Do Clothes Affect the Music?

July 7, 2007 at 07:52 PM · I've seen female violinists mostly in gowns, the males in dark suits or our local barong tagalog (native formal shirt) and dark slacks. Rarely have I seen any perform in jeans. Is the violin such a formal instrument that requires a formal outfit, or do violinists simply play better when dressed to the nines? Is there an unwritten rule about violin dressing?

Replies (50)

July 7, 2007 at 09:58 PM · Yes I play better in my Armani suit than in my Polo Ralph Lauren suit :)

July 7, 2007 at 10:59 PM · The associations with dress are part of the scene. Don't know why they still exist, except maybe as uniform. In the U.S., before the 1960s, if you left the house you dressed up. A respectable adult man would put on a suit to go to the grocery store. It was the mid-1980s before my father would be seen out of the house not wearing a very conservative suit and tie. Even if he was mowing the grass. Never owned a sport coat either - suit.

July 7, 2007 at 10:51 PM · Thanks for bringing this up. I don't like the way a bow tie keeps the violin away from my neck so,why have I put up with it after all these years?! I bet I'm not the only male violinist that feels this way.

July 7, 2007 at 11:58 PM · High heels. Very high heels. Makes me feel powerful.

July 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM · I recall some nude cellists making waves a few decades ago. Air-conditioning has put a stop to that, thank heaven.

It did have the effect of broadening one's perceptions of the performance, however. And I attended a performance of M. Pendleton's modern dance troup in which the dancers appeared nude from the waist up, bouncing on giant beachballs. The point eluded me, but it did focus my attention on the performance.

July 8, 2007 at 12:31 AM · I feel powerful enough without high heels.

July 8, 2007 at 02:28 AM · If all men went strapless they'd sound like AS Mutter.

July 8, 2007 at 02:28 AM · My mode of transport for the feet is Converse

All-Star Black High Top Sneakers........

I need this covering on my feet,especially when quickly changing from the 'g' to the 'e' string....

Plus--the sneakers remind me of the basketball days....


July 8, 2007 at 04:36 AM · Years ago, when audience members, as well as performers, went to the trouble of getting dressed up to go to a concert, they enjoyed themselves more. It was because they invested the effort. This simple ritual endowed the concert with an extra measure of specialness. It was that much more something worthy of respect, a privilege to attend and a celebration. I miss that. I hope that the formality will eventually return.

July 8, 2007 at 11:48 AM · Come to Europe, Oliver!

July 8, 2007 at 02:22 PM · Aside: I think it's good to play topless now and again to work with posture and balance, find the table upon which the violin rests, and check the tuck and shoulder neutrality.

July 8, 2007 at 03:28 PM · I almost always wear short sleeve shirts. Exspecially for a summer outdoors concert (like today and it is 90 degrees!) I don't like long sleeves because they constrict my range of motion... I actually like playing in slacks more than jeans...

July 8, 2007 at 04:30 PM · Putch - depending on where I'm performing the attire does play a mental preperation role for me when it comes to performing.

If I were playing in a concert hall with an orchestra as a soloist, I sure would want to have a beautiful gown on. It makes me feel gorgeous and makes me confident that I can perform well in an amazing space. If I'm doing an outdoor gig at the beer garden for some event, jeans and a comfortable shirt for playing suit the atmosphere more. I'm not going to be playing a concerto at the beer garden, it's going to be more laid back and therefore my attire is a little more laid back.

I like the process of getting dressed up for a formal concert because it helps me mentally prepare and to present myself before I play a single note. People will take me seriously before I put bow to string because I am presenting myself in a professional manner. In a bar type gig, if you walk out in a tux or a gown (depending on the bar of course) chances are people are going to think you're a little off the wall.

From practicality though of playing. I need something that doesn't pull on my shoulders and doesn't let my violin slip around (no really sleek materials in otherwords). Comfort is always my #1 priority!

