I remember my first trip to Italy. It was with my cousin in our early twenties and we spent six weeks travelling from north to south. It's still my favourite country to visit. Amazing sights, gorgeous food, great coffee and ... all the men's ankles.
Yes, men's ankles. It was the first time I'd ever noticed them. Tanned from a long European summer, Italian men nonchalantly rolled up their pant legs to show off a smooth, brown ankle - foot casually ensconced in either a leather sandal or tie-up shoe. Without socks, of course.
It was then that I realised men's ankles are sexy. And the way a man dressed could be sexy, as opposed to just functional.
My gaze would begin at the shoe, roam past the bare ankle, up to a shirt made from a far superior fabric than I was used to boys wearing back in old Kiwi-land. The look would usually finish with a pair of expensive designer sunglasses.
I think Oakleys were the popular choice for local men back in the day.
In Italy, blokes take their fashion seriously. Unlike many other parts of the western world where men's style is often a choice between the t-shirt or the t-shirt, and most guys shy away from anything that could be even remotely considered edgy, Italian men experiment and succeed in creating a "look". Just like women.
Yes folks, equality in the fashion stakes is being achieved in Italy. And these days the guys are going even further.
A pink shirt does not a peacock make
A quick glance at the scene from Milan Men's Fashion Week and Pitti Uomo, the trade fashion show in Florence two weeks ago, shows some of the best street style looks of the year.
We're overjoyed that guys are cultivating their own individual looks. Sure, the high-end outfits on display at Pitti Uomo aren't exactly commonplace, but they're far more appealing than the cookie cutter outfits we see walking briskly through our capital cities on the afternoon coffee run.
Most Australasian gents (like their brothers in Britain and the US), tend to stick to a certain rather standard dress code. The boldest they've been is taking part in the pink shirt craze which hit a few years back, and even then, it was the softest of pinks that was most popular - barely a whisper of colour in an otherwise muted palette of grey, blue, black and white.
For Italian men, pink shirts are part of the wardrobe. More than that, their whole sophisticated persona is a lesson in OTT refinement - a juxtaposition of the finest kind. Tailored jackets in standout colours, interesting style combinations and accessories such as hats, handkerchiefs, scarves and suspenders are par for the course. They even throw in a print or two. Then there are those ankles. They're everywhere.
This, my friends, is dressing. Dressing up. So why aren't Kiwi men embracing it?
According to one local male - a friend who shall remain nameless lest his mates rib him about this at the pub - "Italians are a bit outlandish with their dress sense. It's not a part of our style, which is more understated and relaxed. Italian fashion is over the top. It's part of their cultural identity."
Right. So our cultural identity is for men to look like they don't care about fashion?
"Not exactly. I still love my clothes and have been called particular about what I wear. But I'm not about to put on a bright blue pair of tartan check pants with suspenders and a bow tie on a first date."
Oh, but we wish you would!
Deconstructing the code
Men's Style Australia magazine Michael Pickering puts our reluctance to follow the Italians down to "the climate and the lack of competition, in terms of dressing like that. You can see some Australian men going the extra yard and putting a lot of effort into their look. But the majority of Australian men keep it relatively conservative."
One of the best parts of being a woman is getting to dress up and play with various styles, creating unique, beautiful outfits. So why, when men can finally have fun with style, will they not partake in the fashion game? Will it ever catch on in Oz?
"I think Australasian men are becoming increasingly braver with their choices," Pickering says. "You can see some pretty outrageously dressed men at events like the polo, the races and at weddings. Mostly, I think men are trying to deconstruct dress codes. Whether it's formal or semi-formal, they're no strangers in doing that.
"Also, men are competitive. Once one of them feels confident enough to wear wine-coloured chinos, it's a bit like clone behaviour - others will feel emboldened to do it too."
- Sydney Morning Herald
Who was your best dressed of the week?