Concertmaster clothing

February 1, 2017 at 09:14 PM · Hey, I'd love to hear everybody's thoughts on female concertmasters wearing pants for performances. While female section players often wear slacks (I'd say a little over half the time, in my experience), there seems to be an unspoken rule that simple black slacks are too dressed-down for a female concertmaster. What do you all say? Do you consider it unprofessional for a female concertmaster to wear pants rather than a dress/skirt?

Replies (48)

February 1, 2017 at 09:56 PM · The concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony wears black pants. I don't find it garish, but I'm not really one to be scandalized by something like that. I think she looks pretty stylish. She also matches the rest of the section - I actually can't think of seeing any players wearing dresses in any section. I wonder if the idea for the concertmaster is to not rob attention from the soloist, who is probably wearing some blinged-out dress. Again, not something that particularly concerns me, but my observations as an audience member.

Even going to chamber music recitals, the women often wear dresses, but I've seen slacks before. There was the time I saw Yuja Wang in concert, but I somehow still managed to listen with my ears (She sounded great!).

February 1, 2017 at 11:02 PM · I don't think it matters. Orchestras should just ditch binary sex-specific dress codes. It is totally arbitrary, and has nothing really of substance to back it up other than it being a convention. I am sad to have only seen one male, a bassoonist I think, in a dress during an orchestra concert. There are more than two genders.

February 1, 2017 at 11:08 PM · Luci, et al.,

If you have the cash why not go whole-hog and get a full-on tux made for you?

While many orchestras hold to traditional dress (black & white) with all of the rules from the 1800's intact the reality is that your audience is likely to be wearing jeans and sneakers - and that is the grey haired contingent. (FWIW: I'm part of the geezer contingent, blazer, jeans, comfortable shoes and a comfortable shirt.)

A black business (pants) suit would be appropriate and forget the tie replace it with a scarf. A flash of color will be appreciated by some.

All these rules put off many potential audience members when attendance is shrinking.

At the same time Rieu's orchestra has over-the-top dress, schmaltz and kitch and they pack the house and have audiences with younger people. Go Figure

February 1, 2017 at 11:20 PM · Personally I think it's more weird when a musician looks uncomfortable or constricted in movement by what he or she is wearing. I think skirts tend to do that more than pants unless the skirt is very generous -- like the kind you see on cellists.

February 1, 2017 at 11:25 PM · I don't think there's anything wrong with female concertmasters wearing pants - male concertmasters aren't any more dressy than the rest of the section, and skirts don't necessarily look better.

February 1, 2017 at 11:33 PM · Thanks, all....good thoughts here. I just don't want people to look at me and think "unprofessional".

February 2, 2017 at 01:59 AM · First of all: congratulation on winning the role!

Take a stroll in any major city downtown business area and see what female lawyers, executives or just ordinary clerks wear. Unless you want to make a fashion statement on stage, wear what looks professional and is comfortable at the same time. I red somewhere that one company's shortest dress code was: "Get dressed!".

February 2, 2017 at 03:04 AM · Of which orchestra are you concertmaster?

February 2, 2017 at 03:19 AM · There must be some female equivalent in trousers of the black silk blouse?

As long as you're not doing the black jeans/thong/black sweatshirt thing, you should be OK. The main point of a stage uniform is (a) you look well-dressed and (b) you are just boring enough that nobody will bother to figure out if you are well-dressed.

February 2, 2017 at 03:25 AM · My recollection is that Madeline Adkins (assistant CM Baltimore) and Nurit Bar-Josef (CM National Symphony) both normally play in pants.

There aren't really that many major symphony female concertmasters. But there are plenty at the more regional/local/community level, and the trend seems to be pants both for CMs and section players.

Unless you're going to wear a floor-length skirt, pants are the safer choice. Otherwise there's always the look-up-the-skirt issues depending on stage height and angles.

In my community orchestra, I didn't bother to change the way that I dressed when I became CM. Black silk shirt, plain black pants. If I'm playing solo, I have a black evening-dress pants-suit for that purpose.

February 2, 2017 at 04:09 AM · my cm wears formal clothing, usually with whatever she feels comfortable but is still formal

February 2, 2017 at 06:16 AM · I've seen female CMs wearing appropriately dressy black slacks; I've never heard of any such "unspoken rule" barring them.

