Surviving the Dreary Dollar in Style

Story and photos by Valerie McGuire
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Vintage stores in Florence offer a reasonably priced alternative to expensive boutiques.

The euro exchange rate with the dollar is about 1.6. If the economy continues as predicted, the dollar is likely to depreciate even more in the coming months. Not since the euro was first introduced has the US dollar become so weak. Italians may lament that life is not the same since losing la vecchia lira, but for American tourists, students and expats, a strong euro has also brought about an inevitable change in lifestyle.

Although it may seem insignificant when compared to, say, globalization or the American presidential election, the common traveler to Italy can no longer follow the natural impulse to participate in an integral part of local life: looking good.

Once you arrive in Italy, you have to shop. But how is this possible when you get half the value for your buck? To alleviate these fashion and economic woes, I decided to try two, less obvious, avenues for shopping: the outlet mall and a blossoming vintage market. The former proved a sour disappointment (and evidence that Italians do not understand the meaning of a mall). The latter, however, exposed a new and unusual frontier of commerce and trade.

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Despite the appearance of some 100 stores, the Barberino designer outlet in Mugello turned out to be a tough bargain. The mall is about a half-hour outside Florence and offers a shuttle-bus service. With an awesome selection of high-end designer goods, it seemed only a matter of time before I came away with an original piece. Yet, no particular season, style, or creative rationale has organized the maze of surplus merchandise, and my spirits quickly wore thin.

I thought the “In Trend” section— the unoriginal pseudonym for out-of-season Max Mara and Max & Co. items—would at least bear a new silk blouse, but after 45 minutes of digging through silk, rayon and polyester sundresses in loud floral prints, I had moved on to the genuine leather Italian handbags. Had I been in the market for a leather purse, however, I would have never left the comfortable and nearby environs of Piazza San Lorenzo in Florence.

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I moved on to Calvin Klein and Prada, where I had a hard time finding any “discount” items. For my admittedly deflated student budget, the only available items were a red dress, which would have been sexy except for a faulty collar, or a too-olive-green silk blouse. I gave up and returned to Florence empty handed.

My next stop was the vintage market in Florence, which recycles high fashion from the ‘80s, ‘60s and even the 16th century. Vintage clothing in Florence is not “used,” but “revived.” Most shops combine new foreign labels with used famous designers, like Chanel, for a reasonable price. It was there, I realized, that if I was willing to wear the pre-owned Max Mara suit, I could look like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.”


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