I don’t know if it’s called a “wardrobe changeover” in English, but here in Italy, as you probably know, most people do a thing called the “cambio di stagione”. Twice a year, for summer and winter clothes, we swap the contents of our cupboard for the items dedicated to the other season, since nobody has a closet large enough to fit all four seasons (yes, we do have fall and spring here, hooray!). Never more than this year, at the edge of a pandemic that has changed our daily habits and re-set our minds, has this seasonable wardrobe moment been so significant. For me, this past few years have been about finding health through activity, so right now my wardrobe is pretty sporty, and the change of season seems to warrant some new activewear! For this reason, I grabbed my shopping partner Tracy and headed to Barberino Designer Outlet.

Overlooking the Sieve and planning the day’s shopping

As a child I was never very sporty (think skinny, weak ankles and not good at ice skating, awful for a Canadian), but oddly enough, as an adult in Italy I am more active than most people, to the point that they seem to think I’m an athlete. Lately I’ve been trying to live up to this image. The pandemic reminded us of our imminent mortality and I think for a lot of people it has re-set our priorities. For me, it’s forced me to focus on my health. I realize that I feel best when I do sports, and the more I work on my fitness level, the better my overall health, energy and creativity is.

I still feel like I look too skinny, but I’ve got more strength and energy now than 15 years ago

I just turned 45 and I have two chronic autoimmune diseases, so keeping my body in a reasonable state of health could be a full time job. I have another job that requires most of my time (at a communications agency), but I make sure I set aside time in my week for a personal training session and a tennis game, maybe a long walk or hike, and I also have to do a little bit of stretching every day to combat arthritic stiffness. I have even signed up for competitive level tennis and brought home some cups this year, which is very exciting! This takes time out of my work, yes, but it makes it possible for me to work better. So take that, boss, if you’re reading.

Not to brag, but my doubles partner (who is 10 years older than I am!) and I actually won a pretty competitive tournament against these fit young ladies. It felt good.

Since March 2020, I’ve been working from home, which means on one hand I miss having colleagues and being right in the center of Florence every day, but on the other hand gives me more flexibility when it comes to exercise. And, as it may also be for you, my wardrobe has become limited to a few very comfortable items in constant rotation. Dresses, proper shoes, makeup and handbags are out, sweatpants with zoom-friendly tops and sweaters are in. My tendency towards total comfort has well and truly won over.

This year my summer wardrobe change involved more purging than usual. I keep things forever, including things from when I was a different size. Usually, if I am ever that size again, by that time it’s gone out of style, or my body shape has changed so the stuff will never fit, but I still keep those linen pants I bought in 2004 because they were good quality at the time.

I’ve bitten the bullet though when it comes to my gym stuff. Most of what I have was purchased when I took up tennis again in 2008, when we lived for 6 months in Atlanta, Georgia, and hitting up the sales racks of outlet stores was my full time job (bliss!). While at least one skirt from that era has remained amongst my favourites, others are too large or the wrong style for my body as it is now. So these have been set aside for charity, as have various other quite nice items that I hope someone else can use somewhere.

Where to buy activewear in Florence

This leads us to the question of the day: where does one buy cute sports clothing in Florence? If you ever go to the gym or tennis court in Italy, everyone looks really chic, but downtown Florence has literally one sports store. I’ve had some luck buying things online, but I draw the line at sports bras and any kind of structured trousers, which one really needs to try on.

Trying on summer hiking gear at the Colombia store at Barberino Designer Outlet

The best in-store place I’ve found to buy activewear in the Florence area is at Barberino Designer Outlet, part of the McArthurGlen group. It’s located in the Mugello area, just one highway exit north of the city, so it’s really easy to get to.

Over the years, this outlet center has transitioned from holding luxury brands to more casual clothing and sports clothing, which I think has proven a winning strategy in the current fashion landscape. They have numerous sports brands that are my wardrobe staples like Asics for shoes and some tennis stuff, as well as Colombia, Solomon and The North Face for mountain-related gear. And of course, as you probably know, Italian stores can only officially have sales once per season, but the outlet guarantees discounted prices year round – up to 70% off, in fact – so you can actually get sales-type deals at the beginning of the season when you need something (that said, the sales at the outlet are also particularly awesome).

