A practical guide on how to dress for the Vatican

A practical guide on how to dress when visiting the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Consider that the most beautiful works of art are found in churches - it is not worth missing them for a fashion faux- pas! 

What are the rules

In all churches of Rome, and Italy for that matter, it is strictly forbidden to enter with bare legs and arms. This is most true for St. Peter's Basilica. Security outside will not only search your bags, but they will also check if you have appropriate clothing before allowing you to pass.   Unfortunately, the signs stating the dress code are at the entrance, and visitors arriving at the end of the line will not see them until it’s too late.

Be prepared 

In the height of summer, tourists wait in a long queue to enter St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. You might be tempted to wear a tank top and shorts, or a cute sundress for stylish photos, but you will be kicking yourself when the guards turn you away. Many a street vendor has made sales to ill- prepared visitors, providing cheesy souvenir scarves to cover women’s shoulders.   Don’t fall into this trap!   You might also be discouraged, and not even see the architectural marvel, after realizing you will have to stand under the scorching sun all over again, once you have found appropriate attire.

Dress code for the Vatican 

If you are planning to hike the 500 steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, which is stunning, keep in mind the narrow stairwells and physical exertion you will encounter. Wear good shoes! 

For women, I recommend keeping a shawl and a pair of leggings in your purse if you are visiting in warm months. Quickly pull the leggings on under a dress and throw the shawl over your arms. In the winter, one of those lightweight jackets that can roll up into a satisfyingly small bundle to place in your backpack, will make it easier to move around the crowded corridors of the museums. Men should wear comfortable pants and shirts that cover their shoulders to be sure that they are admitted to one of the most beautiful sites in Rome. 

Here are some answers to some of the most frequently askes questions:

1. Are t-shirts, turtlenecks, and tank tops allowed?

When visiting the Vatican, sleeveless blouses, tank tops, and vest tops are not allowed.

2. What to wear while at the Vatican during the summer?

Most visits to Rome happen during summer. As expected, most travelers prefer to wear clothing that is less restrictive. Before you cancel this arrangement, remember there are ways you can keep cool to remain in everyone’s good books.

Take care of what goes into your suitcase. For instance, lightweight trousers made from linen or cotton are perfect and meet the Vatican dress code standards.

The all-weather all-environment jeans work too, but you might want to take precautions when it comes to wearing shirts and shorts. A skirt can do fine but a mini skirt is an absolute no-no. If you had to make an impromptu visit to the Vatican but lack the right attire, purchase a pair of cheap trousers or a skirt. 

3. What should I wear on my feet when heading to the Vatican?

There are no specific regulations that dictate what you wear on your feet. It does not mean you can go wild or unguarded when choosing footwear. Like every other part of your wardrobe, remain on the side of caution to avoid drawing unwanted attention.

If it were up to me, I would recommend something flat, and silent. During summer, sandals and flats are acceptable rather than flip flops. 

4. What about wearing a hat?

 During summer it sounds like a good idea to shelter your forehead from the scorching sun rays with a baseball cap. In winter, people opt for ear muffs and woolen hats to maintain warmth. Other accessories carried when on vacation are rucksacks, suitcases, and containers. Carry a long-sleeve and light scarf inside your bag before making the trip to the Vatican.

5. What men should observe about the Vatican dress code

Leave the sweatpants or ripped jeans for the gym. Do not come with a baseball cap or any other hat for that matter as you cannot wear it indoors. Choose complete clothing that covers most of your body, a good example would be trousers and slacks.

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