed fast-fashion stores like H&M and Zara nestled among Prada and Gucci, along with boutiques with clothing that screamed ITALIAN a little too loudly with bright colors and floral patterns.
None of this looked like the clothing I saw real-life Italian women wearing.
My husband, Jason, mapped out thrift and vintage stores for me and our teen, Basil, to find more affordable and classic styles. By the end of the trip, Jason somehow scored the best vintage deal.
We didn’t do much shopping in Rome, our first stop. Too much to see, do, and eat. A party everywhere we turned, like the singalong every night on the bridge in front of our apartment. When we got to Florence, we started with the big brands, which Basil loved despite finding nothing to buy.
Then, the vintage stores.
My favorite outfit I couldn’t afford
Oh my. Rack after rack of amazing finds and mannequins styled to quirky perfection. Prices reflected true value, because the people working in these stores know their craft. I wanted items that would add a little understated pizazz to what I already have.
I chose a peach silk blouse and a cashmere sweater with some floral detailing. Basil found a white purse with a long strap, a white mini skirt, and a chunky ring. Jason was confused by our choices but impressed that we got out of for less than 150 euros.
Basil in my vintage cashmere sweater
We loved the shop pets, the vibe, and the racks upon racks of quality vintage wear.
My favorite shop dog, she occupied about a quarter of the tiny resale handbag shop.
All the big luxury brand stores stuffed full of … who buys this stuff? Who wears this stuff? Basil loved it all, but they didn’t feel badly that they couldn’t afford any of it.
Again, Jason had mapped out a walking tour of boutiques, vintage stores, and resale shops. The owner of my favorite shop didn’t speak much English, but she shared with me that she has a whole showroom elsewhere in Milan, so the curated collection in her boutique was just a sampling.
And, wow, what a sampling. I wanted to take a closer look at every single thing on every rack. Incredible quality and detail.
Jason said upon entering: “Well this place is very Patti.”
Jason holding up one of many very me pieces
The owner said she considers anything through the 1990s to be vintage—same as Second Serve Resale—but her boutique focuses on older garments in stellar condition. I told her I was in awe of how many great finds she had, and she exhibited modest pride, acknowledging that, yes, the good stuff is out there but requires extensive searching to unearth. Her clothes were priced high, in the 200 - 300 euro range, and worth it.
From a sprawling store with great finds at all price points
We found a shop boasting “Everything 10 euros!,” but I found little inspired vintage and a lot of Coldwater Creek and similar brands. Still, given the volume, a determined shopper could find a few deals, especially for clothing to repurpose or embellish.
I preferred the higher-end vintage stores, even though I couldn’t afford anything, not even a Giambi Yankee jersey. “Didn’t we hate him?” I asked Jason, who is from New York. “Yes,” Jason confirmed. “We did.”
Oh well, my suitcase was full from the gifts and items I scored in Florence.
Jason fell in love with linen and bought a new, white linen shirt at a boutique in Florence. The quality put the cotton, linen-like shirts he ordered online from a Banana Republic outlet store to shame. He looks great in the shirt, though I worry about salsa stains. To complete the look, he wanted some vintage Italian sunglasses.
He hit the motherlode in our last stop in Milan, when our legs were weeping for mercy. It took forever to find the store, which was tucked inside an apartment building. After GPS took us on a jaunt around the building several times, we found the shop, which had a rock and roll vibe with awesome bomber jackets and weathered button-downs that had clearly seen some shit.
A store crammed with clothes that had already lived a full life or two
Jason went straight for the drawers and drawers of sunglasses. The shop owner emerged and spoke to Jason in Italian, before Jason said, apologetically, that he only spoke English. (It thrilled Jason, whose great grandparents emigrated from Italy, to be mistaken for native-speaking Italian.)
A life’s work in vintage Italian sunglasses
The store owner spoke English, and the two had an in-depth conversation about vintage sunglasses. They were not pre-worn, just decades-old inventory that never sold. Jason found the pair he wanted right away, but he stuck around and let the store owner continue sharing his encyclopedic knowledge, because it clearly meant the world to him to have a willing listener. The owner shared that he mostly sells online at a higher markup and gave Jason a deep discount on the shades.
So after two weeks in Italy, Jason was the one who best captured Italian style. It’s only fair seeing as he planned the whole magical trip and researched all the stores, ensuring a fun, fruitful shopping experience. We were all happy with what we bought and experienced in our brief interaction with the Italian resale fashion scene.
He had to show off on the ‘gram.
My takeaway is that the best way to capture the essence of Italian style is to be born an Italian baby and raised to adulthood in Italy. But barring that, focusing on resale remains the best chance at putting together unique, lasting looks perfect for any occasion—not just biking on cobblestone or walking dachshunds.