Magazine article The Spectator

When in Rome . .

Magazine article The Spectator

When in Rome . .

Article excerpt

The only award I ever won during my whole scholastic career was for 'Best Turn Out'. I have a feeling it was a weekly thing, and I only won it once but, rather pathetically, I still cherish the memory. I was reminded of it again the other day while watching Roman office workers in their lunch-hour (or three). I was thinking that if there was an equivalent award for businessmen, Italians would be permanent, unchallenged, worldwide winners.

It's true that sometimes people here seem to be trying a touch too hard. The English country gent look, often attempted, fails to convince because every item looks brand spanking new. The business suit, however, is meant to be pristine, and its inherent sobriety serves to constrain any overdeveloped peacock tendencies.

All that sartorial vigour thus gets channelled into a magnificently obsessive pursuit of perfection. A Roman friend of mine told me that one of the reasons scooters are so popular in the city (highest per capita in the world) is that no other mode of transport allows you to make a crease-free start to the day -- the seats found in buses, cars and trains being very hazardous to the back of the shirt or jacket. Then, at lunchtime, it's not uncommon to go home (although not necessarily one's own home) and have one's trousers pressed.

So it hardly needs saying that there is none of that dress-down rubbish here in Italy.

That unfortunate idea has its roots in Silicon Valley, and really took hold in the UK with the internet bubble, as City-types felt they needed to change into polo shirts and ill-fitting chinos to be taken seriously. In Italy, the idea of computer geek as fashion guru could never catch on. No, here it's suits all the way, and jackets on -- even when venturing out in the midday sun for a casual lunch. When the heat really does get too much to bear, there's always the Naples option. Tailors from that great southern city make a suit of whisperlight cloth, virtually devoid of substructure, and cut to allow freer upper body movement than the Roman style. (Perhaps as a result of global warming, it's now possible to indulge in the bespoke Neapolitan experience in more northerly climes, with Mariano Rubinacci's new branch in London -- see www. …

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