I think the nature of the concert more than the gender of the musician affects the level of formality, but that applies to everyone in the section. For example, in both our dress codes for classical concerts and for our movie soundtrack performances, women are required to wear long black onstage, sleeves at least 3/4 length, and there is no restriction on slacks. But more women wear skirts for the classical concerts, and pretty much everyone wears their dressier black for the classical and their more casual black for the movies, even though technically the dress codes are interchangeable for the women. (they aren't for the men in this particular example)

February 2, 2017 at 01:57 PM · Dress pants are less professional? Since when? Maybe in 1965...

BTW...if you are going to wear a skirt, make sure it's long enough. I also suggest black tights to go along with a skirt, regardless of length. Less distracting.

February 2, 2017 at 01:58 PM · Generally speaking, nowadays I don't think it's a big deal one way or another. But it depends upon the orchestra and venue. Also, I can't articulate the specifics but some women's (as well as men's) pants look dressier and sharper than others.

As to a woman wearing a well-tailored tux, to my tastes some women can pull it off and look really chic - or maybe just a jacket with an open collar blouse can be very nice on some women. BUT - if you do that, make sure you can really play comfortably. That's where I'm envious of my female colleagues. In most gigs I have to wear a tux and bow tie. In many solo and some other situations where it's up to me, I'll usually wear just a black shirt and black tux pants - maybe with a vest.

One thing though - you might want to run it by the conductor.

February 2, 2017 at 04:01 PM · I hate to disagree with Raphael, but please do not run any clothing choices by any conductor, ever. If you have a question, the appropriate person to check with would be the personnel manager.

Musical questions-->conductor

Workplace questions-->personnel manager

Contractual issues-->orchestra committee

February 2, 2017 at 04:09 PM · Thanks very much!

@PaulDeck I'm finishing my senior year of undergrad music studies, and my professional orchestra experience is limited to section playing. But I am currently concertmaster of two student/young adult orchestras and assistant cm of a local community orchestra.

Long black is a given - so if I'm going to wear a skirt it will always be full-length. I understand the skirt-length caution ;) but for concerts it's not an issue.

As for suits - I just don't do suits. Very unflattering on me. For gigs and chamber recitals I usually do a dressy silk top and dress pants, which is what I'll go for for my upcoming orchestra concert as well.

February 2, 2017 at 05:59 PM · Men have had a huge advantage in professional workplace attire for a long time: Simplicity. Two-piece suits, white shirts, boring ties, shoes with laces, and a very few accessories. The more understated the better. Style is a secondary issue at best. The secret for a gentleman to look well-dressed has long been dominated by fabric and bespoke tailoring. Read "Dress for Success" by John Molloy if you don't believe me. The only man who finds suits "unflattering" is the man who feels that way no matter what he wears -- usually the reason is obesity.

As Raphael said, some women's pants look dressier than others -- and I suspect fabric (especially its sheen and drape) and tailoring are the reasons. The pants that come with a standard men's suit are made entirely, or nearly entirely, of wool, and you just don't bring them home from the store without having them adjusted by the tailor. Do women do this too -- custom tailoring with every pair of dress pants you buy?

February 2, 2017 at 06:01 PM ·

February 2, 2017 at 06:29 PM · "Do women do this too -- custom tailoring with every pair of dress pants you buy?"

Most women don't. I never have. Women who are exceptionally tall or short, or who don't fit the standard sizes in some other way, may have a different experience.

My favorite pair of dressy black pants came from a thrift store--they don't offer onsite tailoring.

February 2, 2017 at 07:03 PM · In professional orchestras, I think women really have the simplicity advantage when it comes to dress. Generally men have a variety of different uniforms required for different types of concerts - tails, tuxes, white jackets, suits, all black no jacket - but for women, if you show up wearing long black, 90% of the time you'll be right.

February 2, 2017 at 08:27 PM · That depends on the orchestra. Women in my orchestra wear white/black for pops, solid jewel tone color on top/black for young people's concerts, evening gown for the gala, all black in the pit but some of the restrictions are is rare but not unheard of for someone to show up wearing the wrong color on top.

