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Strictly enforced dress codes in Rome
All religious buildings in Rome have the same dress code based on “modesty”.
That is: your knees, shoulders, and chest must be covered.
Are the rules different between men and women?
Despite misconceptions, the rules are not gendered and apply equally to men and women.
Men may fall foul of the code less often purely because of current gender norms of clothing, in particular ‘boardies’ and ‘cargo’ shorts that just about cover the knees, but the rules are the same: cover up your shoulders and knees, and don’t have your chest on display.
What is the dress code at Vatican City?
Remembering that public access to the Vatican is split over two sites: the Vatican Museums, and Saint Peter’s Basilica, both parts have slightly differing enforcement standards.
What is the dress code at St Peter’s?
At St Peter’s the dress code is strictly enforced. You will need to line up for a security check and the same people will also assess whether you’re suitably dressed. We have personally seen two American tourists turned away after 40 minutes’ waiting because they were wearing mini skirts.
What’s the dress code in the Vatican Museums?
Bear in mind that though the Vatican museums are a bit more relaxed about enforcement, a visit to the museums always culminates at the Sistine Chapel, which is one of the most revered places of worship in Catholicism. Even if the guards on the door of the museums aren’t as strict as they are at St Peter’s, you may still fall foul of the people on the door of the Sistine.
What’s the dress code for the Pantheon?
The Pantheon, as well as being a Roman temple, is also a consecrated church. In fact it was its consecration very early in the Christianisation of the Roman empire that helped preserve its original marble, and prevented it being torn down and reused for other buildings.
The line for the Pantheon is short if you buy a ticket in advance, but the guards do check how you’re dressed and will turn you away if you are showing cleavage, knees, or shoulders.
What is the dress code for the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill?
The good news is that there is no enforced dress code in secular sites like the Forum and Palatine Hill, and despite the Colosseum having been consecrated as a place of worship in 1750, a dress code is not enforced there.
What’s the dress code for San Giovanni, Santa Maria Maggiore, Trinità dei Monti, or St Pauls Basilica?
These major cathedrals and basilicas do not have people enforcing the dress code at the door, but you may still be asked to cover up or leave by people inside the building.
What’s the dress code for other churches?
As above, but many of Rome’s 800 churches do not have any enforcement. We feel it is respectful to adhere to the requested standards of dress anyway, but you may not be thrown out if you don’t.
But Rome is hot and I don’t want to wear long sleeves and long pants…
We hear you, which is why we advise that, if you want to wear shorts or a skirt that exposes your knees, and/or a tank top or spaghetti strap, you carry with you a sarong or light scarf, and a light shirt with you.
Walk around in the heat feeling cool and comfortable and getting a tan, then throw on light coverings that preserve your ‘modesty’ only while visiting a place of worship.
Would not be allowed in
Would be allowed in
Clothing dos and don’ts for Rome
The first thing you should realise is that no matter what you wear, you will likely always look like a tourist. The idea that you can wear what the locals do and blend in is always going to fail, because as a visitor you will still be behaving as a tourist and have the body language of a tourist – even if you’re not dressed like one.
At the end of the day, you should ignore negativity and dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable. But listed below are some very generalised explanations of attitudes towards various ways of dressing.
Dirty shoes and clothing
The first, very obvious thing you will notice is that many Italians dress very well indeed, with the intention of showing their best features.
As a generality they tend to be very clean, rotating clothes and showering (and having a bidet) very often.
Flip-flops in the street
Whether you call them flip-flops, thongs, or jandals, these are a massive no-no for walking around in. Italians consider these beachwear, or something to pad around indoors with. Wearing them in the street is like walking around in slippers.
Rome’s streets are grimy and you will find that your exposed feet quickly become black with filth, which is another thing that the locals find revolting. Sandals are OK but keep your feet clean – you can even wash them (and cool them down) at one of the many nasoni around the city – but not in any fountains.
No. Absolutely never, ever, ever.
Bare feet outside a swimming pool, beach, or in one’s own house, are seen as absolutely disgusting. Walking around Rome’s filthy streets in bare feet is objectively a terrible – and dangerous – idea.
Very short shorts
Again, not a problem. Many young women in Rome sport extremely short jorts around the city with barely (pun intended) an issue.
There is no problem with exposing your tummy to the world in Rome. Maybe if you have a beergut it might be frowned upon for aesthetic reasons, but a trim belly is currently a fashion accessory among Rome’s young women.
Pure white sneakers
This is a weird one: sneakers that are almost supernaturally white seems to be a north American quirk.
It may be the washing powder used, or the kind of washing machine, but nobody in Italy seems to manage to achieve this level of shiny brightness. It isn’t offensive, but makes you stand out like a sore thumb.
Baseball caps are occasionally sported by Roman youth, but they’re not ubiquitous as they are in places like North America. You will see these worn as fashion accessories by (mostly) young Italian men, but not glued onto the head of their wearers.
One issue with a permanent baseball cap wearing is that they tend to get grimy – something that’s seen as rather déclassé. Also, hats tend to be removed when dining in Italy, so if your hair under the cap is greasy and dirty, this can cause disgust.
Oversized Ts and sweatshirts
The shapeless blob that this way of dressing turns you into is something that most locals would never dream of presenting to the world.
Also slogan/political t shirts are quite rare – though proclaiming your love for your soccer team is extremely common.
The good news is that your tattoos are unlikely to be a problem.
The majority of the adult population in Rome has at least one tattoo, and many are very visible, on wrists, arms, even necks.
Your tats, unless they are of something offensive, will not even raise an eyebrow. For example, one half of Italy’s social media power couple, Claudia Ferragni and rapper Fedez, is covered from neck to toe in tattoos.
Dressing for dinner in Rome
This is a tricky one: first, as a general rule, the local population absolutely do spend more time and care on their appearance than many of us in the English-speaking world, in all circumstances. Seeing how incredibly well presented people are, even while doing their shopping at a supermarket, can come as a surprise.
Therefore when the local population goes out out for an evening meal, they tend to be highly presentable. Men will often be “smart casual” and women will usually wear flattering clothing, and be well accessorized and made up.
However, all of this is purely custom: the number of restaurants in Rome with an actual dress code is vanishingly small, and almost exclusively at the high end of the market (particularly hotel restaurants and Michelin-starred places).
The issue you, as a visitor, may have, is that the local population knows intuitively what level of ‘fancy’ to achieve for any given venue and occasion. You won’t. So our advices is to just go with what makes you comfortable – particularly in the hot summer. As long as you avoid the no-nos above, particularly around footwear, you will be dine.
Though do bear in mind that if you are very unsure about what to wear, always err on the side of smart. In Rome it is almost impossible to be overdressed.
Dress for yourself
Finally, the truth is that you can and should dress the way you want to dress. The above advice is just to give an indication of how local people may perceive you – but as mentioned, you will be a tourist no matter what you wear, so just be comfortable without offending, and you’ll be fine.