Chapter 10: Italian Widow Girl Summer
Black lace dresses, smudged red lipstick, sunglasses darker than my soul.
I hearby declare it Italian Widow Girl Summer. A sister to beach goth summer, the Italian Widow archetype lives in black lace dresses, smudgy red lipstick and piercingly dark sunglasses so black you can’t see the tears. All you need is a campy resin-covered rose, a lush green ivy-covered house and a dark red wine; you’re set.
Recently, I wondered aloud, why don’t more people live in long black lace dresses during summer? It’s kind of glamorous in an oddly subversive, incredibly chic way. The black lace dress has been a summer staple of mine for years.
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The neorealism heroines of the Italian cinema will always ultimately serve as the inspiration for this. Both on and off-screen. For starters, a non-exhaustive list begins with Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and ends with Sophia Loren and Monica Bellucci, both of who represent the little black lace dress at any age. Anna Magnani, Monica Vitti, Claudia Cardinale; I may not be Italian, but these are the women who raised me and made me embrace the power of dressing to take up space in a very certain and highly specific way. It’s ultra feminine but not submissive. It’s powerfully divine and unique to a lost era and art of dressing. You can see it on some of the older women in Italy—or even some of the old school Italian women wandering around Brooklyn. I want to bring it back. I want everyone to wear long black lace dresses all summer long.
For the cause of the Italian widow, the longer the dress, the closer to heaven, and long sleeves makes everything especially dramatic. The sheerer the fabric, the better—you can create your desired effect by wearing whatever you want; just black underwear for the very brave, though being super modest adds a complex air of mystique. Or a long or short slip. The more intricate the fabric or print, the more expensive the look. Seek out contrasting overlaid stitching (I have one with white piping) or different panels of mesh.
Let’s dive a little bit more into the women of 1950s Italian cinema and what exactly made the way they dressed so revolutionary. So many of them wore the black lace dress. I like to look at Anna Magnani, for instance, who is a little bit more under the radar but no less influential. Magnani was different than the many Italian actresses emerging as fashion plates during the 1950s and 1960s; she had a new type of glamour. Her style was always more modern than her contemporaries; think of her as the originator of edgy sex appeal. In inky black slips, aprons, and button-down shirts with bursting seams, she brought to life a new kind of femininity, one that knew her best angles and she wasn’t eager to forsake them for somebody else’s. “She often dressed in black, clothes that narrowed her waist and exposed her neckline, both beautiful things of hers,” remembers her granddaughter, Olivia Magnani. “She interpreted the clothes she wore—she could be a queen or a common woman.” Sonnet Stanfill, acting senior curator of fashion at the V&A Museum, put it best: “Magnani dressed to please herself.” And in tumultuous 1950s Italy, what could be more revolutionary than that? (Maybe this: She allegedly admonished a retoucher for buffing out signs of aging, saying, “Please don’t retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them.”)
Consider that when you wear it; what else does a black lace dress in high summer say? So much with so little.
On black for summer as a concept: “Black is lazy and easy - but mysterious. But above all black says this: “I don't bother you - don't bother me,”’ Yohji Yamamoto once famously said. “Can you find some other color that can compete with black?” the designer recently asked me during an interview I conducted with him in Paris. “Red is the only color,” he retorted. Yamamoto grew up with a widowed mother, as so many sources will tell you.
The black lace dress is flattering, easy, and in my opinion, it actually looks even better when it’s a little bit…cheap! Truth be told, my most-worn black lace dresses are from Zara, and I’ve had them for years. Fast fashion is a contentious subject, but I think if you find pieces you like (that aren’t based on trends), buy them sparingly and on sale (please, don’t ever spend more than $100 for something from H&M) and you take care of them, they will live in your wardrobe for years. The thing about the black lace dress is that it’s kind of a classic: it’s never going to look dated. It’s revolutionary in opposition to wearing a little white dress for summer. It keeps you cool. Maybe it’s sexy, but also a little bit weird. Which we love.
The black lace dress gives you Italian Widow Girl summer, but it’s also what Bond girls and campaign muses are made of. But, remember, most of all, Italian Widow Girl summer is about an attitude above all else.
Italian Widow Girl Summer Starter Pack
The Black Lace Dress
The base of everything. You need one in every length, style and shape.
Bonus: This Self-Portrait Lace Midi Dress, on sale for $388, which looks straight out of a Michelangelo Antonioni film. I’m dreaming of it. The built-in slip and rhinestone trim? Chef’s kiss. If only it wasn’t sold out in my size.
Vintage lace dress heaven. Secondhand black lace dresses are harder to find, but worth it for the delicate nature of a one-of-a-kind piece. Filled with emotions and ideas. Below, Vintage Black Sheer Lace Dress, $299
This authentic Vintage 1940s lace dress, $69. Wow. It has some holes, but imagine the stories it has to tell.
Vintage Black Sheer Lace Dress with Sequins, $279, below.
Red Lipstick with Blue Undertones
This is the definite beauty pairing for Italian Widow Girl Summer. There’s only one for me…and it’s Nars Dragon Girl; vivid, punchy and outrageous. Matte yet imperfect.
Smudge it under the eyes and around and inside the outer corners. Make it messy or it doesn’t count. Byredo’s dark blue-almost-black, makes all eye colors pop with intensity. Almost every time I wear this, people gawk.
The better to (not) see you with. Go big or try a campy cat eye shape. Make sure the lenses have absolutely no transparency.
This is an essential. Either put your hair up, or muss it up with Hairstory’s powder, which is the best entry point to soft, puffy ‘60s hair with the right amount of volume. When I have bangs, this is the only thing that gives them that vintage shape and texture that I love. The R+CO Air Dry is also next level, it’s the only hair product I’ve used and re-purchased at least five times. I don’t blow dry my hair during summer. We love frizz here. It’s modern bed head.
That’s it on Italian Widow Girl summer.
Questions? Leave them in the comments!
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Until next time dolls,
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