Ditch the Tux?

October 13, 2011 at 04:37 PM ·

These days, I see more chamber and solo players without jackets and ties.  But symphony organizations seem more resistant to the trend.  In orchestras, uniform color schemes make sense; but if management said to skip the tuxes and ties, would any players rebel?  Would any patrons quit attending?  I doubt it.

While this change could help to dispel the stuffy snobbery at a lot of symphony halls, I see that as only a good side effect.  My main interest, as a player, is functionality.  To me, wearing a tux to play violin makes about as much sense as wearing a tux to play baseball.

When I was 20, a spring heat wave in Michigan -- afternoon highs about 95 F., no air conditioning -- forced a group of us doing some small chamber playing to skip the jackets and ties.  We hadn't originally planned it that way.  But in the heat, it became a matter of survival.

Well, our audiences liked us just fine in shirtsleeves.  I definitely felt more freedom -- and closer, more secure contact with the instrument.  After that, I couldn't go back to the old way.

Please share your views and experiences.

Replies (54)

October 13, 2011 at 04:53 PM ·

I noticed my young students played so horribly in their black concert attire compared to what they usually wear (jeans and t-shirts) I made a compromise.

My youth orchestra wears black formal on the bottom (black dress pants, socks, shoes), but with an orchestra t-shirt on top.

They still look very classy and uniform, and the playing comfort makes a big difference for a lot of them!

October 13, 2011 at 05:48 PM ·

In England it is now quite usual for younger ensembles to have the dress code of all black. This gives a lot of choice for the musicians to wear what they feel comfortable in, yet it invariably looks unified.

Some choose quite a traditional style while others choose contemporary designer styles. I remember one concert that included a female pianist, who looked really well dressed in a black top and skirt from a distance. However when you got slightly closer you could see she had a sort of spider web netting top over her black shirt. The entire ensemble looked really sophisticated.

There is a London based cello octet - Cellophany - who have a really good image both live and in their publicity. They are all wonderful players as well. Here is their website with several good images:






October 13, 2011 at 06:50 PM ·

I am female, so have the luxury to choose my outfit to suit the weather.  In school i had to play orch concerts in our school blazer and hated it, .i do not know how men do it.  I think you all should take a stand and ask for equality, female cellists did it re: trousers 

October 13, 2011 at 09:10 PM ·

"But symphony organizations seem more resistant to the trend."

I think it is a great idea.

Here is the practical side of that resistance--if a different outfit is selected, does the musician foot the bill for it? Probably. Then, what about players who may not  play all the time? If you're an extra or "replacement" player and want the gig, do you buy the forrest green nehru jacket that has been selected as the official outfit (and may cut your net by 50%)?  Or if the outfit is indeed unique, does the orchestra now suddenly go into the clothing business and buy/clean/store a huge inventory because of the variety of sizes needed to keep on hand? I suppose the orchestra could cut down SOME of that inventory by telling the Personnel Manager that they now have to hire "by coat size."

October 13, 2011 at 09:20 PM ·

 I think the idea is that men would have the same freedom women now enjoy--'all black' and "floor to ceiling" as one orchestra pers. man. put it--long sleeves, to-the-floor skirt or trousers, etc.

Since there are relatively few men's black shirts, it might prove a problem, but no need to standardize the 'new' wardrobe the way tuxes or tails are.

October 13, 2011 at 09:28 PM ·

It was certainly a relief to me when 5 years ago our orchestra conductor announced that from then on we would go "all black." No more "penguin suits." I had bought my own tux 30 years ago for $50 (used from a tux rental store in San Francisco) for our younger daughter's wedding, since I knew I would get frequent use for it for orchestra and other concerts (at least 6 times a year). So now it's retired.

Now I wear black trousers and a black long-sleeve Guaybera shirt. Kind of the way Joshua Bell dresses for concerts. Plenty of room among the 4 pockets for on-stage rosin and other stuff I might need.


