It seems to be generally accepted that Italy is sophisticated and that the Italians, by implication, are stylish. On a recent weekend trip to Venice I was keen to see for myself whether there were any lessons to be learned (or bargains to be found) by a mature man in search of style.
Venice was, for me, the epitome of ‘shabby chic’ - many try to imitate and sell versions of goods that are ‘shabby chic’ – but as a place, Venice is the real deal and has atmosphere and class in bucket loads. In spite of the lateness of my visit the city was still thronging with tourists – the Italians, however were quite easy to pick out as they generally (although by no means all) have an easy elegance to them – the women being nothing short of gorgeous and the men effortlessly stylish.
As a man of advanced age and not unlimited means, I was keen (as my hotel was near St Marks Square and in the middle of the designer district - a stone’s throw from the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Armani etc.) to see if any bargains could be found among the vastly inflated designer shop prices (e.g. 500 Euros for a pair of fancy carpet slippers!!!); I was eager to explore the less ‘popular’ areas of the city and its markets.
Venice is a particularly expensive city to be in: most prices are extremely high, and are a reflection on the huge rents and overheads the city levies on its lettings to businesses. They pay more to be there, so that cost is naturally passed on.
Exploring was great fun and not entirely unrewarding: as I wound my way further away from St Marks and more toward the Rialto bridge area, the streets became narrower, the shops more modest and the prices (relatively) cheaper. Recurring (relative) bargains were leather (baggage) goods that were generally well made, attractive, and keenly priced. Good sized leather hold-alls were around the 100 euro mark with a good sized laptop/folio case to be had for around half that price.
Italian wool scarves also seemed to be in abundance: the wool was soft, the goods well made and designs abundant enough to suit most tastes. The prices here seemed to range from 15 -18 euros, depending on whether you were looking in a shop or at a market stall, but the overall impression of these items was one of value for money at a price comparable to that in the UK.
Finally, Italian silk – specifically ties. Prices in shops ranged from expensive to downright astronomic: a trip over the Rialto bridge to the small market area immediately on the other side of the Grand Canal revealed a number of stalls with keenly priced, well made items the would look good around any man’s neck. The choice of designs was wide and ranged from conservative to outright garish … but all could be had, again, for the price of a couple of cups of Italian coffee.
To summarise then: - Venice is a great place to visit, to wander the streets and admire the style on display – both in terms of its residents and goods for sale. Are bargains available there to the older man seeking a style ‘find’? – probably not if you are looking to pay less than you do in the UK (leather goods described above excepted) … but if you like a walk, shop carefully and are prepared to pay roughly the same as you would in the UK, then you are likely to be able to purchase superior quality goods that not everyone who chooses to shop at M&S or House of Fraser will be wearing now or in the future.
And the coffee is very good too….