A collection of black dresses by Valentino at the exhibition "Valentino a Roma" at Museo Ara Pacis in Rome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Italian fashion is number one and that goes without saying. No other country comes close to Italian style except for possibly the French, who are a far away second. When it comes to the Italian fashion industry, which includes Fendi, Gucci, Armani, Versace, Valentino, Zegna etc, you will be able to see the best of the best. If you find "Made in Italy" or "Fabbricata in Italia" tag on the item you purchase, then you can rest assure of the quality and craftsmanship. Many of the fashion trends we come to see in United States, Canada and other parts of the world today are from the cities of Rome, Milan and Florence. Each of these cities are popular as centers of fashion and style.
You will find that Italian stores often creatively display their merchandise and the price of the item in their front windows. These boutique stores have a variety of fine services offered. If the store owner watches you while you are there, do not be offended. They may simply be trying to help you. Unless you go to these type of stores during a sale, you can be expected to pay highly inflated prices for these goods. Look for the Italian word Saldi, which means sales, displayed in a window or on a sign. Sconti is another term you should look for as it means discounts. In the Fashion industry, the winter sale is from January to mid February and the summer sale runs from July to early September.
Italy provides shoppers with excellent bargains on crafts, ceramics, and the open marketplace is the best source for these deals in big cities. For example, on different days of the week, various neighborhoods of Rome will hold markets which are similar to flea-markets in the United States and Canada. Good prices for shoes and food as well as other items that you need and a few that you most likely don't need.
Also remember that when you're purchasing items in Italy, cash is preferred. You should ask "Accetate carta di credito?" before you make a purchase because although most merchants now accept credit cards, it is not always the case. In Italian this means "Do you accept credit cards"? You should remember Master Card and Visa are accepted in more locations, and American Express is accepted to a certain degree but you are wise not to carry your Diner's Club or Discover card.
Italy has sales tax built into the price of the product. Typically about nineteen percent of the purchasing price is made up of the IVA, or value added tax. You can get a sales tax refund on some items, but the process is rather cumbersome. It's only worth it on high-ticket items.
Even though the Euro is still relatively strong against the dollar, doesn't mean you can not find a good bargain in Italy or Europe in general. You can find some bargains if you are a little diligent and plan well, you can return home from your Italian vacation with some fantastic items!
Larry Aiello is an Italian-American living in Florida that loves to share his knowledge about Italy. He has a blog about Italian culture and travel that provides useful tips and experiences such as what to expect on the train ride from Rome to Venice.