The crusade launched by Venice against shoddily dressed, or near naked, tourists is being closely watched elsewhere in Europe, where local people are becoming increasingly offended by the sight of visitors trudging around in very little, or wearing garish garments that make them look like demented clowns.
Venetian Police Chief Augusto Salvadori became the first official to win applause for launching a coverup campaign when he gave his men free rein to impose $50 spot fines on improperly dressed tourists.
Salvadori was enraged by the half-naked "Nordic Tarzans" disporting themselves in the city's majestic churches and palaces and stripping to obscenely revealing levels as they sunbathed in gondolas or splashed around in the canals. Hundreds of tourists have had fines imposed on them, much to the delight of the dignified and stylishly dressed local population.
The Venetian move follows a ban by authorities on the island of Capri that forbids tourists from wearing swimsuits away from the beaches. Florence now plans to invoke ancient laws on public dress and to halt the washing of tired limbs in the city's numerous fountains.
Scantily dressed tourists visiting the Austrian Tyrol could soon face fines of about $40 if politician Horst Wendling's proposals are taken up. Wendling, who represents the ski resort of Kitzbuhel, is fed up with the skimpy clothing that reveals men's "bulging paunches" and equally hideous "floppy female bottoms." He wants tourists to hide their offensive protrusions not only in churches but in other public places such as museums, shopping precincts, restaurants and houses.
The most frequent cause for complaint is improperly dressed tourists entering places of worship, but in most holiday resorts, the offending visitor is not likely to face more than a polite request to cover up.
The biggest offenders seem to be Northern Europeans who land on warmer Mediterranean shores with all the grace of a burn-and-pillage expedition. A straw poll of local inhabitants in Spanish, Italian and Greek resorts yielded the conclusion that British tourists were the most grotesquely dressed, whether on the beach or off it, and Italians the most stylish.
Young or youngish Britons were criticized for wearing T-shirts featuring obscene language or slogans, such as "Hitler's World Tour, 1939-1945." Perhaps the Britons are drawing fire unfairly because more people can recognize a crude statement in English than, say, a Norwegian slogan celebrating Hannibal's visit to Rome.
Jean Mulvagh, fashion editor of The European, said: "These people have an appalling disrespect for the countries they visit. Tourists from northern climates are unused to the sun and leap at it with a vengeance, which gives rise to dire sartorial results. They are unacquainted with dressing for the sun and wear the same thing for a beach in Portofino as for a visit to see a Michelangelo in a fine old church."
But it is not only in southern climates that tourists seem to lose their dress sense. John Maher, a yeoman of the guard at the Tower of London, is quite relaxed about strange dress because he himself wears the distinctive uniform of doublet and hose, which has been compared unkindly to a frock and tights. It is worn by the wardens, all former soldiers who shepherd visitors around the historic site. Maher said that the vast majority of the more than 2 million visitors a year to the Tower are inoffensively dressed and many come in elegant national costumes.
He said: "We have had Buddhist monks in saffron robes and Japanese women in kimonos. There have been people in obscene T-shirts, but we find that if we ask them to wear them inside out there's no problem."
Maher said that his men did not object to women wearing revealing clothes.
In France, too, nakedness does not offend as much as the inability to dress tastefully. Some Parisians engage in a cruel game to spot Eastern European tourists enjoying their new-found freedom to visit the West.
The visitors are perfectly well-mannered and show enormous respect wherever they go, but are forced by little money and lack of choice to wear ill-cut, ridiculously colored garments made of poor fabrics.
A Parisian woman said those playing the game award themselves scores as if playing tennis. "You get 15 for spotting a suspected East European. Then you sidle up to him to listen to him talking. If it is an East European language, your score goes up to 30. But if he turns out to be a Belgian, you lose a point."