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Vestirsi — How We Dress

In Italian we need to learn how to use three important verbs and we are all set to talk about what we are wearing—vestirsi, mettersi, and indossare.  If we learn how to use these verbs properly, we will be able to tell others how we dress and make “small talk” about how well others are dressed — part of “fare la bella figura” (making a good impression) in Italian — just as we do in our native language!

Vestirsi

Let’s start with the Italian verb “vestirsi,” which carries the general meaning of “to get dressed.” To use this verb, just conjugate it as you would any other reflexive verb to make a simple sentence.

We need to remember that for reflexive verbs the subject pronoun of the sentence, (io, tu, Lei/lei/lui, noi, voi, loro), must be in the same person as the reflexive pronouns (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si).

This sounds simple enough. But, we also have to remember that the sentence structure in conversational Italian does not generally include the subject pronoun; the subject pronoun is understood from the verb ending, which will be unique for each speaker in the present tense. So, for conversational Italian—even for reflexive verbs— the subject pronoun is left out of the sentence. In our example table using reflexive verbs, the Italian subject pronoun will be given in parentheses for teaching purposes only.

In English, we do not convey this idea with a reflexive pronoun. So the reflexive pronoun included in the Italian sentence will be given in parentheses in the English translation.

(Io) Mi vesto. I get (myself) dressed.
(Tu) Ti vesti. You get (yourself) dressed.
(Lei/Lui) Si veste. You (polite) get (yourself)…
She/He gets (herself, himself)… dressed.
(Noi) Ci vestiamo. We get (ourselves) dressed.
(Voi) Vi vestite. You all get (yourselves) dressed.
(Loro) Si vestono. They get (themselves) dressed.

Mettersi 

When talking about putting on a particular article of clothing, such as a dress or suit (vestito) for instance, we must learn to use yet another Italian reflexive verb— mettersi, which means to put on oneself. 

Here is how it works:

Mettersi can be used to convey three different types of English sentences: I put on the dress,” “I put on my dress,” and “I put my dress on.” The reflexive pronoun mi (myself) is placed before the conjugated form of mettersi, and the article of clothing to be put on is then placed after the verb. The subject pronoun is omitted, as usual. So the final translation for “I put on the/my dress” is, “Mi metto il vestito.” 

If this all sounds complicated, just remember the simple phrase “mi metto” and replace il vestito with the article of clothing of your choice and you will be able to describe getting dressed with any article of clothing!

To describe action in the tu (you) form, just conjugate mettersi normally and then add the article of clothing, as in “ti metti.” For the lei/lui (she/he) form, use “si mette,” and so on.

(Io) Mi metto il vestito. I put on the dress./I put the dress on./I put on my dress.
(Tu) Ti metti l’anello. You put on the ring.
(Lei/lui) Si mette le scarpe. She/he puts on shoes.

*A note: Don’t confuse the verb vestire with the noun vestito, which means dress and also suit (pants and jacket or skirt and jacket). These words are similar but have different meanings! Also, it should be mentioned that the plural noun, vestiti, means clothing. (Other words for suit that can be used for both sexes are abito and completo.)

Portare

In order to sayI am wearing…”  or I take the size…”  the verb portare, which is not reflexive, is usually used in the  simple present tense. You no doubt remember that portare is also commonly used to mean to bring” or to carry.” 

Porto il mio vestito preferito. I am wearing my favorite dress.
Porto la (taglia) quarantotto. I take size 48.

Past Tense Verb Choices

When speaking in the past tense, portare can also be used to say, I wore…” But, perhaps because portare is used so commonly with its other meaning of to bring”  in the present tense, in order to describe what they have worn in the past, most Italians prefer to revert to mettersi and use its (irregular) past participle messo

Remember to use the helping verb essere for the passato prossimo past tense form with the reflexive verb mettersi. And, of course the last vowel of the past participle must agree in gender with the person wearing the clothing (see the red vowels), since we are using essere as the helping verb. The table below shows how this all works:

(Io) Mi sono messo un completo.
(Io) Mi sono messa una gonna.
I wore a suit. (masculine)
I wore a skirt. (feminine)
Ho portato una gonna. I wore a skirt.

Another way to describe how someone was dressed is to use the imperfetto past tense of essere with the descriptive past participle vestito(a,i,e).   This type of phrase can be used to make generalizations, as well as to refer to a specific article of clothing. When being specific, the preposition con (with) is used in these phrases, as in the examples below.

Era vestito con un abito grigio. He was dressed in a gray suit.
Era vestita con una gonna blu. She was dressed in a blue skirt.
Eravamo vestiti tutti in rosso per la festa. We were dressed all in red for the party.

Indossare

The verb indossare also means “to wear” and “to put on.”  This verb is used in exactly the same way as portare or mettersi. To the Italian ear, however, the verb indossare is said to have a more elegant sound than portare or mettersi, and perhaps this is why indossare is more common in written Italian than in conversation.

Just like the other two verbs that have the same meaning, indossare must always be followed by the article of clothing that the person is wearing.

Caterina indossa un abito rosso. Kathryn is wearing a red dress.
La signora indossava un cappotto molto elegante. The lady was wearing a very elegant coat.

Finally, when something fits perfectly on you or another, to really fit into Italian society, use the common expression calzare a pennello.”  Calzature refers to the art of making shoes, or “footwear,” so this Italian saying is the equivalent of  the English saying, It fits you like a glove” or It fits you to a T.”

Mi calza a pennello! It fits me perfectly!
Ti calza a pennello! It fits you perfectly!
Gli/Le calza a pennello! It fits (on) him/her perfectly!

Remember how to the Italian verbs vestirsi, mettersi, portare and indossare when talking about clothing and I guarantee you will use the every day!

If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE.

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

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