Concert Attire & Decorum

November 9, 2008 at 10:06 PM ·

It seems that concert attire is evolving around this area lately.  I play in several orchestras where the only thing that is required is black, without the long lists of musts like bow ties, tails, pantyhose, jackets etc.  What is the standard attire in your area?  What rules do you have to adhere to in your clothing?

Personally I hope we move further and further away from the standard concert attire as it seems to be a little stuffy.  It also makes everything we do as an orchestra seem extremely formal, like standing when the conductor comes on stage, even tuning.  I wonder if changing our overall look can somehow create a less formal atmosphere.

Replies (53)

November 9, 2008 at 10:36 PM ·

Orange with purple polka dots. 


Just kidding.  My youth orchestra and school orchestra, in Northern VA, require long black dresses for girls and tuxedos for boys.  I believe this is the preferred dress for everything-I have been marked down in competitions for wearing a buttoned down grey shirt and black pants because I looked "unkept". 

November 9, 2008 at 11:36 PM ·

Hi Marina,

That's a very good question. I guess it depends on many things. I went to Marlboro and Saito Kinen Festivals this summer and there was such an interesting atmosphere surrounding the event ,musicians dressed more casually and it didn't bother me at all.  Even Ozawa walks out together with the musicians  as they come out on stage so you don't get that stuffy feeling that your talking about. Then again if I go hear the Vienna Phil on the New Year's Concert everyone is wearing tails and ties and you wouldn't want  it any other way because of the tradition surrounding it. What I'm trying to say is to find some kind of balance between looking too casual or too formal.


November 10, 2008 at 06:38 AM ·

Most of the orchestra's I've played in require tuxedos for men, which I find to be a serious detriment to my playing, especially on viola.  I've had my right sleeve catch on a button more times than I care to remember, and having 8 layers of extra fabric under the instrument and in the elbows changes everything.  Playing solo and chamber music I really like collarless shirts, two buttons left undone, untucked.  It might look sloppy, but I feel more relaxed knowing that my shirt isn't going to tie itself in a knot around my neck as I play.  I think audiences appreciate a little creativity in wardrobe, and that can be accomplished without sacrificing elegance and poise. 

When do tuxedos become standard orchestral wear, anyway?  And does anyone have any tuxedo-wearing suggestions?  I heard once that there are tuxedos available that are designed for ballroom dancers, maybe that would work better for violinists as well?  Any ideas on where to get one?

November 10, 2008 at 07:43 AM ·

We've still got  "long black" for the women (pants or dresses/skirts), full length sleeves, black pantyhose.  For men, it's the full-on penguin suit.  Audience members still write in every once in awhile because the women's clothing isn't uniform like the men's.

There is also a "casual classics" series where we are allowed to wear simply black (e.g. black slacks & turtlenecks, no jeans/sweats/visible butt crack/etc.) with colorful ties, scarves or other pieces of flair.

Personally I find the bow tie & tails outfit to be extremely unfit for playing any instrument., but over the years I've gotten used to it.

November 10, 2008 at 01:20 PM ·

I dislike formal tux-tails.  In a day and age where orchestra patrons are encouraged to show up in casual dress (jeans, etc), it makes no sense for the musicians on stage to look like a bunch of penguins gathered at a funeral parlor.  (No offense to the guys).



November 10, 2008 at 03:04 PM ·

This seems akin to asking your priest to wear pink on Sunday.  ;-)

I'm not a man...but I would hate to be one and have to wear a jacket when playing.  It has to be very uncomfortable and restrictive.  A black shirt and tie would give the same overall effect as a black jacket and be just that tad less formal to the audience. 

November 10, 2008 at 04:47 PM ·

I sympathize with wanting to wear something comfortable while playing.  But I actually like the way the guys look in the penguin suits.  We had a concert yesterday and the contrast between what we all wear at rehearsal (jeans, T-shirts, casual) and the concert was pretty remarkable, and actually rather nice.

