Like with all first times, you really don’t know what to expect.

Pitti Uomo 91 was my first one. It’s the biggest classic menswear trade show there is, and in recent years it’s become somewhat of a Mecca for menswear enthusiasts. And this is what you see on the internet: those colourfully dressed men on the plaza in front of the main pavilion inside the walls of Fortezza da Basso in Florence. When I only just discovered this aesthetic, it was fantastic: fresh and new, something sad and gray streets of Poland could never provide. Soon, however, I’ve grown tired of the guys in outfits too outlandish for the street, and this arms race between them to create the most attention grabbing ensemble – all this to get photographed and end up in one of those street style galleries that crop up on every menswear-related website after each Pitti.

It was the time, obviously, to go and see how it really looks like. And I tried to approach it without any (or at least: without many) preconceptions. And so, on the second week of January, I went to Florence.

Łukasz Masłowski, of the Outdersen blog, was kind of my guide. It was the fifth edition he went to, so he new how to efficiently get to town and move around it; he also told me how Pitti was organised and where was the press room with free coffee and wifi, both crucial to survival.

With Łukasz and Mikołaj from Blue Loafers – Tres Amigos

We arrived to town Tuesday evening, and just walked the surprisingly empty streets of Florence. It was pretty cold, at least for the local standards – I had just left Kraków and its 20 degrees below freezing, so I didn’t complain. For me, the first day of the actual Pitti experience was the second day of the fair, Wednesday.

It’s true what they say, that the plaza on which most of the pictures are taken, is small. It really is. And most of it was covered with this bizarre installation of mops and cleaning gloves, moving rhythmically, but in no relation to booming music, all of which which was somehow supposed to be representative of the theme: Pitti Dance-off.

Here’s how it looked like from some distance – a thing you really need on Pitti

And it was full of people; it wasn’t a challenge to find in the crowd some guys you surely know from those popular instagram profiles. The important thing, of course, were the outfits: some were fantastic, other kitschy; some were subdued and elegant, made and finished by hand, and of the top quality fabrics; other were super fashion-y, and it was quite obvious they were to be worn only a few times at best. There was a guy with plenty of 1 Euro coins attached to both his lapels. There was a tall guy with black trousers ending halfway down his calves and a bright red leather biker jacket. But also beautiful three-piece suits, fantastic ulster coats, great fabrics, cuts, proportions, details. Photos you see online are always just a narrow fragment of what is there to be seen; don’t trust them too much.

Here are some photos of really great dressed guys, who wouldn’t look out of place outside of the walls of Fortezza da Basso. The diversity there is astonishing though, and for a few moments I contemplated an option of selecting photos in a way that would make me look like the best-dressed man there, but evetually decided against it.

Another thing that turned out to be true: a lot of posing. Those phones glued to the ears, some of them obviously switched off, some only probably. People smoking cigarettes and freezing for several seconds in the most photogenic moments of taking a puff.

I’m making fun of it a bit, but if you’re out there on the plaza, walking around, you kind of get into this attitude. I must admit that whenever I was taking to someone I did hope – at least a little – to get noticed by some photographer – my coat was so glorious after all. And I caught myself minding whether my tie looks okay, and thinking of which side of my face was more presentable (the answer is, of course, neither). And yeah, if you stand there long enough, someone will snap you. Eventually. Perhaps.

I was asked to pose with those girls – I have no idea who they were, and they had no idea who I was. They do pose for pictures infinitely better than I do, though.

But it all felt weird, and I didn’t really enjoy it that much. Those people around were really happy to pose for a picture with anybody who asked, but it was nigh impossible to make a conversation in this crowd, especially if you suck at small-talk with strangers, like I do.

So I preferred to spend time in the exhibition halls. It’s a completely different world there. For me, especially: things like that are not available to look at and touch where I live, so it was a chance for me to actually have a close, detailed look at many of them. I could enjoy the beautiful hand finish on Orazio Luciano’s jackets. Drool over a pair of soft suede Crockett&Jones’ chukkas. Try on a handmade felt hat, and realise it’s this one in a million that doesn’t make me look like a moron when I wear it (“It’s fantastic! Sir, do you sell those online?”, “Sorry, no”). The exhibitors were also usually happy to answer my questions, even after my inevitably disappointing response to them asking “So, where is your store located?”.

What gets lost in the internet portrayal of Pitti, is that it’s not really a peacock parade. It’s not a dandy convention. At least not exclusively. It’s a trade show – it’s where business is being conducted. So inside the exhibition halls people were expecting to meet potential business partners; clothes they wore were also often more subdued and classy than on the outside, because they were not the main focus. And also: Pitti is a good opportunity to meet your friends who share the passion for style, and who usually reside in a different part of the world than you. Those are both vital aspects of Pitti, but you won’t see them in a gallery of the Best Sixty-Eight Street Style Photos From Pitti’s Second Day. What is basically a side-effect of the fair’s popularity became the most important part for many, and seems to have warped the image of the entire event.

What you also won’t see online: the city. It’s amazing, beautiful and charming. It’s also full of great food, coffee and wine, served in restaurants that are the exact opposite of posh and pretentious, which is in stark contrast of what you can sometimes observe inside Fortezza. I wish I had more time to explore the city – the ideal plan would be to come a few days early or stay a few days after Pitti. But even during the fair, the city gives you the opportunity to meet cool people in a completely different setting, over a bottle of wine and some damn good pizza (I had no idea Margherita could taste so great!). No wonder some Pitti regulars, including people I had hoped to meet, but didn’t have the chance, visit Fortezza for as short as they can, and instead prefer meeting in smaller groups for dinner or drinks. And even for me, one of the highlights of the trip was hearing I look molto elegante from the owner of a small cafe filled with locals.

Karol Rzeszutko, a tailor from Poznań, with his wife Anna – Pitti is a good place for making friends.

It was fun to finally go and see what’s the whole fuss about. And it’s about much, much more than just sitting on this famous wall or posing for photos with instagram celebrities. Hopefully I’ll manage to come back for future editions – I still think there’s a lot of exploring left to do.

Cover photo: Mikołaj Pawełczak. Photos in the post: Łukasz (Outdersen) and Patrycja (Patiness).