If you’re planning a trip to the Vatican in Rome, you might not be aware of the historic site’s dress code. Being the home of Catholicism and the official residence of the Pope, the Vatican implements a strict dress code policy, and not abiding by this code will most likely see you refused entry to the site.
So, what is the dress code for the Vatican, and what happens if you turn up in the wrong attire? Let’s take a look.
What to wear at the Vatican
If you’re visiting the Vatican, both men and women must abide by the following rules on dress code:
No bare shoulders
When touring the Vatican, all visitors are required to cover up their shoulders and upper arms, so you’ll want to avoid tank tops and spaghetti-strap shirts. Both men and women should also keep their shirts buttoned up at all times, and make sure that your midriff or belly isn’t showing. If you’re visiting in the summer and likely to be wearing summer-appropriate attire, you can easily bring a shawl or scarf to wrap around your shoulders during your visit – just make sure that you’re covered at all times.
No short skirts
While the Italian weather might be perfect for trying out your new favourite mini skirt, the Vatican’s rules prohibit visitors from wearing anything above the knee. Save your shorter items for when it comes to touring other Rome tourist sites, such as the Colosseum or the Pantheon.
This also applies to men; you can’t wear any shorts that sit above the knee, so make sure you’re wearing either full-length trousers or mid-length shorts that go past the knees.
No low necklines
Women must be sure to avoid any clothing that reveals too much cleavage, which means avoiding any low-cut or plunging dresses and tops. Instead, opt for long sleeves and higher necklines. While the Vatican doesn’t explicitly specify what it considers to be ‘too revealing’, erring on the side of caution is probably your safest bet. When in doubt, ask yourself the question: “would I wear this to a place of worship?” If the answer is no, don’t wear it.
Men must remove any headwear when stepping inside the Vatican, although this rule doesn’t apply to women. Headgear includes caps, winter hats, and hoods.
Bags and rucksacks
Don’t forget about accessories – all large bags, rucksacks, and suitcases are forbidden, and must be left in the Vatican cloakroom. The same goes for larger umbrellas, and any large video equipment.
What not to wear at the Vatican?
Aside from abiding by the rules listed above, you should also make a general effort to dress conservatively for your visit to the Vatican. This means avoiding any obscene or offensive t-shirts, tight or revealing clothing, or even a pair of open-toed flip flops or sandals.
It’s not simply a question of respecting the religious site – although that’s important too – but you may actually be denied entry to the Vatican if your outfit is deemed inappropriate, even if you meet the guidelines listed above.
While there are no exact specifications on what is considered “appropriate” clothing (aside from those listed above), the Vatican prohibits entry to anybody displaying “jewelry or tattoos that may offend Catholic morality, the Catholic religion, and common decency.” If you want to ensure that you’re not denied entry to the historic site, wear modest, motif-free clothing and make sure you’re covered up. It’s that simple!
Why does the Vatican have a dress code?
The Vatican is the official residence of the Pope, as well as the official headquarters of the Catholic Church. While many Catholics might take a more liberal approach to their everyday attire in the 21st century, the Vatican still takes a traditional and conservative stance on modesty. For this reason, any visitor is expected to respect these principles and dress conservatively when touring the site.
What happens if I don’t meet the Vatican dress code requirements?
If you turn up at the Vatican in inappropriate clothing, you’ll either be refused entry to the site or ordered to cover up with a shawl or scarf. You may be able to buy a scarf on-site if you haven’t brought one with you, but expect to pay sky-high prices.
If you’re refused entry to the Vatican due to an offensive symbol or motif that you’re unable to cover up (such as a tattoo or a t-shirt) you will most likely be unable to enter the Vatican altogether. If you’re visiting the site with a Vatican tours service, this will hold up the group and could even result in you losing the money you paid for your tour. To avoid this, stick to simple and modest attire, and refrain from wearing any potentially offensive symbols.