Thank goodness the world of clothes is utterly bi-polar, if not schizophrenic. Where there is high fashion, there is low. Where there are designers, there are people who brilliantly mimic them. While there are the boutiques of Via Monte Napoleone, Via Gesù, and Via Spiga, there are also the outdoor markets of Via Fauché, Via Vincenzo Monti and Viale Papiniano. At these street markets, gilt chandeliers are replaced by natural light (or the wintery lack therof). Silk clad dressing rooms are nothing more than mirrors propped against vans that line the market area. And hundreds if not thousands of euros evaporate into numbers—so easy to bandy about—like 15 and 20.
Don’t get me wrong: I know it’s not the same as Valentino or 10 Corso Como. And some of what hangs overhead is ghastly. But a woman with a keen innate sense of style can do wonders with items bought on the street. And some of the outdoor markets utterly blur the lines, offering the actual designer goods at close to street prices.
But it’s not so much the economics that interest me. It’s the atmosphere. I love watching a woman try on a pair of Pradas, their soles protected from the pavement by a piece of corrugated board tossed in front of a mirror. I love the hilarious landscape created by 100 bras of different colors and sizes displayed on a tabletop. I love watching vendors walk through the upside down labyrinth of dresses, coats and pants hanging under their awning. The cries of “Cashmere! 25 euros!” The vendors’ vans that line both sides of the market, serving as both warehouse and dressing room. The insane mixture of good taste and tastelessness. Energy. Interaction. Allegria. The whiff of a bargain. The possibility of a find. And somewhere in there, the exuberant spirit of a classless society.
NOTE: You can also buy housewares, kitchen appliances, linens, small pieces of furniture, bags, wallets, cleaning supplies, perfumes, incenses and African paraphernalia in the non-food portion of the markets. Although I’ve never been, I hear that the market of markets is the one in Forte dei Marmi on the Tuscan coast—supposedly the best for Italian linens.