When I first decided to spend a semester in Rome, my mother eagerly encouraged me, in hopes that I would learn about dressing well. In order to relieve my mother, I’d have to return home, having traded my leg warmers for a pashmina and my thrift store platform boots for a solid black pea coat. “Now that’s fashionable!” is what she would say.
We all come to Europe with the expectation that Romans are fashionable, stylish and “well dressed.” However, being here has made me reconsider the definition of the phrase.
Walking though the streets of Rome, whether I’m on the south side by the Coliseum or by the Vatican on the west, everywhere I go, everyone is dressed exactly the same.
Sure, they all look good, great even, in their sleek boots, dark sunglasses, tight black jackets for men and long elegant coats for women. But while it certainly might be that they appear well-dressed, does that definitively mean they are also dressed well?
The difference between the two is incredible.
Although different, there is a vibrancy of style in Philadelphia. On any given day, I can find people dressed in sweats (I have yet to see an Italian wear anything remotely close to sweats on the street) or something as sensational as eight gauge plugs and a mohawk.
As young adults living in a city as creative as Philadelphia, many of us flex our individualism via what we put on our body. No longer do clothes only answer a superficial need, but they answer an individualistic need for those who choose to express themselves through style.
Yet there are the haters who feel that one of America’s most overweight cities is simultaneously one of America’s sloppiest cities. To some, our layers and beat-up Timbs characterize us as sloppy, unfashionable and poorly dressed.
But the point isn’t to pinpoint fashion taboos. It’s about acknowledging one of the few things we can really appreciate about our country: the importance and enjoyment of individualism. It is not an overstatement when I say that Romans openly gawk at you if you’re not wearing the “right” thing.
However, to criticize the situation without looking into its context would be unfair. We have to consider the antiquity that permeates almost every aspect of Rome. Rome was founded by Romulus in 753 B.C. America, on the other hand, was founded by Christopher Columbus in 1492, but was not declared independent from Great Britain until 1776.
That gives Romans slightly more time to tweak their culture, tradition and overall style sense. This is among what contributes to a more conformist mentality in Roman culture. To them, their sense of similar dressing represents their habitual connection to tradition in one of the most traditionally rich cities in the world.
America is a baby in comparison. We are still the newest of the powerful countries and our traditions are much less rooted. In fact, it’s become as if individualism is our strongest tradition, possibly because we’re so new and still scrambling around searching for something more concrete. Romans need not do this, as their culture is as concrete as it gets.
In the end, it isn’t to say one is better than the other. But as someone who has been raised with individualism as the norm, it becomes obvious when you’re thrown into a situation where individualism isn’t as highly regarded.
Ultimately, the result is a growing appreciation for this American tradition, as it is something I consider a privilege. I will gladly reinforce this individuality through my loud, American style – even if it means being called an American slob.
Eva Liao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.