Florence women, the quintessence of femininity

Designer Elio Fronterrè, born in Ischia, cannot be considered a flag-waving person when he says: “I’m in love with Florence, I really like how Florence women dress, they have that something intellectual, uncaring about fashion dictates, although they always follow trends eventually. But they’re also a little frou-frou“.

Perhaps Fronterrè is not completely familiar with the spirit that pervades Florence women, since they’re far from being frou-frou. Must not have read Franco Sacchetti’s poem, dated 1354 and entitled with the hardly reassuring name: “Battle between the beautiful women of Florence and the elderly.” Basically, it tells the story of the war that the ‘gorgeous’ girls of Florence, led by Queen Costanza degli Strozzi, declared on the old ladies of the city for having disturbed a party in honor of their beauty. It’s a war with all the trimmings, with factions supported by their own lovers: the young and brave on the one side, and “vile amateurs, beggars and porters” on the other (says Carducci, quoting the poem). The fact that Sacchetti was about to marry a Strozzi, suggests what power Florentine girls have always had over men. Well, just think about the 100 cantos and 14,000 lines on Dante’s road to Beatrice!

Their relationship with men has always been a problem for Florence women. Obviously it’s not their fault. On many Internet forum discussions men often complain that Florentine women don’t take them too seriously, especially when they overdo with sappy and syrupy SMSs. “It’s not to be mean,” Florence women say “but you’re just ridiculous“.

Because Florentine women especially like laughing. Sweet nothings are OK only after enjoyment and fun. So you cannot tell a Florentine woman “Your eyes are like the valleys of river Arno, where life shines bright”, if you first haven’t made her laugh with irreverent anecdotes, and reckless, blasphemous and goliardic stories.

It is not difficult to understand the reasons why Florentine women have always shown off such confidence, sometimes even cheeky. They were born in the cradle of culture and art, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and they know it since time immemorial. How could they ever be unassuming and lacking self-esteem? They bear this great self-satisfaction feeling that is quite sensational: as a proof of this, when Forese Donati meets his friend Dante again in canto XXIII of the Purgatory, he says:

“… To the unblushing womankind of Florence
To go about displaying breast and paps.
What savages were e’er, what Saracens,
Who stood in need, to make them covered go,
Of spiritual or other discipline?

Which means: how do these shameless Florentine women (compared to barbarian and Saracen) dare to go around showing their breasts and, therefore, this great self-confidence? Only by punishment and deterrence they would be persuaded to cover themselves.

Florence ladies couldn’t be different than they are. They have a history of awareness behind them that makes them strong and determined. When they run fast in the morning to their occupations, they walk on the same paths of Compiuta Donzella, the first Italian poet to compose in vernacular language in the XIII century. In a sweet sonnet about spring and love, the young, educated intellectual reiterates her disappointment for the marriage that her father has arranged for her:

Because my father doeth me great ill,
And caused me full often bitterest rue,
Since he would marry me against my will
And I have neither heart nor mind thereto.
Thus in great misery I pass the hours,
Nor am I comforted by leaves and flowers“.

Also, ironically, despite all the attempts to undermine their self-worth, Florentine women have never lost the habit of ensuring privileges for themselves instead. In 1728, after visiting Florence, Montesquieu pointed out: “Men move on foot. In the evening, they use small lanterns to light their way. Women travel on large carriages“.

So in the end, even though many centuries have passed, things have not changed at all. Nowadays, Florentine women are still very amiable, but far from angelic. Today, as in the time of Dante and Donati, they defy conventions and clichés, they step on stereotypes, whether they’re wearing high hills or boots.

Their temper emerges in everyday life, with determination and irony. In the XXI century, Florence women obviously like to go shopping, but with nonchalance. They leave the store windows in the historical centre of Florence for tourists and consider Via de’ Tornabuoni as a trademark. Florentine women love to slip fast towards Via degli Strozzi or Via di Santo Spirito, without even giving the impression of looking in the windows. Then, they suddenly disappear and come back on track with a sparkling package in their hands.

In a nutshell, the character of this city is very much present in the spirit of these women. Pride, verve, intelligence, good taste and of course, as already mentioned, a healthy dose of vanity. All Florentines are this way, actually, but women in particular have this great sense “playfulness” (Tobias George Smollett, 1765) both in their speech and in the ways they dress and behave. But in the end, this same joviality becomes an obstacle to overcome in order to get to know the intimate nature of Florence women.

Yet as soon as that impediment is removed, you will discover an infinite universe, full of beauty and things to learn. Just as happens in the Uffizi Gallery, where masterpieces become more and more beautiful room after room.

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