October 13, 2011 at 09:47 PM ·

I can see the tux being uncomfortable.  I'm always open to change...

However, I don't like our trend towards uber-casual.  There's a difference between being well-dressed or formally dressed and snobby.  They're not the same at all.

I also don't like all-black.  It might unify, but very few people look good in all-black, and children look awful.

In our orchestra we wear black on the bottom, white on top (tux optional).  However, while I like that, others have said they prefer all black and that we look like waiters.

And please, whatever else...don't wear the clunky black Crocs/Dawgs as performance footwear.  Save those for home.



October 13, 2011 at 10:34 PM ·

Tuxedo is hardly hot and stuffy. It is no different than a business suit. Except for summer outdoor gigs (where lighter clothing is often chosen), all venues are air conditioned....so what's the big deal?


October 13, 2011 at 11:09 PM ·

My orchestra's "casual" dress code is:  long-sleeved black dress shirt or turtleneck (no t-shirts or sweatshirts), black pants (no jeans or sweatpants), black socks and black dress shoes.  For women it's the same except they can wear skirts or dresses instead of pants.  Colorful ties, scarves, etc. are allowed.  I much, MUCH prefer this over the penguin suit and feel it is quite nice-looking enough to wear for the "big" concerts.  Men have some choice about what kind of shirt to wear, and have some chance of being comfortable.


Bill:  2 things:  (a) freedom of movement and (b) stage lights. 

October 14, 2011 at 01:27 AM ·

I dunno, I think you just have to:

1. man up ;-)

2. get a better tailor :-)


October 14, 2011 at 02:12 AM ·

Guess I'll have to man up then.



: - )

October 14, 2011 at 03:05 AM ·

I actually like the look of white tie and tails, as opposed to tux - a look I've sometimes been required to have. Aesthetically, I feel that there is a  time and place for various looks and degrees of formailty, depending on the situation.But the practical problem with any jacket is the discomfort and tightness in the shoulder and upper arm areas, which is a serious issue. It's hard enough to perform many things in the most comfortable t-shirt, let alone in a jacket.

One of these days I'm going to have a couple of tailor-made jackets that are particularly flexible, but look very much like a tux or tails jacket. Till then, what I have done for many orchestra gigs is to wear cheap, flexible jackets with a bow tie. With a regular jacket, try to select something not too tight at the shoulder, maybe with removeable shoulder pads, and maybe one size too big, which can be taken in here and there in places that would not interfere with playing. Do discuss your needs with the tailor or clothier. Also, if you don't perform often, make sure to do some practicing in the outfit you plan to wear a few days or so prior to the performance. That includes dressy shoes. Finally, as the occasion permits - e.g. when I am running my own show, I will indeed perform in a nice dressy black shirt, with nice black pants and shoes - and NO jacket!

October 14, 2011 at 06:40 AM ·

 I personally think it's good to wear something nice for a concert (orchestra/solo). Call me old-fashioned, I think a male classical artist should at least wear a suit and tie for a performance.  No one's going to fault you for dressing up.  Of course there are times when the weather doesn't permit one to wear a tux for say an outdoor concert in heat. 

I agree with Raphael, it's good to practice with a jacket if you're not used to playing with one.

My question is, how do women perform in heels?? For me it's hard enough to play well with both feet planted on the floor. :)

October 14, 2011 at 12:47 PM ·

Just non sense if you are going to play in 100 degree heat as NYC in plain summer in central park hey are we chicken to be rosted to barbecue. Think an black pants and short sleveeve shirt with no NO NO tie. Come on guys think "WHEATHER". by the other hand dont put white socks with a black pantas(JEANS NO) we will look like waiter in a restaurant.

October 14, 2011 at 01:34 PM ·

 i never wear heels, long dress, ballet pump combo is me

October 14, 2011 at 03:06 PM ·

For me it's not so much the jacket but the stupid bow tie it doesn't make sense to me why a violinist should have to wear one. I came across this video of Frank Peter Zimmerrnann his jacket looks great, appears comfortable and still formal enough for the concert stage I don't think anyone would fault him for not wearing a tie.



