View from here - Grumble or grin as the grembiule returns

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Italy's glamorous new education minister wants to see traditional school attire, says Michael Fitzpatrick

In a country where even police uniforms are designed by Armani, it is a surprise to see school kids roll up to the gates in nothing more formal than low-slung jeans.

Italy's glamorous new, young and reform-minded education minister Gabriella Giammanco plans to change all that.

From the start of the new school year she has called for the reintroduction of the school smock - the grembiule, which literally means apron.

It's actually more than an apron. Smarter than the kind of smocks British kids used to wear in art class and the colourful gowns that most pre-schoolers wear in Italy, the grembiule is designed for pupils to wear over their normal attire.

They are traditionally black affairs with white collars, garnished with blue tassels for boys and pink for girls.

The hope is, according to Silvio Berlusconi's right-leaning party's education minister, to put an end to the parade of eight-year-olds bearing their midriffs or wearing sloppy gangster jeans riding below the buttocks (a trend as popular here as in the US and the UK).

So far, parents have applauded the measure - at least those who are perhaps now young enough not to remember the last time uniforms were made compulsory - in fascist Italy.

Pupils were forced to wear them all their waking hours. And girls had to wear them in high school too, in a futile attempt to make them less interesting to boys in co-ed classrooms.

But the smocks were so detested by the children that in the post-war era they were largely ditched for casual clothes. And since the 1960s, the kids' approach to sartorial elegance has generally followed the rest of the Americanised western world.

Young people's casual wear in Italy is not quite as scruffy as that in Britain or the US. This is partly because of parental competitiveness. Even the poorest shell-suit-wearing mum - and they really do exist in Italy - spends a lot to keep their bambini looking respectable.

However, some cannot keep up with other parents who succeed in dressing their offspring from head to toe in Prada.

And therein lies the problem, says the minister. "We need to reintroduce a sense of social equality between children from a young age," she said.

Miss Giammanco certainly has a flair for dressing well herself. The former journalist is one of many attractive young ministers and MPs who has caught Mr Berlusconi's attention.

Last year the prime minister found himself in trouble after he was caught exchanging flirtatious notes with Miss Giammanco and her fellow MP Nunzia De Girolamo during a parliamentary session.

"Gabri, Nunzia, you look very good sitting there together," one said. "If you have any gallants who have invited you to lunch, I authorise you to go. Many kisses to both of you!!! Your prime minister."

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