July 8, 2007 at 05:38 PM · Sorry, Oliver. I will be dressed up for concerts, of course, with high heels. :-)

I just attended the performance by Zuckerman with CSO last Friday at Ravinia Festival. We started picnicking on the lawn until near the opening to be seated. It is kind of comic to see people all dressed up on the lawn stuffed with snack food... :-)

July 8, 2007 at 10:04 PM · While I believe it is necessary to be appropriately dressed when performing or attending a performance, I often find a tux to be too restrictive. For my own private recitals and gigs I prefer black button downs (either long or short sleeved), black dress pants w/a black belt, black socks and shoes, and no type of tie at all.

July 8, 2007 at 10:35 PM · What you wear reflects both how you see yourself as a performer, and also the respect for / opinion you have of the audience.

So yes, it matters a great deal.

July 9, 2007 at 08:18 AM · I love the 70s covers of LP of Perlman with Hawaian shirt and very long sideburns smiling with his violin.

I love also when violinists wear that elastic shirt with a long neck called "lupetto" in Italy for recordings. That's very 70s too.

July 9, 2007 at 08:39 AM · I wear the clothes that make me feel like I'm a perfect match for that scene, were I to be the violinist in a movie. If I'm the violinist in a wedding, conservative concert black. If I'm the violinist at the coffee shop, designer jeans, seashell jewelry, cute tank top. If I'm the violinist for a summer dining atmosphere, a strappy dress and high heel sandals.

I haven't gotten an opportunity to pull out the prima donna gown yet. ;)

July 9, 2007 at 09:18 AM · While the violin in the Philippines does indeed have a long-standing and noble tradition, it's by no means confined to such a formal setting.

I, for one, perform with clothes that suit the occasion: barong or longsleeved shirt for formal concerts, and t-shirt and jeans for informal occasions.

Even there the lines get blurred: the San Miguel Orchestra (which, until recently, was one of the most highly paid and well-respected orchestras in the country) had a very successful series of concerts entitled "Philharmonic in Jeans" wherein everyone was dressed in t-shirts and -what else?- jeans!

Also, you might want to look at the young generation of alternative (not necessarily "rock") bands in the local scene: Matilda, Silent Sanctuary, Electric Mansanas, etc. These kids are pushing the boundaries of violin playing as we know it. It's great! :-)

July 9, 2007 at 11:56 AM · If you've got a good fashion sense, you can pull anything off, anywhere.

Personally, I like to respect tradition, and don't mind getting dressed up in the suit.

However, if I was asked to do a casual performance at a retirement home, I may well decide to not don the suit, and put on a nice pair of jeans, or perhaps some slacks, with a nice shirt and jumper. Anything, so long as it matches and goes well together. And of course - learn how to iron.

July 9, 2007 at 12:24 PM · I have not really had an opportunity to think of what to wear when playing the violin. Because I play in church, we have this robe that goes over whatever we're wearing. Next year, though, I think we will be having a concert outside church walls and I will need a dress. Hmm... what to wear. Should it be black? Red? Something in between? Long, shimmering? I'll probably not get seen anyway, but I agree with what most people said on this thread: dressing well makes you feel great and brings confidence to your playing. High heels? Not that I'd fall off my chair, but I wouldn't risk falling off the stage.

Oh, and yes, there was a time in this country, too, when people wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything but a proper formal or casual outfit when leaving the house. Ladies wearing a skirt had to wear a half slip (a thinner skirt) inside that, so that light wouldn't penetrate the fabric. Gone are those days... and with them have gone many treasured traditions, too.

July 9, 2007 at 03:34 PM · I find it difficult to play while wearing a tux jacket.

That's all I have to say...everything else I've worn is comfortable.

July 9, 2007 at 05:36 PM · I would also add that, whatever you wear, be sure to practice in it so you can deal with potential wardrobe malfunctions before the night of the concert: The last thing you want to have on your mind while you're playing is the sensation that your dress is falling off and your performance might include a "special guest appearance."

July 9, 2007 at 07:25 PM · Sorry, I didn't have time to elaborate on my comment. I typed it out hastily and today, while I have the chance I will strive to rectify a hastily made, silly comment.

What I meant was, I get a certain amount of energy, chi, balance, what-have-you from the floor. I believe it's called "grounding." It seems silly, I know, but the reason I prefer the heels is they put me in the proper alignment/balance relative to my violin to give me an extra bit of "grounding." Someone can explain this better than I, I am sure, as I am ever and always the village idiot, but for whatever reason, when I wear the heels, it's easier to call up energy from the floor.

