The Italian Tabarro–Making a Triumphant Comeback Amongst the World’s Most Fashionable Men

A Tabarro by Tabarrificio Veneto

Some things cannot be improved upon. The tabarro of Italy is one such thing—so much so that even in the fickle, ever-changing world of fashion, its design has remained virtually unaltered since Roman times. A tabarro is a mantle: a loose, sleeveless, cloak or cape, its predecessor the toga. The Italian word “tabarro” (as well as the Spanish “tabardo,” French “tabart,” and English “tabard”) derives from the Latin “tabard,”

To see a tabarro is to immediately understand why it has stood the test of time: It is a one-size-fits-all garment, so once a young man attains his adult stature, he can invest in a tabarro and wear it for the rest of his life, regardless of his weight fluctuations; the style flatters all body-types; the garment’s design is a simple, classic, circular shape with no sleeves or should pads, allowing for effortless wear; the native Italian wools from which the tabarro is constructed are at once durable and exquisite; and the coat comes in various lengths, from full-length, which is a perfect complement to formal wear, to the shorter versions, which may serve as the perfect overcoat for a business suit. And when topped with a “cappelo liston” and accessorized with an “alamaro seta” or “alamaro conchiglia argento” closure, the cloak can transform a man into a gentleman of distinction. For the young, 21st -century gentleman who possesses the panache and je ne sais quoi to effortlessly give new life to an old classic, the tabarro is a wardrobe essential.

Unlike high-quality formal topcoats, which can be prohibitively expensive for many a young man, the tabarro, primarily because of its simplicity, has remained attainable by the average man throughout its long and storied history. For centuries, practically every Italian man wore a tabarro during the cool months: It was the Italian equivalent of the South American poncho—but open all the way up the center-front. Then, in the early 1900s, when it became fashionable for Italians of means to travel to Paris and London to shop for fine clothing, worldly Italian men would purchase topcoats in those cities and wear them upon their return to Italy. In cities such as Rome, Milan, and Florence, a fashionable man was expected to wear a long-sleeved, button-up, collar-and-lapel topcoat rather than the traditional tabarro. And by the 1950s and ’60s, the topcoat had become popular even in the rural areas of Italy, the tabarro being worn only by very traditional elderly men. But in the 1960s, just as the tabarro was about to be packed up into trunks and stored away in dusty attics to thereafter be forgotten by time, there was a concerted effort to preserve the ancient garment as an Italian tradition. And by the middle of the 1970s, the firm Tabarrificio Veneto (www.tabarro.it ), founded by Venetian-born Sandro Zara, had taken the lead in that preservation effort. Zara’s aim was to remain true to the traditional tabarro that he had seen worn by his father, grandfather, and other Italian gentlemen during the cold, gray, Venetian winters. To that end, he conducted research in museums and archives and consulted vintage pieces in private collections in order to decipher the authentic fabrics, designs, and construction techniques of the classic tabarri (plural of “tabarro”). It is those old models and the fabrics from which they were made, some of which were reinterpreted by Zara to suit modern realities, that serve as the basis of the collection offered today at Tabarrificio Veneto. And even today, 50 years later, each garment produced at the firm is cut and sewn, one by one (as was the ancient tradition), numbered, and then labeled with the name of the model.