October 14, 2011 at 03:21 PM ·

Only clip-on bow ties are stupid. A nice silk tie, hand tied, is soft, comfortable and unobstructing. If you are wearing white tie, I do agree that the cotton pique is a bit thicker but again, you can find a nice thin soft one and the problem goes away.

Remember Ronald Reagan?  He smartly wore his shirts a bit loose in the neck. He didn't look like an overstuffed turkey the way many senior button-down types get when they refuse to believe that they need to go up a neck size.

Also, with dinner jacket, or indeed with white tie as well, you don't have to wear a thick shirt!  I have some cotton batiste stiff-bosom shirts as well as soft collar pleated ones for black tie, also made of batiste in the back  and sleeves and a fine broadcloth in the front. They are essentially sheer. And the jacket and trousers can be made out of a very fine, thin worsted of the same weight as a tropical worsted business suit.

The problem is that most men now buy off the shelf "year round" clothing often made from really poor quality materials and even polyester, and do not understand that it makes a HUGE difference to get proper clothing!

Remember that in the heydey of white tie and tails, you wore it dancing! the problem is that off the shelf modern stuff is made for rental (which means durable, launderable and cheap).


October 15, 2011 at 08:06 AM ·

Honestly I kind of wish soloists still wore tailcoats, just look how classy Milstein and Kogan look.

I actually have my violin setup a little low for when I wear a coat/tux.  I've always wondered if there are any professionals who do the same (excluding those people who seem to wear a suit or sportcoat all the time and for who it's a moot point anyway)

October 15, 2011 at 11:10 AM ·

I just did a rehearsal the other day in an orchestra where our soloist in the Brahms violin concerto was a young woman who did a great job while wearing heels! The thing with woman and heels though is that it's totally optional. I really envy them not having to wear a jacket or blazer.

October 15, 2011 at 06:12 PM ·

The men in, for example, the university orchestras here in Manchester, England wear black shirts without ties and black trousers.  While this outfit sounds comfortable and looks all right on men of student age, I have noticed elsewhere that it's an outfit for the young: it does not flatter men who are of middle age (often too fat) or elderly (outfit looks too young on them). I have no objection to dinner jackets as formal dress and, for an orchestra (professional or amateur), a concert is a formal occasion.  I'd echo some points made above: a dinner jacket does not have to be of heavy material. It is useful in my experience to get one which is at least one and perhaps even two sizes too big to allow for comfortable playing movement.  For bow ties, non-bulky ones are called for.  Waistcoats (USA vests) are unnecessary, are rarely if ever worn over here.  They should be considered as out of the question on grounds of comfort.  For summer concerts, it would seem helpful to leave off the dinner jackets while keeping the white shirts and black ties.

October 17, 2011 at 07:15 PM ·

Thank you all for your input.

I suspect some of you might be wondering: "But Jim doesn't do orchestra anymore.  So why should this matter to him anyway?"  Well, I remember too vividly what it was like to play orchestra concerts in coat and tie under the hot stage lights.  Every time I see an ensemble suited up this way, it brings back the feeling.

Oh, yes -- the black shirts.  Personally, I prefer white or light blue.  This clip of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra playing Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1, "Classical," i. and ii, approximates the look I have in mind.

Three things I'd adjust: 1) shirts -- either all long sleeves or all short sleeves; 2) if long sleeves, then either all rolled back a couple of turns or none rolled back; 3) white dresses for the ladies -- to match the white shirts the guys are wearing.  These ladies have quite a mixture here.

The Weekend Vote from last April was 58% against tuxes; 42% in favor.  There are a fair number of traditionalists, as this thread shows; but there seem to be even more rebels -- like me, for instance.  I wonder: Do symphony players these days have more of a voice than they once did regarding what their ensembles wear in concert?