Feel free to chuckle to yourself at this point. I'm debating about whether this explanation actually helps my case or not.

July 9, 2007 at 07:26 PM · I have to practice in heels before I can peform in heels. During one of my college recitals, I had not done this...and during the recital I felt like I was losing my balance! Rather than risk a fall on stage (I'm a bit of a clutz, if you can't tell), I played the second half of the recital bare-footed. Having full contact with the floor gives me grounding! I wish that heels gave me a sense of confidence.

July 9, 2007 at 09:31 PM · Jennifer--you're no clutz! You're elegant, although the barefoot thing was probably pretty cool, and I bet you gave a bang up recital. I've got high arches, so I feel like I'm going to fall over when I'm barefoot.

July 9, 2007 at 08:11 PM · I always play on hills--this is West Virginia you know.

July 9, 2007 at 09:36 PM · What about to play naked?

In this case we should listen just to the fundamental sound without harmonics!


July 10, 2007 at 05:08 AM · Hi, Putch!

I agree with the previous post that says you should try practicing in your preferred dress and shoes to make sure that you can play properly onstage and that nothing gets caught on your dress.

Hmmm, black or white is a safe way to go. If you want your violin to stand out, maybe you can dress in black if your instrument has a light colored varnish and white if the varnish is dark.

July 10, 2007 at 12:08 PM · :) Antonio!

You'll be surprised. I remember a discussion a while ago about practicing in the heat, and well, it was frightening!

July 10, 2007 at 01:08 PM · If wearing a strapless gown would make me play as well as Mutter, I'd consider it! As it is, having a goatee doesn't seem to have made me play as well as my two distinguished bearded teachers, Dicterow and Rosand. I may ask for a refund!

But seriously, apart from issues of style and appropriateness, I have practical issues with playing in a jacket, whether tux, tails, etc. I find the built-in sizing to be stiffening for both shoulders, and I don't think it looks good the way the top area rides up when a violinist plays or a coductor does whatever conductors do. (Don't get me started on conductors!) I've thought a number of times to have a more felxible jacket custom-made, which would look more or less like a tux, but feel more like just a heavy shirt. I've yet to follow through on this. Has anyone done so?

When I'm running my own show, e.g. giving a recital, I usually wear all black - a dressy pair of pants, and a nice black shirt.

July 10, 2007 at 02:06 PM · Facial hair can bring some difficulties...that's why I don't have more than a goatee...and if you have stray hairs on your neck, they can snag in the chin rest clamp. Ouch...make sure you shave your neck before a performance!

July 10, 2007 at 04:38 PM · Always something red. Flat shoes, if standing; and pearl earrings given to me when I was 10.

July 10, 2007 at 04:42 PM · That's actually the ideal that came to my mind as I read your comment Raphael--a lightweight jacket. This would be a good project for a music loving tailor?

July 11, 2007 at 12:25 AM · Yes. I have a very casual light weight jacket, similar to the kind Heifetz liked to wear when recording or rehearsing sometimes. It just feels like a heavy shirt - so comfortable! When I find the right tailor I'll bring both that and my tux, and say "I'd like it to feel like one, but look like the other." If that works, I'll try to have more flexible faux tails made as well.

July 11, 2007 at 02:50 AM · Take your violin Raphael--it will be on the house I'm sure!.

July 11, 2007 at 02:58 AM · lol! (-and thank you.)

July 11, 2007 at 03:31 AM · Actually that was only half tongue in cheek--in the rural mountains we tend to take care of one another. One person is good at one thing and etc....

You are welcome... very much...

July 12, 2007 at 01:33 AM · Something dressy. I perform better when I know I look good on stage...

July 12, 2007 at 03:16 AM · "Rarely have I seen any perform in jeans. Is the violin such a formal instrument that requires a formal outfit, or do violinists simply play better when dressed to the nines? Is there an unwritten rule about violin dressing?"