February 2, 2017 at 08:43 PM · Women don't generally tailor their pants. But whereas men have nice standard sizes for pants, women's pants are pretty much a grab-bag of "good luck finding a pair that is exactly right in all dimensions". (When I find a pair of pants that I like, I generally buy at least three of them.)

I do have some of my concert clothing tailored at the sleeves, since jacket-sleeves are usually too long for me, and I also want to limit the range of motion of the sleeve-fabric when it flows. I get internal snaps on the inside of the sleeves that create an internal cuff that cause the fabric to stop at a comfortable place, and I have them placed differently on the left and right. A seamstress suggested this to me and it was a terrific idea.

February 3, 2017 at 01:07 PM · Mary Ellen - is this our first fight? Makes me so sad... :-(

Just kidding!

I think it may depend on the particular orchestra and its structure. I'm sure that Mary Ellen is quite correct when it comes to a full-time highly professional orchestras like hers. Even before she explained her situation I had a feeling that this was not Luci's kind of orchestra. In some other, more freelance situations, the contractor may focus mainly on just getting the bodies, or the conductor may double as the contractor/personnel manager. In some situations I might not want to 'bother' either the conductor or the contractor. If I were relatively new, I might informally ask a more experienced (in that particular orchestra) colleague or two, if they seemed reliable.

In one orchestra that I play with frequently, the conductor is also a Catholic priest and more often than not, we perform in churches. The rule there is tuxes for men and long black dresses or skirts for women. (Don't shoot the messenger; I'll give you the conductor's email if you like. No, actually I won't!) Once we had a woman sub who I got friendly with. We rehearse very little and when we do, it's the same day, so she just showed up for that particular performance - in pants. I took it upon myself to tell her that I wanted her to be asked back so next time, if there IS a next time - (and there WAS) - she should wear a long skirt or dress. She thanked me and told me that nobody told her anything. This usually IS something in this group that the contractor would say but he just forgot, being busy dealing with a lot of subs for that particular performance.

So the moral of the story is...I forget; it's still too early in the morning!

February 3, 2017 at 02:51 PM · Ah.

Well, I can't speak to the particulars of the OP's university, but at Indiana University, every student orchestra had a student personnel manager (work-study position) and dress code questions would indeed go to the personnel manager. I have a vivid memory of one particular afternoon concert at which the conductor (not the usual one) had instructed us to dress differently from what was called for in the dress code, sowing mass confusion, and giving the student personnel manager fits.

For what it's worth, I was concertmaster of one of the Oberlin student orchestras my senior year, and I wore pants for every concert. This was 35 years ago. Of course, Oberlin has always been a progressive place. :-)

February 3, 2017 at 03:25 PM · Of course, it's not that I feel that I'm dressing inappropriately when I'm wearing pants while performing. It's more that at this age and stage in my career, I'm (legitimately?) concerned about giving good first impressions and appearing as over-all professional as I can.

Although the orchestras which I lead as concertmaster are student orchestras, we try to display as much professionalism as we can.

The concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (one of the best in the country, in my opinion) almost always wears dresses or dressy palazzo-style pants (for guys who don't know what those are, they're extremely wide-legged pants). So I just decided to check with this lovely community of musicians to see if that's a trend nation-wide or not.

And if I've opened a can of worms when it comes to gender/dress codes etc., I'm so very sorry. :D

In response to Mary Ellen and Raphael, my conductor wouldn't take questions about clothing. We have managers whom I could ask if I wanted to. It's not really a question about the specifics of a dress code, anyway.

February 3, 2017 at 03:40 PM · Well, you asked about an unwritten rule and the general response was, there is no such unwritten rule.

Unless maybe you are going to school in Utah or some other extremely conservative place, I think you'll be fine in appropriately dressy pants. If you're concerned about your professional future, please remember that professional orchestras conduct auditions behind a screen, at least the first round, and after that we really don't care if you're wearing a skirt or pants, as long as you are wearing clothing. (It is nice to look professional, though--I don't recommend jeans or shorts.) You are way overthinking this.

February 3, 2017 at 06:26 PM · One cool think about palazzo pants is that when you're sitting down, from a distance they look like a skirt. Guys can't wear them though. We don't turn up for rehearsals in yoga pants either.

As for the OP, she seems so intelligent and earnest that it's hard to imagine her going wrong in her choice of clothing, or anything else for that matter.