October 18, 2011 at 12:24 AM ·

I vote for string bikinis and speedos.

October 18, 2011 at 12:26 AM ·

 you are not fearful that classical music will suffer from over-exposure?  

October 18, 2011 at 12:37 AM ·

Haha!  That's perfect! That's exactly what we need! Right now it is underexposure!

It would trump Katy Perry, Kelly Rowland, and Beyoncee not to menshion ke$ha and a whost of others!

October 18, 2011 at 01:53 AM ·

the problem with tux-gate is the misconception that classical music is but skin deep.  

will union sue over infringement over entitled attire?

October 18, 2011 at 11:26 AM ·

I'm with you all the way Jim! All we need is to wear a nice black shirt and trousers, and no damned tie.

The women can wear what they like, as much or as little as they like, but if it gets too skimpy (i.e.very short skirts and low tops) then the men have a problem looking at their parts ... (the music I mean ...)

October 18, 2011 at 03:31 PM ·

I wonder: Do symphony players these days have more of a voice than they once did regarding what their ensembles wear in concert?

This question by Jim is interesting. In turn, I wonder whether it has anything to do with the fact that the men of the two main professional orchestras in my city have forsaken the dinner jackets which they wore in my teenage years in favour of white ties and tails.  A tail coat may give more freedom because of the cut-away and unbuttoned nature of its front.  The white ties which they wear give the positive impression of not being bulky.

Secondly, I appreciate that there may be discomfort in wearing dinner jackets under strong electric light or in summer.  However, lightweight ones are readily obtainable and, under other conditions, it is possible to be too cold in shirtsleeves.


October 20, 2011 at 02:22 AM ·

Well, the right group might follow the lead suggested by the Bond Quartet's management:


Leonard Bernstein tried to introduce an all-black uniform to the NYPSO back in the 50s.  Sort of a silk Nehru jacket worn over black trousers.  The reviews were not kind, and the experiment was dropped.  I personally don't mind the all-black look, but it does raise the problem of finding a black shirt and/or sweater, which is not always easy to do for men.

One thing to look out for when shopping for jackets is the design of the back and shoulders.  A lot of jackets today don't have enough room across the back and chest.  They also tend to have very large armholes, as this better disguises the fact that they don't fit in other ways.  If, however, you can find a jacket with good breadth across the shoulder blades and very tight armholes, you should be able to move around quite comfortably without having the front of the jacket or the back of the collar jerk around.  There are a lot of London tailors who can manage this quite well, as they've had a long time preparing military uniforms and shooting jackets for the gentry.  For example:





Obviously, Savile Row isn't in the budget of most freelancers.  But if you find jackets that have some of these traits-- and avoid those that really don't--  you can be remarkably comfortable.  Among other more important things, the concert films of Heifetz and Milstein show what good tailoring can make possible.



October 20, 2011 at 01:39 PM ·

I've played in just about everything; tux, tails, jeans, you name it (no speedos, though-- didn't want to terrorize any children in the audience). One of my favorites comes from my part of the world (Northeast USA) when the men wore black slacks and white mock turtleneck sweaters (loose). It's a cold-climate area, so if the hall was underheated, it was a simple thing to slip on a light jacket. The women wore white blouses and a style of very loose pants called cuelots (sp. ??) pronounced koo-lots, I think). I thought the pants were the best of both worlds because they looked like floor-length gowns. Sorry to see that go. Too 60s, I suspect.

I organize a volunteer orchestra now of mixed abilities and ages. The players pick whatever they want to wear, and interestingly it's usually all-black, no tie. Rarely do any of the women wear high heels. There still seems to be a sentiment that a wildly discolored assortment of clothing types and styles is distracting to the audience.