About 10 styles are offered in various fabric and color options, from model “15/18,” a short, above-the-knee, business man’s cloak, originally worn by troops and officers during World War I and made from a sturdy wool that is produced in the High Piave area, near the Dolomites, the cloak’s name having derived from the years during which Italy participated in the Great War, to “Ambasciata,” a full-length cloak historically worn by Venetians for an audience with the pope, or by members of the diplomatic corp, hence the garment’s name. But for a young, fashionable, 21st -century gentleman who is interested in wearing a tabarro as an alternative to a formal topcoat to complement black tie dress or white tie dress, three full-length styles should be considered: “Nobilomo,” “Lustrissimo,” and “Ambasciata.” Nobilomo is an exceedingly elegant cloak, its origins being with the military. It is characterized by its distinctive collar of velvet and decorative neck-closure of silver or burnished metal. Venetian nobles (hence the name) would wear the coat to do “the liston”—promenade in Piazza San Marco—or to attend the theater. Tabarrificio Veneto’s present-day Lustrissimo is a faithful replica of the original that gives it rise—an old cloak discovered in an attic, the inside of the garment bearing a worn-out, embroidered label identifying the cloak’s long-dead original owner and a barely legible “Lustrissimo,” an appellation once reserved for Venice’s noble citizens. The cloak is closed at the neck by a chain connected to two fixed studs, each featuring a lion’s head in relief, called “mascheroni,” the regal beast the symbol of Venice, or, alternatively, a decorative, knotted closure of black silk cording called “alamaro seta.” The Ambasciata’s design is similar to that of the Lustrissimo, except that the former features a full-length, crimson-colored facing, a detail which makes for an occasional flash of glamor as a gust flips a flap of the coat, or as its hemline is cavalierly tossed over the shoulder as its wearer steps out a gondola and into Teatro La Fenice.

Five principal fabrics, all milled specifically for Tabarrificio Veneto, are used to construct the tabarri: “panno orsetto,” comprised of 90% virgin wool and 10% cashmere; “panno piave,” a replica of the original woolen cloth used by the Italian troops during World War I, characterized by its robust, rustic qualities and produced from 100% virgin wool of the Alpagota sheep, a breed native to Venice; “panno nobile,” also of 100% virgin wool, but softer than pianno piave and available only in a dark gray mélange that is used primarily to construct a business man’s tabarro that is worn mainly by professional men such as lawyers and doctors; “velour alta uniforme,” a superfine 100% virgin wool with a lustrous, satin finish, produced exclusively for Tabarrificio Veneto by the mill Loro Piana; and “panno laguna,” a cloth that replicates the classic one of the past, but because of a modern-day steam treatment applied during the weaving process, the modern cloth, comprised of 80% wool and 20% polyester, is 100% waterproof.

Tabarrificio Veneto, besides being known for its exquisite tabarri, is also known for its impeccable affiliations. While the shorter, more casual styles of tabarri are sometimes worn with a traditional hat called “cappellacio,” made of naturally waterproof rabbit fur, the more formal tabarri are worn with a black “cappelo liston.” In Italy, a man dressed in formal wear and wearing a tabarro wears a capello liston, not a top hat. The consummate manufacturer of both the cappellacio and the cappelo liston styles is the Piedmont-based firm of “Barbisio,” exclusive supplier of hats for the Tabarrificio Veneto firm. And when Tabarrificio Veneto ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to market its tabarri and accessories in the United States, it joined forces with Barney’s New York, arguably America’s finest purveyor of men’s clothing.

It is often said that “what goes around, comes around….” Perhaps the timeless circular shape of the tabarro of Venice will make a triumphant return in the 21st century, this time adorning men not only of Italy, but of the whole, wide world. And who knows…With Fifty Shades of Grey being all the rage, the tabarro just might make its comeback with a vengeance!

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One thought on “The Italian Tabarro–Making a Triumphant Comeback Amongst the World’s Most Fashionable Men

  1. Delightful article describing the Tabarro.

    An intriguing detail: the black knotted cord “alamaro seta” can be seen on capes that are evening and formal wear for military officers.

    That same “alamaro seta” sometimes appears on formal cloaks worn by clergy for civilian occasions and on some opera cloaks.

    Decades ago, I took a memorable course on 19th century novels taught by a professor who
    was born and raised in Venice. Sadly, this was in Los Angeles, too hot for anyone to wear
    a tabarro. I would bet anything that Don Pasinetti owned one – he was a proud Venetian and brought a wealth of inside knowledge to his seminar, and wrote at least one novel himself.

    AK

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