February 3, 2017 at 07:28 PM · @Mary Ellen In a way you're right that I'm overthinking. :) But really, if I was actually that anxious about it I would have just gone ahead and worn a dress. I had 90% decided to wear slacks when I first posted the question. I was mainly just posting out of curiosity, wanting to hear from the musical community - and I've enjoyed the discussion.

February 3, 2017 at 08:34 PM · As I recall, in my first professional orchestral gigs (40+ years back) the trend toward women in trousers (careful about 'pants' in case there's a wisecracking Brit around) began in the celli, since they sat facing forward (vla where 2nds usually are, 2nds across from 1sts). It made SO much sense, and the rest of the women soon followed, uh, suit. We never had a woman concertmaster in those years.

February 3, 2017 at 08:34 PM · This was not a double when I first posted it. It grew?

February 4, 2017 at 03:48 PM · Palazzo pants can be quite lovely (and appropriate), as long as they drape properly and the length goes with the shoe height (not so long that they drag if wearing flats and not so short that they look weird if worn with very high heels). I once saw someone perform somewhere (soloist) wearing something along these lines (see link)...looked really nice.

February 4, 2017 at 10:22 PM · Interestingly, at the LA Phil, the current rule is that for evening concerts, women cannot wear pants. Except for those instruments where it's considered "necessary": cello, oboe, clarinet, maybe some others. Not everyone agrees with the policy!

February 5, 2017 at 01:32 AM · NA makes a good comment about the length of pants. I have enough difficult understanding why some women wear high heels. None of the women in my life wear them. I guess they make you look taller and "leggier," but that even seems more pointless for a job that's done mostly sitting down.

For most men, dress and business shoes have a pretty much standard heel height so the tailor can cuff your pants without fitting you in the exact pair of dress shoes (i.e., your black ones or your brown ones) that you'll wear with that suit. But when you sit down the legs ride up your calf, usually more so for heavier men. If your socks slump down a little your leg is exposed to the audience. Years ago I discovered that over-the-calf socks solve this problem -- they go up to a few inches below the knee, and they stay there.

February 5, 2017 at 04:27 AM · I just came back from the Boston Symphony-- assistant concertmistress was wearing something that appeared to be a skirt. Assistant principal second violin and principal viola, both female, and both in trousers.

February 5, 2017 at 05:33 PM · I certainly do not consider it unprofessional. If a man can wear slacks and a jacket then a female should absolutely be permitted the same. It is an absurd double standard and such clothing in no way diminishes the appearance of a female.


February 5, 2017 at 05:37 PM · That said...I wonder what people would think if a male concertmaster showed up wearing a dress or skirt? hmmmm...


February 5, 2017 at 10:04 PM · A kilt would be fine, IMO...

Probably shows less leg than the guy Paul mentions...with short socks and pants that ride up. You get an eyefull of hairy leg when that happens...especially if they are seated at the edge of the stage and you are seated in the first row...right below

February 6, 2017 at 05:50 AM · @Symchych, Tatiana varies depending on the time of concerts, type of concert, etc... more often she'll wear a very long skirt but has been known to go with a pantsuit type of outfit. Really depends. She's done so for a couple decades now.

I always admire the flexibilities ladies have over men for concert attires. Penguin suits can be horribly uncomfortable and extremely hot under stage lights. I attended a concert recently and could not keep my eyes off the poor guy sitting principal. He kept getting brighter and brighter red as the performance went on, especially during a Strauss piece. Made me thankful I no longer play under those lights every night. I noticed quite a few men turning beet red and kept remembering how almost unfair it is a man cannot just wear a blouse and long skirt to offset the heat;)

February 6, 2017 at 01:39 PM · That brings up another point:

I assume, in the good old days (in the winter at least), that the lights were not so hot, the theatre not so well heavier suits were probably fine (temperature wise, might still have been uncomfortable or restrictive otherwise)...

So maybe modern performance 'suits' or formal attire needs to be revisited. Women's fashions/trends are always changing - and as mentioned there are always more options for women. Men's less so. However, even if the overall look of a man's formal suit doesn't change there is absolutely no reason that new lightweight/stretchy fabrics can't be used to make men's suits.

There is a 'new' formal men's shirt on the market [ ] just take it one step further...