October 20, 2011 at 02:17 PM ·

culottes.  :-)



October 22, 2011 at 02:49 PM ·

 I've played in blazers, evening gowns, jeans, dress shirts, e.t.c., and I have to say, the men wearing tuxedos look ridiculously uncomfortable. My stand partner's bow tie usually flips to the side by the end of the performance. Heck, even pianists (a la my acquaintance) complained that tuxedos just aren't practical for musical performance, which is rather similar to physical exercise rather than "leisurely performance". 

What I do appreciate about tuxes is that they are LOADED with pockets. Quite recently my E string snapped twice (snapped, my partner re-strung it while I was playing his, got mine back, it snapped again) because of the ridiculously cold hall we were rehearsing in, and since he had pockets he just whipped out spares. I can't do that, since my outfit doesn't have any pockets to accommodate for any spare strings. I understand string breakages aren't the commonest mishap that occurs during a concert, but these things do happen and strings in pockets come to the rescue. 

Maybe we should just ditch the formalwear period and go on stage with overalls. Hey, rock musicians go on stage sometimes naked (a la Ian Paice from Deep Purple), so why can't we have some freedom? Maybe Nigel Kennedy has the right idea. It certainly lowers the threshold for classical music (which, from the past experience, is something "posh" and needs "proper training" to go and enjoy. Considering that Mozart was the Classical period Ke$ha, I don't see the fuss...)

October 22, 2011 at 04:11 PM ·

"...tuxedos just aren't practical for musical performance, which is rather similar to physical exercise rather than "leisurely performance".

Haha, once again this comes back to the problem of poor tailoring and unsuitable fabric choices.

I've worn my tailcoat while dancing more than I have worn it sitting around...:-)


October 24, 2011 at 08:36 AM ·

 Yees, but at the amount a musician gets paid on average, who can afford "comfortable tuxes"? Not many (and the shoulder pads really are uncomfortable when you have a few lines on G string). Not to mention that I always feel like I've completed a five mile run at the end of a concerto or a symphony (aka I'm tired and I'm wiped out and I want to go home now). Linen and silk can only do so much to absorb the sweat. Also, if you wear them once every week or so, the dry-cleaning gets a bit silly. 

Actually, the same goes for evening gowns. I've worn them, and I always feel like I'm wearing a suit of barbed wires. I've always asked my mother (who makes my stagewear for me) to use linen or cotton for linings for my dresses, and STILL they are uncomfortable. I've began to think Nigel Kennedy has the right idea.

October 25, 2011 at 06:42 PM ·

If you have a seamstress handy, try making an evening dress out of something comfy and washable...like a jersey knit.  It doesn't have to be made out of an expensive 'ungiving' fabric to look good.  Fit, colour and style will be what pops...less so the fabric itself...in many cases.

October 27, 2011 at 03:44 PM ·

 I was born too soon. I await the day when it is acceptable for men to play sleeveless. It's a good look (for most) and nothing is more comfortable. Call me nutty; I don't care.




October 27, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

October 27, 2011 at 04:31 PM ·

 ...oh my...

October 30, 2011 at 01:11 AM · In today's world, where else could I spend an evening in the company of gentle men and ladies in fine dress playing fine music with fine instruments?

October 31, 2011 at 08:50 PM · The community orchestra I play in requires tuxes for men; however, about a year ago I stopped wearing it and went to all black like the women wear. I've had backstage conversations with the president and board members in the new outfit and no one has said a thing about it. I think if other guys started doing the same thing then there might be a backlash, but so far no one seems to care.

November 1, 2011 at 02:15 AM · @bill platt

Your point is well taken and I withdraw my remarks.


November 1, 2011 at 02:50 AM · Bill-Looking at that pic I have to ask the obvious question that EVERYONE is thinking but afraid to ask...does he use a shoulder rest?


November 1, 2011 at 03:12 AM · Off Topic:

No--Mark Wood does one better. He invented a "Chest Support System." Your head is completely freed from the instrument. Pretty brilliant really.

