Weekend Travel Update: Refrocked in Rome

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The Independent Culture
FROM Marks & Spencer they come, from Monoprix, from Brooks Brothers, and Mitsukoshi. A multinational assortment of underwear can be seen any day of the week at an unlikely venue: St Peter's Square in the Vatican City.

Europe's greatest religious attraction has a rigorous dress code. While St Peter sits in judgement of who may enter Heaven, a couple of youths decree who is allowed into the church. The doctrine says no men in shorts. Women are allowed shorts, but only if they reveal no more than two inches of leg above the knee; the same rule applies to skirts.

The guardians of morality cast a critical eye over every pair of legs, and turn back those whose offend. But tourists who have slogged halfway across Rome (or the world) to visit St Peter's are not deterred easily. So an informal clothing exchange has developed, and a 'Whoops] There go my trousers]' farce plays continously on the steps of the basilica.

In full view of everyone from properly attired Japanese tourists to parties of nuns, backpackers peel off clean shorts and replace them with jeans well past their wear-by date. Germans hop about on one leg, exchanging lederhosen for Levi's, while women wriggle around to ease their skirt hemlines down: thighs are a problem, but apparently midriffs are not. Last Saturday I turned up in a pair of shorts which, had I been female, would have got me in: I am sure of that because the female I lent them to did. I had to go back to my hotel to get something longer.