What not to wear

Where are all those stylish Italians? I've never met one

As I write this, I am in Italy. It is impossible to convey the amount of noise present in a Nea politan kitchen, but suffice it to say that everything is said in the accusatory. Example: "Would you like a cup of coffee?" Answer: "Do you want to kill me? I had one this morning and one's enough - the doctor said if I had any more I'd be on a insulin drip for the rest of my life."

I love it. This is the only place on earth I've ever been to where the newsreaders use hand gestures while reading the day's bulletin. However, we've eaten pasta every day and my trousers are biting into my midriff.

Everyone who has never been to Italy says it's full of stylish people. All my life I've searched for them, but without success. My father is from the north, my mother from the south (they are my exception to this rule), and I've travelled through many of the bits in between. As an infant, I would spend half the year here. I've been to Vogue in Milan and, yes, there are stylish people there, but no more so than those who work at British Vogue. Actually, I would say our counterparts are better dressed. The cavernous wardrobe where the clothes were stored - an entire floor - was impressive, however. Maybe you read this and are a stylish Italian; well, good for you, but I've never met you.

The concept of style definitely - in my experience - gets more complicated the further south you go. Here, more is more and more still is fabulous. If a bow or a ruffle can be added, that's a job well done. Weddings and baptisms are wonderful events to see just how much ruching can be worn in one place. Between those heady occasions the Sunday-morning passeggiata - after church, before lunch - is a good place to see fake animal prints, rah-rah skirts, military styl ing and intricately knitted dresses. Sportswear is valid only if it has some manner of logo across the chest and down the leg. It must be English and say something like "y me 4ever". My teeth ache with the sugariness of it all.

Clothes shopping is not much fun, either, because although there are department stores, there are also lots of independent boutiques. These are great if you like a very face-to-face fashion moment when you shop. I don't. I like to look, try on and reject or select in privacy and anonymity. I don't want to walk into a shop and have to ask to see things or have the owner follow me round - especially when I'm not really sure what I want anyway.

None of this matters, because I don't come to Italy for clothes. I come to be ridiculed for the simple and humble outfits I wear and to be treated as if I'm 12. This time, I have my mother, two aunts and an uncle, all treating me like the child I still am, at heart. It's glorious.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Election fever