Comfort and Confidence: Fashion in Cagli

by Jessica Beckendorf

Elisabetta Panico picks up a lime green belt and hands it to a customer waiting behind the fitting-room curtain. “Italian women are the most fashionable in the world, if you’ll allow me to say so” she boasts as she walks to the brightly colored racks of clothing in the center of her clothing and accessories store, Exclusive.

Fashion PurseElisabetta, 26, has worked in the Cagli fashion business for seven years She has owned her own store for the last four.

Fashion is woven into the Italian culture. A quick Internet search reveals hundreds of websites about Italian women and their unique fashion sense. According to, Italy’s fashion industry generates an estimated annual 60 billion euros ($84 billion) while employing close to a million people. With elite fashion labels like Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, and Prada readily accessible to Italian women, it is almost certain that Italian women will remain fashionable for generations to come.

In the small city of Cagli, fashion is no less important than in Milan. Cagli is home to several high-end clothing and accessories stores. On the piazza alone, there are six. Each morning, well-dressed Cagliese women pushing strollers and walking dogs populate the city’s streets. Their attire is colorful and gracing their feet are heels in a range of styles and heights. During the evenings and on weekends, younger women up the ante with even higher heels and the latest fashions.

Lara Catena, one of Elisabetta’s customers, learned the value of dressing fashionably when she was a child. Both by example and with gentle advice, her mother began instilling in Lara a  sense of fashion. She grew up wearing clothes her mother made. Now, to make room for new styles, she cleans out her closet four times a year and gives the discards to charity. When shopping for the newest styles, she follows her mother’s time-tested advice: “Keep it simple. Keep it elegant.” Elisabetta also follows her mother’s advice when making choices about fashion. If she is unsure about an article of clothing, she gets her mother’s opinion.

The deep cultural connection Italians have with fashion has not stopped Italy’s fashion industry from suffering during the global recession. reports that in March the Italian minister of economic development, Claudio Scajola, promised financial help to Italy’s  fashion industry. Revenues at the end of 2008 were much lower than previous years, causing confidence to unravel within the industry.

In Cagli, Elisabetta and Lara have seen little impact from the recession. Lara has not stopped shopping, but has become more conservative about her purchases. None of the shops in Cagli have closed, though shops in larger cities  have. Elisabetta has not seen a large drop in sales, but she believes the relationship she has with her customers and her uniting of clothing and accessories – an unusual thing in Caglisi clothing shops – will sustain her business.

It is possible Elisabetta will someday have some competition. Lara has never given up her dream to own a clothing store. Her advice on dressing fashionably in Cagli: Dress only for yourself and it doesn’t hurt to accessorize with anything by Prada. Elisabetta’s advice: “Find what you are comfortable and confident in or you will look and feel ridiculous in the eyes of others.” If all else fails, call your mother and ask her opinion.

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