I don't like the over-the-top dressiness for the women either, and I have a personal antipathy towards strapless gowns (it's just me, I don't mind them on other people as long as I don't have to wear one).  But I really don't like the casual-black look very much either.  Over the years I've seen a few women musicians wear very plain, dull, long-sleeved black blouses and pants at concerts, and it doesn't do a thing for them.  I don't mean they have to try to look sexy or spend a lot on a gown, but just something with a little style to it would be nice.  Nice pants and a nice shirt.  If men generally stopped wearing jackets and just started wearing a plain black shirt and pants, maybe they'd also look like that--plain and dowdy--and I don't think that would be an improvement.  It doesn't say "informal" as much as it says "boring."

November 10, 2008 at 06:18 PM ·

 You also mentioned the potential for tuning to get "stuffy."  I suppose, but I think a formal tuning routine on stage serves an important purpose.  I like having 3 A's, one for the winds and brass, one for the lower strings, and one for the upper strings.  And if you either don't have a routine or the group doesn't know the routine, it can get kind of cumbersome.

November 10, 2008 at 06:24 PM ·

Karen, I have three levels of black:

  1. The Good Stuff.  Well made, very stylish, beautiful clothes.  No musician (that I know anyway) can truly afford this stuff, so good luck at the consignment and charity shops.  And once you collect a few good pieces, you wear it sparingly, to make it last a few more years.
  2. The So-So Stuff.  I like these clothes for the "I just drove 1 1/2 hours,  hit two different rush hours, no time for any dinner, I ain't wearing a ball gown and heels for this gig" type of clothes.  Mainly found on Macy's clearance racks, and washable for a reason.
  3. The Skanky Stuff.  What might have once been in categories 1 or 2, but through age and abuse is now pretty mangy.  Skanky Black is good for pits, or church lofts where no one but the organist can see you. 

Yes, I wear stuff that could be considered "dowdy".  I personally would rather get the mortgage check out on time then to run through Needless Markups, buying a wardrobe with a credit card I couldn't afford to pay off.

November 10, 2008 at 07:11 PM ·

I see your point Karen but, when I see ensemble performances and all the men are wearing similarly hued shirts with black pants, I like the look.  At a recent performance, all the gentlemen of the group wore similarly hued shirts.  A couple were greys, a couple were blues, one chose a lavender and another a green.  The two women of the group were wearing shades of subdued reds.  All wore black pants.  It was quite pleasing to the eye because the clothing all blended and wasn't bright or distracting to the audience,  yet it was a refreshing change of pace from black.

I can see that working for a large orchestra as well.  It actually could be an advantage for high school orchestra's to choose a shirt color for each section.  Kids might think that more cool then basic black.

One thing I do find distracting is when the women are wearing both long dresses/skirts and some are wearing pants.  For the women it should be uniform...either all wear long or all wear pants.  Fortunately the men are all usually wearing their pants. 

November 10, 2008 at 07:15 PM ·

Anne, I think what I had in mind--at most--was what you're calling "so-so stuff."  I definitely wasn't suggesting spending a lot of money on clothes (if you'd ever seen how I dress that would be obvious ;-).  And certainly in a pit or balcony or wherever, I don't think it would matter at all.  

I was addressing the point that looking "less formal" would somehow be more welcoming or friendly to the audience.  I don't think that's necessarily the case.  

November 10, 2008 at 07:31 PM ·

 Tess, I agree with you.  I was objecting to boring (not necessarily inexpensive) clothes, which, unfortunately, come in many shades of black.  Similarly hued non-black shirts might be fine and be a nice-looking alternative.  

November 10, 2008 at 07:34 PM ·

Well I wouldn't be silly enough to suggest that tuning is stuffy as it obviously serves a purpose.  What I meant is that the combination of tuxedos + long velvet skirts + no talking or addresing the audience + all those other little bits of decorum all add up to = an air of stuffiness.  That's one factor that prevents me from attending concerts regularly, even if I get comps from friends. 

