“What’s it going to be like out today?” I think to myself as I browse through my closet, getting ready for the day ahead. My weather app says it’ll be 75 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. Perfect, a sundress it is. Grabbing my backpack and some sunnies, I walk out the door ready to start my day…wait, why is he wearing a cashmere scarf? Wow, she has on a winter jacket! Is my weather app wrong? Are we getting a storm I didn’t know about?
These thoughts have tripped me up on more than one occasion during my stay here in Florence. I could not wrap my New England mind around locals dressing for winter during what I thought to be a beautiful day. I would question my own sartorial instincts, picking up the habit of never leaving the house without a jacket. This would be immediately followed by regret when I would break out in a sweat (or, as I like to refer to it, a sparkle).
I quickly realized something had to be going on: either Florentines are very sensitive to temperature, or I’m missing something big. After some heavy questioning of classmates and hours of Googling, I found out both are indeed the case.
Not many people familiar with Florentine culture would argue against the idea that the local population is very susceptible to a change in weather. Pair freezing cold winters and unbearingly hot summers with walking as the main form of transportation, and a call for an always-prepared wardrobe is in order. Layering is key when it comes to stepping out on daily routes. Once the temperature starts rising, Florentines must quite literally warm up to this change. If they wear shorts and sandals too soon in the new season, what will they do when sweltering August hits?
An important aspect of adjusting is a tradition referred to as cambio di stagione. This translates to “changing of the seasons” and is the factor I was missing. Twice a year, Italians spend at least one weekend switching out their winter clothes for summer, and vice versa. Here’s the catch: once this change is made, there is no going back. This year was tricky: we can thank global warming for some unexpectedly balmy winter days and now a few chilly spring ones. Still, during the mid-semester heatwave my fellow students and I experienced, Florentines were sporting winter scarves and heavy jackets because the cambio di stagione had not yet happened.
When I first discovered this phenomenon, I did not laugh at the ritual, as many newcomers instinctively do, but thought instead: “I do this, too, back in Massachusetts.” In New England, weather is similar to that of Florence; it can change in an instant and pretty drastically. But our changing of seasonal wardrobes is quite different from the Italian cambio di stagione, and there are many cultural factors at play in the “why.” Driving is the main way of getting around: your average New Englander moves from his or her heated house, to heated car, to heated workplace. They will wear a winter coat, but they are not in direct contact with the weather very often.
Florentines drive but walking, especially in the center, is a much more fundamental element of the local lifestyle; for those who don’t walk to work or school, popping down to bars across the street or meandering over to a nearby eatery is still more common than I have seen stateside. Florentines must more carefully consider what they are going to wear in order to go about their daily routes.
Italian fashion is known for its high quality craftsmanship and is laden with traditions. Florentines and Italians have a serious approach to fashion, and cambio di stagione is an essential part of this mindset. Where Americans dress for the daily weather, Italians will dress for the season. They stay true to their reputations of being the resident fashion experts.
After living in Florence for four months, the Florentines’ wardrobe ways have begun to rub off on me. I found myself decked out in enough layers to get me through a cold February morning one evening in late May. But with a heat wave on the horizon, I knew my cambio di stagione was just around the corner.