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A La bella figura philosophy

January 7th, 2010

A very Italian and la bella figura philosophy is to care for your belongings. Taking care of what you own shows respect for yourself, respect for your belongings and respect for the planet.

The classic example is the Italian man or woman who drives the older vehicle and spends weekends polishing it and caring for it so it always looks like new.

It is also about keeping those old shoes polished and your clothes ironed and your house spotless (I have a problem with this last one, especially with two small kids).

It is about meticulously cleaning your appliances, such as your blender, after each use.

It is taking care of everything you own so it will serve you well and last for years.

It isn’t about tossing something that is broken or needs to be repaired unless it is a hopeless case. It is about trying not to buy anything that is “disposable” that is meant to have a short life and then meant to be tossed.

Instead of discarding what you own so readily, try to figure out if you can fix something that is broken or find a new use for an item before you pass it on. I am trying to do this.

There is a fine balance between decluttering and using what you have until it no longer gives you use. I think the differences is that if you own an item, such as a toaster that works and serves your purposes but maybe isn’t the exact model or color you like — use it as long as you can before you replace it.

The idea is to not replace useful items so readily … use what you can as long as you can.

For instance, I am not overly thrilled with my winter coat, but by taking off the belt and the belt loops, I am much happier with the way it fits. With the waist belted, it looked sloppy, bulky and not chic in the least bit.  When one of the loops for the belt broke off, I decide to tug on the other one and become belt free. the only problem is I ended up with two big rips in the sides of my wool coat. Then a button came off.

Because it is wool and an expensive clothing item, my immediate thought was to take it to the tailor for repairs. I kept waiting to have enough extra money to do this. Didn’t happen. So I sat down with a needle and thread and repaired it myself. It was actually easier than I thought. The stitches aren’t great, but my repair work does not show.

Then I took my beloved trench coat and reinforced the beautiful wooden flower buttons on it. I was upset last spring when I lost one of the buttons on it. I found it crushed by a tire on the street. Luckily, I could pull off an unseen button under the collar and use that. But that was the only button left that doesn’t show, so I need to make sure I don’t lose any more.

  1. Beth G
    January 7th, 2010 at 15:23 | #1

    Beautiful wooden flower buttons indeed! I have a blazer missing a few original buttons (which were ugly plastic anyway) and have been on the lookout for wonderful wooden buttons. It makes your trench look really special. I’ve been mending, tailoring, adjusting for a while now. Taking in and hemming old skirts, cuffing a pair of paints I no longer care to wear with heels, putting hidden snaps in the “gap” areas of a couple of blouses — it really does give a new life to your wardrobe.

  2. January 7th, 2010 at 16:14 | #2

    A great way to live. From my vrious travels, I’ve always admired how Europeans have less *stuff* than Americans, yet lead happy (and stylish) lives. We need to learn this lesson from them. We should put more thought into our purchases – do we like the style, the quality; are we prepared to live with the item for a long time – and stop considering everything disposable.

  3. January 7th, 2010 at 19:18 | #3

    Great post K! It’s a good reminder too. Sometimes I forget that I know how to fix things and when I really put my mind to it, it can be done. Or even finding a solution to a problem from something else you have lying around the house. I recently had my mom re-teach me how to properly sew a hem by hand. I had forgotten!

  4. January 8th, 2010 at 10:54 | #4

    I have a terrible tendency to toss things when they “could” be repaired (mainly out of laziness) or are still good but not what I want exactly. But I’m trying to be more resourceful as far that sort of thing goes and take repairable clothing to a tailor or learn how to repair it myself and repurpose things that no longer fill the original need but could be used elsewhere. I’m also going to purchase a pretty basket of some sort to collect those things that I no longer want but are still good. Once the basket is full I pledge to donate the contents to goodwill.

  5. January 8th, 2010 at 13:55 | #5

    I think you’ve captured it exactly in the first sentence Kristi. I simply am unable to throw anything away that is good and must donate it to a charity shop as I feel disrespectful doing so if it is still usable. Same with food. By wasting food I feel disrespectful to the person who grew it or more so, the animal that provided it (meat). When an appliance or item is nearing the end of its natural life and you still use it to get the most out of it, my dad calls this ‘the free part’. Before we bought a new tv, we put up with months of the picture just disappearing for half an hour because most of the time it was OK! Then one day it died permanently and we bought a new one. I just mended/altered four items of clothing a few days ago and it was very satisfying.

  6. aaonce
    January 8th, 2010 at 14:39 | #6

    Love this post! I can never get enough of this reminder to reuse and repurpose. This subject reminds me, I should go get a new liner put into my winter coat. I also will dye a faded clothing article, shorten an outdated coat and get shoes resoled/heeled. I hate clutter and if something doesn’t work, it has to go. I also struggle with the concept of buying something new just because it is a little bit better or just newer than what I already own. I have a problem with selling items though, because I never get around to actually doing it. I am always just inclined to give away/donate said item (less time committement).

  7. January 9th, 2010 at 09:56 | #7

    great reminder post! Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without – which is an old saying that I really like to aspire to. I too hate wasting food – my Grandmother, who was a very good woman – instilled this in me. She knew that this was a daily way in which she could make a difference.
    Anyway, I get a couple of bottles of Rit black dye every year and take my black clothes (and my husbands) that look faded and put them in the laundry sink for a day or so with the dye bath. It revives them! My husband has a pair of pricey pants he bought in 1982 (!) in LA that he still occasionally wears – we refresh the dye every year and they still look great.

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What is it about those Italian women? You know the ones I’m talking about: beautiful, sexy, dressed to the nines just to take the kids to the park. They have a certain something that is indefinable. It is in the way they dress, the way they prepare their meals, the way they spend their leisure time.

It is because they know the importance of la bella figura. Roughly translated from Italian, it means putting you best foot forward in everything you do. It means cutting a beautiful figura. The opposite of la bella figura is la brutta figura, which is what someone might say about the falling down drunken guy at the party or the super tackily dressed woman at church. It means ugly figure.

La bella figura is much more than your appearance. It goes much deeper than that. It is about how you act. It is about how you treat others. It is about how you care for yourself, your home and your family. Living a life in line with la bella figura doesn’t take money. In fact, it is more about how to have class without a lot of money.

Someone who exudes la bella figura will have clean, pressed clothes and be well groomed. They will not be rude or sloppy. Their fingernails will be impeccably groomed. Their hair shiny and clean and their shoes will be polished. They will not have stray threads hanging from their suit hems. They will not be driving a car in need of the car wash.

La bella figura means driving that 15 year old car and meticulously cleaning it and caring for it. It means keeping your belongings in good repair. It means taking time to clean your house and not cluttering it up with meaningless objects.

When you focus all your spare energy, time and money on the things that bring you the most amount of pleasure, then you are truly living a life in line with la bella figura. The best part about it is that you don’t have to be Italian to do so. You just have to think like an Italian.

Italian children are raised to present la bella figura in whatever they do. From the time they are small and are groomed perfectly to attend church or school, they know that appearances count. They count because it is the first thing people judge about you. That first impression does matter. Appearances are also important because when you take the time to look nice, you are showing that you care about yourself. When you care enough to look good, it shows you have good healthy self esteem. Nothing is more attractive than self confidence.

In addition, dressing nice also shows respect for others. If you invite people over for dinner and greet them in flip flops, baggy sweats and a stained shirt, it is really disrespectful to them. The same if you dress sloppy to go to church or even to the market. By dressing nicely and being well groomed, you show respect for everyone in your world.

Having la bella figura means presenting yourself in the best light possible in all your interactions.