November 10, 2008 at 07:49 PM ·

Oh, I totally agree about the no talking and no addressing the audience.  I love it when someone addresses the audience and I wish performers (conductors, composers) would do more of it.

In case I wasn't clear above, I am not against colors other than black.  And I am definitely not against affordable clothing.  I think Tess' suggestion sounds interesting.  

What I don't think really works is just relaxing some subset of the rules a little bit to make them "less formal" while still paying some lip service to the dominant convention.  Then you get people wearing whatever they can dig out of the back of their closet as long as it's black.  

November 10, 2008 at 08:19 PM ·

Guys in tuxes are hot.  I love black.  In high school, some girl whose mom was on the decision-making board claimed she didn't look good in black, so they made all the girls wear these smurf -colored dressed with black sashes.  To this day, that's my least favorite color.

November 10, 2008 at 08:56 PM ·

Well Black atire is the easy part.  I went to watch a practice of the TSO last year and the basoonist's hair was electric blue and puffy.  I couldn't focus on anything but her hair.  So I asked the conductor's assistant if they had some type of a policy regarding personal expression or if they made her wrap her hair up in an Erica Badu wrap or hat or something.  She said that the bassoonist was a sub and not part of the orchestra but that they also didn't have a policy on modes of personal expression but that they might if she were a member of the orchestra. 

I'm all for personal expression but when you play in an orchestra aren't you supposed to be part of the collective group?  Yikes. :-)


November 10, 2008 at 09:10 PM ·

 "Guys in tuxes are hot"


As usual, Emily is correct. I'll keep wearing a tux.

My pet peeve (actually #4,294,387 on the list) is men's shoes: I really hate it when men wear tuxes and some black Reeboks.

So listen up: if you wear a tux, you MUST wear patent leather shiny shoes. Anything else is just tacky.

November 10, 2008 at 10:18 PM ·

Everywhere I perform men have to wear a tux or a tux with tails, women can wear anything they want as long as its black (which I think is totally unfair in my opinion, but what can you do).

November 10, 2008 at 11:20 PM ·

Oh, guys don't be jealous of women who are able to play with noting around the neck and only one layer of material...  because we have other disavantages also: longer necks, weaker fingers, long hair can be hot in your face, high heels!!!!!  tigh nylon stockings...  I think they are advantages and desavantages on both sides! But, as Jonathan suggests about special suits, I'm not a man but I have notice that in the elder generation, all the soloists were wearing suits (Menuhin, Ferras, Oistrakh, Heifetz, Stern, Kreisler ect...)  and I notice that many had modified collars (probably they were made specially for them) and I even saw some who had a kind of pad sewed under to replace a hidden sponge (Hey, a positive point!  when you play restless as a man, you can hide anything you want under you suit and it doesn't shows! ).  For the sleeve problem Jonathan suggested, I know that some news report guys put short sleeve shirts uner their suits in summer to be less hot and move more freely I suppose. I know that in Austria, the austrian style suits have a very different collar than those here (america).  Don't count on me to say if it is easier to play with them or not though!

I don't think that the black colour has an effect of distancing too much the performers of the audience.  What the audience really needs is a few words from  the conductor or some members of the orchestra  at least to say good evening and that they are happy to see them or wish them Merry Christmas.  The audience pay much money to attend to a concert and often in high symphony orchestras, it is always a recorded voice who speaks 2 seconds to the people.  I do understand the concentration of musicians but they could talk after the performance to look more human and less distant.


November 11, 2008 at 03:14 AM ·

"Skanky Black is good for pits, or church lofts where no one but the organist can see you."



November 11, 2008 at 04:21 AM ·

I think need to regulate its bio photos.  From now on, all men must be sharply dressed in their tuxes in their photos.  Women must post bio photos in concert black.   I'm going to go change  mine, now.


