30 Days of Attending Performing Arts

Day 5: What to Wear?

tuxedoWhen I worked at an opera company, I was surprised that one of the most frequent questions from patrons at the box office was about what to wear. Given that I’m not particularly tuned into to clothing, I had underestimated the concern–or interest–in concert going clothing.

Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, attending formal live arts events (I’m thinking opera and ballet in specific) does not call for formal evening wear; there is nothing special to buy. Unless you are going to a gala opening night, or  invite-only event that has attire requirements listed on the ticket or invitation, you can wear what you want. That said, most people do end up wearing something along the lines of business casual (meaning a button shirt for men and slacks, if not a sport jacket or suit and something at a similar level of formality for women.)

But the range is wide…I go fairly regularly to the Boston Symphony on Friday afternoons, a concert heavy with retirees, who general just come as they are (particularly near my seat up in the second balcony). My uncle, a life long opera fanatic, has not worn a tie or sport jacket to a performing arts event in my memory, and is usually wearing casual slacks, sneakers, and a shirt I will generously describe as ‘vintage.’

From the arts administrator side of the equation, I can assure you that any arts organization I have been involved in as an employee was happy to see people in whatever clothing they wanted to wear. (Well, clean was good, but beyond that no worries.) We were glad you were there–and if you were young, hip, and in jeans, not only would we welcome you, but we’d take a picture of you for next year’s subscription brochure to show that we weren’t hopelessly old-fashioned.

By this point, you might–at least some of you might–be asking “but I want to dress up! What about me?” The good news about the democratizing of dress is it works both ways. Shows and concerts are still opportunities to put on your best ‘going out’ clothes, should you desire. A Friday night at Lincoln Center is certainly a chance to see some elegant clothes (Kennedy Center, not so much, that’s D.C. for you). I personally have taken (after many years of slobitude) to wearing a suit and tie to some performances at least. Not because I particularly love dressing up, but because when it is an event–say a special trip to a show out of town–it somehow feels like it honors the occasion and the artists. But that’s subjective.

I’ll end this somewhat meandering advice with one final note. If you are attending something with other people, it’s worth it to find out what they are wearing. If you are sitting next to strangers who are dressed up or down, it’s not a big deal, but if you are the only person in a group of four in spats or sneakers, it can feel a little weird. If somebody’s regular pleasure for the holidays is getting dressed up for an annual trip to the Nutcracker and taking you along, then don’t show up looking like you are ready for the early bird special at the Olive Garden. By the same token, if you are hanging with a bunch of hard-core new music hipsters and getting to hear the latest Saariaho  String Quartet at the Gowanus Ballroom, probably best to leave the white tie at home and pull out Fluevogs.

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