A day at the outlet in search of cute sports clothes

This year I planned a morning at Barberino Designer Outlet after reconsidering my summer wardrobe. As I mentioned, I keep things for many years and I do this for various reasons. First of all, I’m cheap. I particularly dislike buying expensive things that I may not use a lot. Second, we don’t have that much space to store things, so I have a strict out-before-in policy when it comes to clothes and shoes. Third, I try to be sustainable in my lifestyle choices. I’m not an extremist about that, but I do think hard before accumulating things, and consider that I’ve made a sustainable choice if I wear something for a decade and then pass it on for future use by others.

Ready to recycle 2 bags of clothes and get my discount card! Note the temperature taking station behind me at the entrance.

So can an outlet shopping day be sustainable? First of all, I was very happy to read that Barberino Designer Outlet has activated a clothing recycling program. Shoppers who bring a bag of used clothing are given a 10% discount card valid in most of the center’s stores. But what I like most about this is that they sort the items between donating for use or recycling for material. I’m not sure if the charity boxes around town manage fabric recycling so I feel better knowing that especially certain cotton items will easily be regenerated. In Tuscany, nearby Prato has a long history of textile recycling and I’ve had the chance to visit factories that sort and renew fabrics, a fascinating process that saves a ton of water and energy and is an important part of that city’s economy.

The very pretty and green "village" emulates Tuscan architecture on the banks of the Sieve river.

Second, doing my research, I learned that this outlet mall uses 100% green energy, including having some 3000 square meters of their own solar panels installed, while water for irrigation of the pleasant trees and flowers that green this space is recycled rainwater. Finally, it’s nice to support a place that provides good employment for a lot of people in the Mugello, both directly at shops and indirectly by developing tourism in an area that boasts wild, untouched nature and attractive small towns.

Federico at the Asics store was particularly "simpatico"!

Having planned ahead and prepared a list of my “wants”, I set out with my friend Tracy to seek: a post-tennis zipped hoodie in an easy to wash material, a tennis skirt or outfit, summer hiking pants for an upcoming mountain trip, and maybe some practical tops.

The outlet at Barberino is open from 10am to 8pm and my approach has always been to arrive at opening time in order to get parking right near the entrance and to avoid potential crowds. In the end, we really did not have to worry about crowds, or feel unsafe at any time. The outlet center is set up like an ideal Tuscan village, with wide walkways providing access to the stores. Of course, temperature is taken at the entrance, hand gel is provided everywhere, signage ensures distancing, and everyone was very respectful of this and of mask use.

I'm happy with my mountain purchases

The hunt for the perfect hiking outfit for an upcoming trip kicked off at Columbia, the brand my winter hiking pants are in (they are such a great fit, they look better than any jeans I own). I did find a well-priced black pair, and also considered a technical tank top. At The North Face, I tried hiking shorts (I just don’t feel good in shorts, do you?) and found the cutest windbreaker, super light to carry in a pack (because when you are in the mountains you know you should always have a way to cover up when weather changes abruptly). This store has a rather larger section dedicated to mens’ clothes, and in fact I got a pair of shorts for my husband that I have a feeling he will wear all the time.

Feeding my tennis habit, I went into almost every sports store; Tracy is a darling for coming along and she got some leggings and running shoes. I found what I think is a very cute outfit at Asics, the brand that I usually associate with shoes – a practical white skirt in a really light technical material and a warm-up top. Sales staff Federico and Niccolò were adorable in helping me and trying to convince me to add some colour to my wardrobe!

Feeding my theory that tennis skirts are the best kind of clothes

The stores are about 40 minutes from my house at the south side of Florence so, having finished our shopping, we opted to stay for lunch at one of the restaurants offering outdoor seating and people-watching opportunities.

I chose the grill, called Il Torracchione, because although I used to be vegetarian, ever since I can’t eat pasta, grilled chicken and fish have become a huge part of my diet. I had chicken, Tracy had a pepper steak, and we shared some sides including the deadly delicious fried artichokes. Needless to say, mall-food in Tuscany is yummy. Here, too, service was very much with a smile; after all this time of staying home, everyone is feeling particularly sociable.

All in all, it was a fun and rewarding day out, and with my new gear, I’ll be extra motivated to work out!



This article is part of a collaboration with Barberino Designer Outlet managed by McArthurGlen.

Photos by Tracy Russo

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