Dance News

But What Do I Wear?!

T-shirt from the show that you're seeing = fool-proof choice? Not so much.

This is a question I'm not used to asking myself—at least, not when it comes to a live dance or theater performance. Years of constant drilling from my mother had trained me to reject denim, shorts and anything resembling athletic wear, which were completely inappropriate attire for the ballet or theater. I have distinct memories from several years back of scoffing at fellow standing room-ers in jeans and sneakers. OK, so maybe they’d arrived at The Phantom of the Opera straight from a long day spent walking all over NYC, and just didn’t have time in their packed vacation schedule to change clothes. But this is Art with a capital A, people! Show a little respect!

You guys, I have a confession to make. Yesterday, for the very first time, I became one of those people. I went to buy my ticket in the morning wearing a Mom-approved blouse, skirt and ballet flats, but blisters that were loudly announcing their presence by lunchtime forced a change of plans. Yes, it’s true: I actually wore sneakers to a Broadway show. But luckily for my ego, it seems that I’m not the only one who’s been breaking with the traditional dress code recently. So what are the new rules of dressing for a live performance? I hit the Internet for some answers (thank you, Theatre Development Fund and Pacific Northwest Ballet!). Read on for the basic principles of choosing “show clothes” in the twenty-first century:

  • Dress for the weather and the theater’s temperature. This can make all the difference in terms of whether you’ll be enjoying the performance or distracted by how hot or cold you feel. Think layers—a light sweater is basically essential if there will be air conditioning involved—that you can (quietly!) add or remove at will.

  • Dress so you’re as comfortable as possible. I’m talking about undergarments that don’t pinch or dig, skirts long enough to protect your legs from scratchy seat upholstery and flats if you’ve got walking to do. You want to focus on the show, not on problematic clothing items.

  • Dress up or down according to the venue, company and time of day. Matinees are more casual than evening performances. Weekend shows are fancier than those on weeknights. Nationally-acclaimed or NYC companies call for dressier clothes than do your local studio’s performing ensemble. And you’ll be safer in casual duds at an outdoor performance than at a concert hall. Your common sense will serve you well here—use it!

  • Dress as yourself! In every situation, fashion is a chance to express yourself, and this is no different in the mezzanine or orchestra section. If the girly cocktail dress your best friend is wearing to the show feels way too stuffy for you, follow your gut and rock those sequined shorts! If your clothes (and you!) are clean and neat, you really can’t go too far wrong nowadays—as long as you applaud at the right times, keep your chatter to an absolute minimum and, for heaven’s sake, turn off your phone when they tell you to!

Do you think that dressing up for a performance is an outdated rule, an absolute must or something that’s fun if you feel like it? Let me know in the comments section!

Photo by Jayme Thornton

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