Hey, Scott. Why withdraw? I am sure you would be a chick magnet if you went sleeveless.

On Topic:

Even Mark Wood is paying tribute to the tailcoat. He often wears black.

November 1, 2011 at 01:47 PM · "I've began to think Nigel Kennedy has the right idea."

Strange, because I've just watched on TV a concert where Nige played two concertos and an assorted number of extra encores, with his Polish Orchestra.

The orchestra and conductor were all there in tails and black for the ladies, but he came out in some strange get up which included boots, a sort of cape (looked home made) and baggy trousers, plus the usual haircut.

He's a great entertainer, and even if his playing isn't perfect, it's damned good, and he is musical down to his big toe.

The music making was very fine, which is what matters.

People here in the UK get very hung up on how he looks, speaks and behaves. They can't see beyond that. The English are so blinkered.

June 4, 2015 at 07:06 PM · Super uncomfortable in my tuxedo and been pondering the same points from Jim, Bruce, and Bill.

I'm a violinist in Texas. Its hot down here. Was playing the Symphony Fantastique for the finale. Raced off stage and saw that I had sweated through my undershirt, tuxedo shirt, and wetted the inner lining of my tux.

while running on the trail one day, i looked down at my underarmour shirt. it was light as air and highly breathable.

so i decided to build my own solution. after two years in development with a team in los angeles, we have "the world's most comfortable tuxedo shirt". its already been tested by members of the dallas opera, dallas symphony, Univ of North Texas, SMU, and las colinas symphony.

the name of the company is Coregami.com

hope it helps you!


June 5, 2015 at 01:16 PM · Great concept with that shirt design.

June 5, 2015 at 02:56 PM · I dig that shirt as well, but I think I'm about to look into some mandarin collar shirts. Sometimes they look sort of goofy, but I've seen some that look just formal enough, but don't involve me doing origami on my collar in order to get the violin comfortably under my neck.

June 6, 2015 at 12:27 PM · Wan't it Seiji Ozawa who was rather famous for eschewing the tux shirt and bow tie for a turtle neck under the tux jacket?

June 6, 2015 at 02:22 PM · Kevin: Congrats on designing and marketing the Concert Sport Shirt! It looks great! :D

June 6, 2015 at 06:19 PM · Great idea Kevin! The design kind of reminds me of those Under Armor shirts athletes wear to keep them cool.

June 7, 2015 at 09:03 AM · As both player and conductor, I'm all for redesigning concert attire. A shirt similar to the Philippine barong for men, white or black, outside the trousers gives comfort, range of motion and yet a formal appearance. Ladies in lightweight dressy attire for summer, long dresses for winter seems appropriate. Important thing is to look and feel like a team....white on top means everybody, for example. Having said that, I do have an issue with what some soloists are getting away with. A few look downright immature.

June 7, 2015 at 09:04 AM · As both player and conductor, I'm all for redesigning concert attire. A shirt similar to the Philippine barong for men, white or black, outside the trousers gives comfort, range of motion and yet a formal appearance. Ladies in lightweight dressy attire for summer, long dresses for winter seems appropriate. Important thing is to look and feel like a team....white on top means everybody, for example. Having said that, I do have an issue with what some soloists are getting away with. A few look downright immature.

March 30, 2016 at 01:15 AM · If a complete suit and tie is a little too much, I think a a good, neutral-colored french cuff shirt ( http://www.tiesncuffs.com.au/blogs/articles/6361404-what-are-french-cuff-shirts ) would be comfortable while still looking classy.

March 30, 2016 at 02:55 AM · I agree that the uniformity is nice with an orchestra. I don't see why uniform shirts or something wouldn't be the same. I don't think it really matters what you wear though. I'm there to hear you play, not to judge if you look good or match the decor of the location.

March 30, 2016 at 03:32 AM · I'd love to get a shirt like Zukerman's in this video. Anybody have any idea where I could find one? Or do you think it's custom made?


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