February 6, 2017 at 02:53 PM · An organization like the LA Phil would do well to just choose a nice black shirt, pants, belt, and shoes for their male performers and then arrange for those to be custom tailored for each player. Each player would be given two uniforms, one of which is stored at their main performance venue. Same for the women. Then, if they want to do a show with turquoise shirts, all the measurements would already be on file. Players would need to be remeasured if they lost or gained more than 10 pounds.

February 6, 2017 at 03:13 PM · Paul, that seems more than a little intrusive, and frankly insulting to the professionals to imply that we aren't capable of selecting appropriate concert attire on our own. We are not a marching band. I do agree that all black for the men instead of the outdated tails would be an improvement, though.

February 6, 2017 at 07:21 PM · I like tails for a gala or some similar dressy event, but it's just overdone for a standard concert.

February 6, 2017 at 07:37 PM · The Baltimore Symphony has done some experimentation along the uniform lines: LINK.

February 6, 2017 at 07:51 PM · Last year a local mother-daughter design team offered three free outfits to each female orchestra member. They measured us all, designed maybe a dozen different outfits, and we could select our choices from among them. I really like my outfits from them. But it was never considered to have all the women wearing one style. What might look good on me could look dowdy or matronly on a younger colleague, or unflattering on a different body type, and I would feel ridiculous in some outfits that my younger colleagues look fabulous in. There's one particular shirt design that looks great on a younger and much shorter colleague while looking like army surplus on me.

I agree about tails being appropriate at a gala--we women are wearing evening gowns, and they are equivalently dressy.

February 7, 2017 at 12:45 AM · Mary Ellen, I definitely see your point, but if uniformity is actually a goal, then I think a uniform is at least worth considering. My thinking was that the orchestra would also then pay for the uniforms too, including all of the tailoring. (Yes I know that's probably a zero-sum game in terms of compensation.) Having a set of styles one can choose from is a great idea though -- then it can be assured at least that all of the fabric is of the same exact color, not to mention sheen and drape. I think for men the issue of different styles being more or less flattering is less of an issue. But when one guy with a tastefully pleated shirt is sitting next to a guy with a ruffled shirt, that looks kind of bad.

February 7, 2017 at 01:03 AM · Back in the early days of Bernstein's run at the NYPSO, he experimented with an all-black uniform for the non-weekend concerts. I don't know if there were special specs for the trousers, but the jacket/shirt was inspired by the rehearsal jackets worn by Toscanini and Walter. Matte finish silk, something either like a Mandarin or a Mao collar, and white piping on the cuffs of the sleeves. They were drawn up by a designer and made more or less identically by the same tailor for each of the (male-- need you ask?) musicians. The experiment didn't last long. Audiences thought it was too radical, and the players thought they looked like bell-hops.

Here's one photo:

Another artifact of older times was a story attributed to (I think) Carlos Kleiber. Early in his career, when he was doing either a concert or set of opera performances in Sicily, he was faced with a lady in the cello section who was wearing a long skirt and playing side-saddle, so as to preserve her modesty. He had some words with her, and then the manager, and thought he'd arranged to have her removed from the section after she refused to change her technique. Apparently, she wasn't that good of a player, to make things even more distracting. The evening before opening night, a man knocked on his hotel room door and asked Was this Maestro X? He said yes, at which point the man slowly unbuttoned his vest just enough to show a stiletto blade in the waistband of his trousers.

The conductor slammed his door, and called the manager in a panic. After explaining the situation, the manager said back to him "Si, Signor-- and what is the problem?" That produced another stammering statement from the conductor about how they were in Sicily, the Mafia was obviously after him, and he needed to leave town quickly.

The manager said, calmly, "Do not worry, Signor. There will be no trouble, and you are perfectly safe." When the conductor demanded to know how he could be so sure, the manager said, "Because, Signor-- I am the Paterfamilias."

So the conductor hung around just long enough to do the gig and get paid. And then bolted as quickly as possible.

February 7, 2017 at 02:30 AM · I think those collars were probably chosen with the violinists and violists in mind. Less is more when it come to collars or neckties for violinists! Just look at Anne-Sophie Mutter if you don't believe me. I can't imagine neckties and close-fitting collars are too good for the wind players either.

February 8, 2017 at 12:32 AM · I think women should dress like they do in André Rieu's orchestra.

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