November 11, 2008 at 04:54 AM ·

I would be for the men wearing turtle neck shirts instead of tux. Much more comfortable to play in. I have been in a pit orchestra where black turtle necks were allowed, with dress black pants.

November 11, 2008 at 06:57 AM ·

 Nice picture, Emily!

November 11, 2008 at 10:22 AM ·

Hmm, it's so tiny, you can't even tell it's me.  Or is that just my screen?

November 11, 2008 at 12:32 PM ·

Smurf-colored? As in light blue and just turned fifty? And the conductor wears red. I'd like to see that one day.

The only occasions men wear white tie in the Netherlands (that I'm aware of) are evening concerts by professional orchestras or PhD promotions. A penguin suit is not that bad for playing.

Women wear a black dress with an optional white blouse.

November 11, 2008 at 05:59 PM ·

I hate playing in a Tux...personally pit cloths is my favorite (black shirt, black pants, black everything).  I notice that some groups also do colored shirts with black bottoms and that some European orchestras do a mourning coat with grey striped pants.  

Then I watch a video of some older violinist playing in the long coats with a white bow-tie and cuff-links and studs and what-not...and think that a little class can't hurt.  I think I just need to modify my setup slightly to account for the thick slippery collar and shoulder pads that make bowing awkward... 

November 11, 2008 at 11:27 PM ·

Decorum of dress is evaluated in equal  increments according to the venue and pieces that are to be performed at such.After all,this is great music so the individual players should be dressed accordingly to the situation involved.I expect the best,if they were dressed in flannel shirts-then maybe they would be from the Emerald Isle.

Dress up,it does make it classy  to those in attendance !   Dressing up IS part of the job !!

After all,you are there to perform----why not assume the role---life is a play of roles---so assume your role and be happy you have the gift  !


November 11, 2008 at 11:55 PM ·

The music and program could be presented differently though,as to attract a younger audience  ie   dress in flannel non-buttoned-down shirts.Sure the youngers would appreciate the effort !!

HAPPY VETERANS DAY   !!!!!!!        War is hell no matter the dress,just give it your very best and all may be good---we hope !


November 12, 2008 at 12:22 AM ·

Maestro Hong, If Lawrence Welk were alive he'd aplaud you! ;^p. So Do I! You are good medicine dude!

Orange and purple polka dot...LOL! Try a black leather Kilt from

I saw Joshua Bell on PBS with his shirt tails hanging out! Thank God he didn't have his pants with the low waiste band that's in vogue!

November 12, 2008 at 12:21 AM ·

BTW- How did wearing all black get started anyway?????

November 12, 2008 at 03:05 AM ·

Hi Emily,

Is that Dior you're wearing!!


November 12, 2008 at 03:28 AM ·

I must be the odd one here, I actually enjoy dressing up for a concert (maybe because I just played in one concert!).  I love the whole group in black.  I don't think the boys necessarily has to be in tux, but black suit is great!!

For the girls, I wish they will allow skirts that are knee length (not mini skirts obviously), pants are fine, but I don't think I ever own a black dress that is ankle length!?

November 12, 2008 at 07:57 AM ·

I have 3 basic orchestral blacks:  spring, summer and winter.  Spring attire is some nice  travel knits (long dress or pants with a long sleeved "jacket").  Summer is a shorter sleeved pant dressy outfit with some black beading.  Winter is all about black velvet.  I must say, I like the looks of a guy in a tux.  The dress code in my orchestra is all black for the ladies, tea length or longer, arms covered past the shoulder at least.  Tux for the guys - with BLACK not white socks. 

Not sure where the black tradition comes from.  IMHO, going to a concert should be about the music, not the attire.  So, all black helps with not distracting the ear from the eye.  I would be disappointed to go to the symphony and see the musicians dressed in " business casual".  If it were a smaller less formal chamber concert, that would be a different story.

