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How to Wear Clothes in Italian

In this week's segment of Sposami, there is talk of modelling wedding gowns. The verb used at one point is indossare. If we look closely, we might recognize the root word dosso, which in Dante's time, was a variant of the noun dorso, meaning "spine," or "back."

 

We can make the clothing connection with the English hyperbolic idiom "giving someone the shirt off one's back," referring to generosity. The noun dosso is no longer used to mean "back," exactly, but it means "bump," such as a bump in the road or a speed bump.

 

In a previous lesson we talked about the adverb addosso or di dosso (which bring images of someone on your back). So even though we don't use dosso to mean "back" anymore, it has been incorporated into other words and phrases that have become crystalised as standard.

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In this lesson, we will look at the verb indossare and other verbs that have to do with putting clothes on. We talked about taking clothes off in this lesson!

 

Practice: At the end of some video examples, there's a little grammar question, giving you the chance to expand on the example itself. You'll find the answers at the bottom of the page. Don't worry if they give you trouble, as they are aimed at more advanced learners. It may be an opportunity to find out what you don't know and to ask us questions! We'll be glad to give you some answers. Make sure to read the full lesson before answering the questions, as they might refer to examples further down the page.

Modeling an outfit

If we have to model an outfit, we have to wear it, but in this case, it's wearing something with the specific purpose of displaying it. Indossare is the best choice if we are looking for a verb. 

E poi, se proprio servisse di indossare un abito, posso farlo io. -No, tu no.

And besides, if it were really necessary to model a dress, I can do it. -No, you can't.

Captions 32-33, Sposami EP 2 - Part 3

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1) Nora starts her sentence in the subjunctive but finishes it in the indicative rather than the conditional (not really correct). What if she were to finish it in the conditional? What would she have said?

 

Regarding the video clip, the translation of indossare could also have been "to put on," or "to wear," but we thought it was important to make the distinction regarding the purpose: not putting something on to go and buy milk, but to put it on display. And let's remember that "to model" in this context can't be translated into Italian with modellare. That doesn't quite work (false friend). 

 

A bit of cultural background relative to indossare

When we talk about modeling a dress or outfit, it's sometimes done by a professional model. Although the term modella (usually in the feminine version) is used to mean "fashion model," the more "Italian" term is indossatrice. During the period of Italian fascism, foreign words were rooted out, including the commonly used French noun mannequin. By law, it had to be replaced by indossatrice.

 

If you haven't seen the documentary about the Italian Language and Italian Fascism (on Yabla), check it out. Ne vale la pena (it's worth the effort). There is mention of removing words like modella or the French "mannequin" from the language and using a more Italian word.

Parole straniere e borghesia sono mali da estirpare. [Mannequin - Indossatrice]

Foreign words and the bourgeoisie are evils to be rooted out. [Mannequin – indossatrice] (fashion model)

Captions 6-7, Me Ne Frego Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5

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That said, the verb indossare is used all the time by Italians. It's transitive, so we can use the question word "what."

Al momento della scomparsa, indossava un paio di jeans chiari, delle scarpe da ginnastica anonime...

When she went missing, she was wearing a pair of light colored jeans, unbranded sneakers...

Captions 37-38, Chi m'ha visto film - Part 7

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2) How would you say this using the adjective vestito?

 

Getting dressed

The basic verb for getting dressed is vestire (to dress), used in the reflexive, vestirsi

Eh, scusate, commissario, ma come ci dobbiamo vestire? -Eh, infatti. Il tema della festa è anni ottanta, quindi regolatevi.

Uh, sorry Commissioner, but how should we dress? -Yeah, exactly. The theme of the party is the eighties, so act accordingly.

Captions 39-40, Il Commissario Manara S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 11

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The question word in our example is come (how), which we commonly answer with an adverb or adverbial phrase. We can't follow it with a noun, as with indossare.  Sometimes we choose one word over the other depending on how we want to construct the phrase, or what we want to include or exclude.

3). But what if he had used the question word "what?" How could he have posed the question?

 

A related adjective

The verb vestire is often transformed into the adjective vestito. In this case, the person is already dressed.

