Can you spot a tourist a kilometre away? After living in Italy for weeks, months or even years, are you afraid you still look like one? For women, clothing and accessories are never simple. There are so many choices that at times it can be overwhelming. If you are ready to adapt to Italian style there is one important thing you must understand. The objective is not to blend in. Italian women take great pride in putting themselves together in the bella figura. To show off ones best features is the idea, so to blend in you must strive to stand out. Once you get your mind around this you can get on with it. But where do you begin to acquire that Italian flavour? In a nutshell, here are three key ingredients:

1. Shoes. Nothing makes or breaks a look like footwear. Leave the tennis shoes for tennis and the walking shoes for the park. Spice comes from style, not comfort. The hottest design this season conveniently incorporates pointed toes and high heels in the same shoe for maximum discomfort. When shoe designers were creating this springs offering, it is doubtful they concerned themselves with practicality. If they had, they wouldnt have manufactured four-inch heels for streets paved with cobbles. Credit goes to the women promenading in these shoes: not wincing, not complaining and not watching where they step. It is a wonder that they never seem to look down and never get their heels caught between the stones. When I asked Simona, who runs a pensione with her family, about shoes, a huge smile crossed her face. She proudly showed me one of her favourite pairs, which just happened to have pointed toes and high heels. I asked if they were comfortable and she immediately shook her head and the smile disappeared. When asked how she walks in them, she replied: S-l-o-w-l-y.

2. Denim. Jeans have been a wardrobe staple for years, but do you have the new-aged ones? New meaning trendy and aged meaning they have gone through some kind of ageing process perhaps being chaffed with a cheese grater or sandblasted. They might also have been seasoned with a dash of bleach or a teaspoon of glitter. To modify your old jeans, go to your nearest piazza and scoot around on the steps for a related effect, but dont forget the fit. The leg should start out a bit wide and taper near the calf, then actually become part of the body from there on up. Denim jackets and skirts are important too. The key is for the fabric to appear as if it has more years on it than you do.

3. Crystal nose stud. What once was bizarre is now considered mainstream. This garnish is not what you would see in mainstream America maybe, but this is Rome, not Little Rock. Hip mommies have them. Simona has one and remarked that having it done did not hurt at all.

Despite having these three basics, you still risk being taken for a tourist if you cling to certain routines from home. Painted fingernails mark you as a foreigner given that nail polish is applied only for very special occasions. Sunhats or baseball caps are dead give-aways, as is showing too much skin. Italian women love to look sexy and it is very important for men to notice them on the street, said Simona. But this doesnt mean overt nakedness. Italian women infer a more subtle sexiness by keeping their bodies fit and wearing slim-cut clothing. Brassiere straps are a look that tries not to be one. The idea is to let your bra strap show but not to look like youre trying. It cant be a dingy, elasticated, old-fashioned bra strap either. Care must be taken to purchase a new bra with transparent plastic straps. Yes, transparent, because you dont want what is supposed to show to show too much.

Trends are fleeting and new ones will be sprouting up by the time you read this. So how, you may be wondering, do Italian women afford a new wardrobe each season? Cristina, an Italian friend, explained that it isnt necessary anymore to buy the expensive designer brands. In fact, she said it is considered hip to wear knock offs. She even heard a celebrity claiming on television that she had purchased counterfeit designs. Cristina added: A lot of women work but still live at home, allowing them extra discretionary income.

Rome has scores of inexpensive shops carrying todays fashionable styles. Jacche Calzature offers sample shoes and shoes worn in fashion shows for hard-to-believe prices, simply 21 or 31 a pair. There are two locations, both in Trastevere: Via Benedetta 9 and Vicolo del Cinque 24/b. During the winter clearance boots sold for 15 a pair. Jeans with splattered paint and appropriate fading are available for just 10 at the Porta Portese outdoor market located at Via Portuense and Via Ippolito Nievo. Market hours are Sundays 06.30-14.00. Many shops offer brassieres with transparent straps for around 20 and the cost of a nose piercing is around 25 including the stud.