However, in the professional orchestra out here, the season opening concert has "dress code liberties".  Basically, the women can bling it up quite a bit with evening-wear of different colors and styles - as long as it is ankle/tea length (for obvious reasons). 

November 12, 2008 at 02:30 PM ·

I think you see women wearing pants more often nowadays simply because the standard attire is considerably out of fashion and in most cases matronly.  Not all venues are condusive to wearing evening gowns, and the matronly long black skirt has completely vanished in my circle of colleagues.  I am no fashion expert, but pantyhose are also very out of fashion at the moment, meanwhile I'm not at the appropriate age where I can wear velvet yet.  Needless to say it has become very confusing as to what to wear and most days it's easier to just slip on a pair of black pants, a button down black shirt, and some heels to dress it up.  Of course necklaces, bracelets, and certain earrings are cumbersome to the instrument, and diamond rings are tacky on stage, so the shoe is really the only place we can dress ourselves up.

November 12, 2008 at 04:06 PM ·

 What is the "age you can wear velvet"?  I didn't think there was a specific age--I see little kids wear it on up.

November 12, 2008 at 05:59 PM ·

PM...the ladies legs would be distracting if they were in knee length dress.  Not sexually distracting...visually.  Same as having your portrait taken.  People always look better if they are wearing long sleeved shirts vs short sleeves.  Its the way the eye perceives the subject.

Imagine being in the audience and the orchestra is all dressed in black...and then you have the random pink legs sticking out from under the stands.  Every leg movement you would make the audience will notice because of the color contrast.

November 12, 2008 at 07:50 PM ·

Dear Tess,

My daughter plays in a children's orchestra.  We went to one concert where the senior orchestra had a lovely 17 year old ish girl playing 2nd violin and I'm telling you, her black skirt barely covered her butt and she had high heels and skin coloured pantyhoes on.  I'm sure some of the audience delighted in the added bonus of this vision but as in the case of the oboeist with the blue hair, it was a distraction.  Frankly, I'm amazed that she was able to play as well as she did and manage to keep her nether parts covered.  :-)

November 12, 2008 at 11:14 PM ·


November 13, 2008 at 04:50 AM ·

In my area it is black pants suit or tea length or longer dress for the women and black suit (with bow tie) or tux for the men.  My pet peeve is that the men under 35 do not seem to know how to polish their shoes.  A tux with scruffed up dirty black shoes is almost as bad as white socks.  An orchestra or a band is, hopefully, a unit.  I think that the visual element should convey that unity also.  Even when I am playing in a C & W band, we have a little bit of consistency, if it is only the hats.  Just think, ZZ Top has the beards (or at least 2 of them). 

November 13, 2008 at 05:33 AM ·

hmmmm... polishing shoes, make that to include women too, i'm guilty!

November 13, 2008 at 09:24 AM ·

Drive to nearest parking slot, three blocks out.  Step out of car into snow drift.  As snow slowly melts onto shoes, walk across sanded and salted pavement.  Step off curb into slush puddle to cross street.  Enter PAC.

In Alaska, shiny black shoes are simply impossible.

November 13, 2008 at 11:30 AM ·

Why not change shoes once you are inside?

Someone mentioned black Rebocks earlier; What, no checkered Van's?

November 13, 2008 at 01:54 PM ·

Ok I lied... I don't think there is an appropriate age to wear velvet as personally it reminds me of curtains but I was giving my future self the benefit of chance in case I one day decided to like it.  I think it's great in small doses maybe on a shoe, or a sash, or as trim, but a full length velvet skirt or head to toe ensemble (gulp) is a lot for someone to take in with their eyes.  But hey I live in nyc and staying current and up to date is a way of life here.  When I was living in Virginia I wore flannel every day but as comfortable as that was it makes you stick out like a sore thumb in the city.

November 14, 2008 at 04:43 AM ·

Oh, come now Emily.  We all know that Sarah wears Prada.