Watch a bluegrass competition sometime. The violinists wear jeans and a t-shirt or flannel shirt, and some of them even wear a plaid or striped short-sleeve dress shirt. No tuxes there, and no dresses, either! Unless they're breaking a rule, apparantly there is no such rule against casual dress for violinists.

July 12, 2007 at 07:38 AM · "I hope that the formality will eventually return. "

From Megan Chapelas

"Come to Europe, Oliver! "

One problem here is half of it is pops concerts starring Larry the Cable Guy.

July 12, 2007 at 10:29 AM · Clothes don't affect the way I play but I have noticed that the moon phases can affect it especially if there is full moon........


August 22, 2007 at 12:42 AM · As I've become almost completely obsessed with victorianish styled clothing, that's is mostly what I wear. However, I haven't really noticed how they make my feel in regards to the violin or me playing it. Although I do so love to wear high heeled shoes when I play, especially heeled boots, they make me feel fierce. I do find it funny and curious as to how often the violin is associated with victorianism and the goth cultre. Which makes me wonder, if clothes can affect a person's violin playing, couldn't that also work in the reverse?

August 22, 2007 at 02:49 AM · I think it really depends on WHERE you are playing. If you are playing in a formal orchestra hall, it makes sense that you would blend your clothes in with your surroundings (however, for you men who where suits while playing - my hats off to you! I couldn't possibly imagine how hot and sticky it would be to play with a suit jacket on.) So for pros or ametures that have a less formal gig, then I wouldn't think that dressing to the nines would really be appropriate. Me, what I personally prefer to wear while I play is anything sleeveless. I hate the weight and feel of shirt sleeves while I play, so tank style tops are my choice - however, I would never wear that playing out in public, unless it's a nice sleeveless/tank style dress.

August 22, 2007 at 03:44 AM · i've done some country fiddling in jeans :P but the serious answer is: for a serious performance where the performance matters, a lightweight, synthethic blend (read: wicking) fabric helps keep me cool if i'm sweating. that's more applicable for dress slacks. anyone else notice that it's hard to get a tux jacket altered perfectly for a full range of motion?

August 22, 2007 at 12:34 PM · As a female I like playing in a dress that allows freedom of the upper body, such as a strapless or spagnetti.

I like playing in pajamas, too, but somehow the dress makes me want to play my best!

August 23, 2007 at 07:51 PM · I guess it depends on the situation. For orchestra, of course, it's long black, although I prefer pants to long skirts. Same applies to the traveling gigs in which I play (back-up for others). If it's a wedding, my quartet prefers "pretty" clothes, but a formal wedding requires all black (again!!). Teaching, I prefer to dress professionally, but comfort is above ALL... I guess I feel most comfortable blending in with my surroundings with reference to the situation. My most "uncomfortable" is if something doesn't fit right or isn't appropriate for the occasion in which I'm playing.

August 24, 2007 at 01:22 AM · I'd like to know how ladies play standing up in high heels. I can't do it. Even sitting down, they make my knees higher up than I'd like and I can't bow right in orchestra. How do people do it?

August 28, 2007 at 11:00 AM · I don't know, as I said I love heels, I walk 4 miles a day in 2.5 inch boots. That's to the bus stop, to school, around the campus (to my different classes), to the bus stop again and then home. I can run in, I'M SUPERGIRL, ha. No seriously, I LOVE MY BOOTS. I'm never comfortable playing while sitting, I can never keep my legs out of range from my bow. Standing, I can play up to two hours while wearing heels. In the summer it gets a little uncomfortable because the heat tend to make my feeet swell, but otherwise, it just fine.

August 31, 2007 at 09:13 PM · In response to the question of clothes affecting music I say, of course.

I like seeing a bag pipe play in a kilt; the women in my folk orchestra wear sarafans;

the marching bands play in uniforms; Andre Rieu et al, perform in period dress. I guess I like the additional flavor added to a performance when an instrument is played in appropriate costume.

To answer the question between the words, (performance dress for violinists) I don't like to be distracted by clothes when I go hear a soloist. If the clothes distract me because I'm worried about the fit or skirts are kicked up for dramatic impact, I find it harder to concentrate on the music. Clothes should add to the performance by expressing dignity to match the occasion.

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