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Milanese Fashion as a Symbol of Culture

Article by Sofia Goldstein


This semester, I’m living in Milan as part of a Fashion Merchandising and Design program. Since I arrived in January, I’ve been exploring the fashion capital city, taking classes like Visual Merchandising and Art History, and drinking more espressos than I can count. This is a great city for people-watching, because there are always plenty of people to observe, whether they’re walking to the train or sitting at an outdoor restaurant with an aperol spritz in hand.

I’ve learned a lot about fashion just by taking note of the people around me here. For example, people love long coats here. A typical winter outfit in Milan consists of a long city coat, black jeans or wide-leg pants, boots, and a turtleneck or sweater. In the United States, people wear comfortable clothes while they’re at home and while they’re doing errands, and then we change into a nicer outfit to go out to dinner at night. In Milan, people wear comfortable clothes while they’re at home, and then they wear the nicer outfit for errands and dinner. As a result, clothing worn in public here is just on the edge of business casual – it’s informal, but still put together.

As we know, athleisure is a huge part of American fashion, the industry having just experienced a boom due to the pandemic. At home in Bloomington, I regularly wear leggings and sweatshirts; but people in Milan would not be caught dead wearing them out in the street. Instead of my softest sweatpants and a crewneck when I’m craving a casual look for class, I now wear loose straight-leg jeans and a sweater. The outfit is still comfortable (okay, maybe not as comfortable as my pajamas), but it looks a lot more put-together than my usual comfy look in the States.

I’ve tried to make sense of all the fashion choices I’ve witnessed here so far, comparing them to their American counterparts. I believe that an area’s fashion always represents its culture, but the styles that I’ve witnessed in Milan have turned that idea on its head. Even though clothing is more formal in Milan, the people are very relaxed, enjoying long lunches on workdays and valuing time spent with others as opposed to time spent accomplishing tasks. On the other hand, while clothing is generally casual in the United States, Americans are more tense, valuing punctuality and immediate communication regarding work.

For the first time, I was able to experience Fashion Week in a fashion capital. Tickets to the runway shows were invitation-only, but people gathered at the entrances to see celebrities enter and leave the shows. I was part of the crowds at the Prada, Giorgio Armani, and Moschino shows, and being there was such an incredible experience. I loved walking past the Duomo and seeing both current and evergreen trends, as well as bold, one-of-a-kind ensembles. I loved walking through streets of stores in the city’s high-end fashion area and marveling at their elaborate window displays.

I’ve had a great time in Milan so far. It’s been such an eye-opening experience, teaching me so much about independence, relationships, and, of course, fashion. All I know is that it’s definitely going to be strange to go back to wearing sweatpants to class when I come home.


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