November 14, 2008 at 05:45 AM ·


she wraps herself in newspaper?!!!!!



November 14, 2008 at 09:03 AM ·

Sarah wears whatever the GOP says she'll wear.

I'll wrap myself in newspaper, but only for a free violin by David Burgess. --Hey, everyone has their price. ...but only if it's a genuine Burgess...

"But how can you be sure it's genuine?"

"...But how can you be sure I'm wearing genuine newspaper?"

"What if I consult my lawyer?"

"What if I am a lawyer?"

"Your mom's a lawyer."

June 4, 2015 at 07:49 PM · Deleted

June 4, 2015 at 08:37 PM · Decades ago, in a concert by the London Sinfonia, under the black lounge suits they wore roll-neck shirts: white for the classical first half, then all different colours for the modern second half.

June 5, 2015 at 01:41 AM · I'll just comment on what a male wears for a concert (since I'm not a female). I recall 1 of my friends a few years ago, on another discussion here said she thought it showed no originality as an artist to wear all black. I would have to agree with her. Obviously for hot outdoor concerts in the summer, a suit for a guy (although let's not forget Hilary Clinton wears them too :) ) might not always be a realistic choice.

For a daytime concert a suit/coat and tie works, and for an evening concert, a tux is good.

Like anything else there's a right and wrong way to wear a tux. I learned, traditionally it's a mistake to wear a tux before the evening. Many (historically misinformed) conductors and PM's make their orchestras play in a tux for 3PM concerts. This is wrong! Also I find the self tie, bow ties are way more comfy and easier to play with. Clip ons are kind of the synthetic strings of ties. They might be easier to put on, but they're not as good. :)

June 5, 2015 at 03:56 AM · The thing about orchestra dress codes is that if you're going for a uniform look, then it has to be VERY uniform. That's hard to do without some coordination, I would guess. Shirts and so on can look very different.

Actually when I see a male soloist, I would rather they were NOT wearing a suit. It just makes me cringe to think how uncomfortable it must be to play the violin in a suit. I prefer the Josh Bell look -- long sleeve shirt and trousers.

June 5, 2015 at 06:55 AM · Why not a short sleeve shirt ?

June 5, 2015 at 11:56 AM · Two basic styles for the orchestras I play in: for the men, DJs with white shirt and black trousers, or all black with no tie and wearing a jacket is optional; and for the ladies, all black, but the top maybe colored. Which option is chosen for us depends on the venue and the level of formality. St George's Hall in Bristol for example is at a high level of formality and we normally perform with a soloist of international status. On the other hand a charity concert at a local church or hall will usually be in less formal attire.

Whatever gear is decided for a concert you can be sure that on the day there will always be someone who didn't get the message and turns up in the "other" setup :)

June 5, 2015 at 02:25 PM · For whatever reason, I find the concert dress issue endlessly fascinating.

I go with the flow...I'll wear whatever I'm supposed to wear. I'll agree that it should be comfortable. Playing music can become rather athletic at times.

What continues to engage my interest however, are reading the differing opinions of what is 'right'. Is formal 'right' in today's age? Is black 'right', or too dull? Does it put a crimp in individuality?

Personally...I think the whole point of an to come together as whole and produce 'one music'. The music is ultimately the focus. The appearance of the individual player (barring the soloist) is not.

Part of what makes the visual of a symphony orchestra so awesome IS the uniformity of dress of its members. So I don't think anything is lost at all - but much is gained.

There are different levels of formality too. Formality doesn't have to be stiff, starched and itchy. I think most of that went out the window with the advent of synthetic fibres. Nor does it have to be expensive.

I think though, we might have lost a sense of what 'appropriate' is. A comfortable black ensemble composed of dress slacks, formal top and leather (or leather-like) shoes is not the same as a comfortable black ensemble composed of yoga pants, yoga top and Crocs.

I have seen both worn (by women) in performances.

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