Mamma è morta sei mesi fa e papà aveva organizzato una messa in suffragio. Ecco perché era vestito così elegante.

Mom died six months ago and Dad had organized an intercession mass. That's why he was dressed so elegantly.

Captions 20-22, Il Commissario Manara S2EP2 - L'addio di Lara - Part 2

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4) Maybe we could modify the second sentence in the example above — to say something similar — using the verb indossare. You will have to come up with a direct object noun to make it work. 

 

Let's keep in mind that vestito is also a noun meaning "dress" or, for a man, "suit."  

 

Putting clothes on

Just as in English, Italian uses the verb mettere (to put). But whereas in English, we say "to put on," Italian uses the reflexive form mettersi (to put on).

Tu che cosa ti metti? Io avevo pensato di mettermi il vestito rosso.

What are you going to wear? I thought of wearing my red dress.

Caption 34, Anna e Marika Il verbo pensare

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In this last example, the question is che cosa (what [thing]?). So we will need a noun as an answer. The formula is reflexive verb mettersi + noun.

5) We can do 2 exercises with this example. 

a) Use the transitive verb indossare in the question and in the answer. In this case it is a learning exercise, but an unlikely real-life option!

b) Ask the question with come. You can still use mettersi or indossare in the answer, or you can come up with something using the same verb as in the question. In this case you'll need to be creative.

 

We'll often hear someone giving this order to someone else. 

Dai, forza, vestiti.

Come on, get dressed.

Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara S2EP12 - La donna senza volto - Part 10

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6) If you were giving this command to a bunch of kids, what would you say? Tip: Don't worry that dai is singular. it's an expression that stays in the singular.

 

But attenzione. As you can hear in the example, in the previous example in the imperative, the stress is on the first syllable. It looks exactly like the plural of the noun vestito, (dress, suit) as in the following example, but sounds different. When used in the plural, i vestiti means "clothes."

Eh, andate a cercare i vestiti per la festa. Forza, via, via.

Yeah, go find some clothes for the party. Go on, get going, get going.

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 11

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Once you're dressed

Once you have dressed, you are wearing something. We can use indossare, of course, but we can also use the verb portare (to carry).

 

7) Let's say you are asking this question, not to a friend, but to your boss, or to your Italian mother in law, with whom you are on formal terms. What would you say?

 

Secondo me dovresti portare la gonna più spesso perché ti sta molto bene.

In my opinion, you should wear a skirt more often. It looks very good on you.

Caption 25, Il Commissario Manara S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 6

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8) What's another way to say the same thing? There's more than one!

 

We've talked about different verbs we can use to talk about getting dressed and wearing clothes: vestire (used reflexively) indossare (transitive), mettersi un vestito (reflexive with a direct object), portare (transitive). Find out more about clothing in this video from Marika. Adriano also talks about clothes to wear in the different seasons.

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Now to some solutions for the quiz questions scattered throughout the lesson:

 

1) E poi, se proprio servisse di indossare un abito, potrei farlo io. -No, tu no.

2) Al momento della scomparsa, era vestita con un paio di jeans chiari, delle scarpe da ginnastica anonime...

3) Eh, scusate, commissario, ma cosa ci dobbiamo mettere?

4) Ecco perché indossava un vestito così elegante.

5a) Tu che cosa indossi/indosserai? Io avevo pensato di indossare il vestito rosso.

5b) Come ti vesti? Io avevo pensato di vestirmi di rosso. 

Io avevo pensato di vestirmi con il vestito rosso.  

Io avevo pensato di mettermi il vestito rosso.

6) Dai, forza, vestitevi!

7) Secondo me dovrebbe portare la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

8) Secondo me dovrebbe indossare la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

Secondo me dovrebbe mettersi la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

 

Afterword: When we use the reflexive verb vestirsi, it's tricky because we can't use a direct object after it as we can with mettersi. We need the conjuction con (with) after it, or an adverbial phrase, which answers the question come (how).

One such phrase that comes to mind is: Vestirsi a cipolla (to dress in layers).

Quando vado in montagna, mi vesto sempre a cipolla (I always dress in layers [literally, "onion-style") when I go mountain climbing).

 

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