What is La Bella Figura?


“Their suits, their shirts, their ties, their shoes, their haircuts, even their fingernails were all beyond perfection … bella figura … no American businessman without Italian blood would lavish the time, money and attention that were necessary to look the way they did. To present a bella figura to the world, no matter what was going on inside, was an Italian tradition that reached from the nobility to the peasants.” — Judith Krantz writing in The Lovers. 

La bella figura roughly translated means cutting a beautiful figure, an Italian philosophy that means putting careful thought into the face you present to the world by taking pride in one’s appearance from shiny, clean hair to real jewelry and freshly polished shoes.

To Italians, “presenting yourself well in thought, word and deed is a matter of personal dignity,” writes Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner in “Living La Dolce Vita.”

The foreign visitor to Italy is typically amazed to observe how polished the men and women of the bel paese look, how good they appear to feel about themselves, and how graciously they interact with one another. Italian life is undeniable lived with a constant eye toward aesthetic beauty, dignity and civility. Learning to enhance the body and mind one is born with is more important than having been endowed with genetic perfection,” she writes.

To me, the Italian philosophy of La Bella Figura essentially boils down to always putting your best foot forward, not only physically but in everyway you present yourself to the world.

Stylewise,  it doesn’t mean spending thousands of dollars on clothing, makeup and jewelry. What it does mean to me is being selective, purchasing timeless, classic styles and choosing quality over quantity.It is philosophy that “less is more” – a belief not very common in the American consumer society. But in some European countries that we admire for the pleasure they take in creating a quality life, it is par for the course.

In the style bible, Simple Isn’t Easy, by Olivia Goldsmith and Amy Fine Collins, a famous French architect is quoted saying “American closets shock me. So much, too much. No one can dress well with so many clothes.”

In the same book, shoe designer Manolo Blahnik is quoted saying “It is a question of selection, to choose less. That is something Americans do not understand. They think that more is better.”

 So, yes, I may own a gorgeous purse, but it’s one of only two purses in my closet.Again: it’s a question of choosing less not more. For me less is more means I would rather scrimp and save my money to buy a beautifully cut pairs of jeans that flatter me and will give me years of wear.And sure living this way most likely means delaying instant gratification.

Saving money to buy what you want is not something we are used to in these days of instant credit, mass mailing of credit card approvals and the ability to purchase almost anything we might desire online in the privacy of our own home.What it will mean is an increased satisfaction and appreciation for the things we do own and the desire to care for them so they will last and give us as much pleasure for as long as possible.