Classical Music Dress

June 1, 2005 at 05:31 AM · Should we try to preserve the 19th century tradition of tails or tuxes or should we try to move forward and be a bit more casual? My dad, a world class solo guitarist has never played a concert with a tux or tails, not even to Disney Hall. Also, Mischa Maisky (although I've never seen him play) looks pretty comfortable on his CDs, wearing elegant but more casual clothing. It seems like most other people stick with the tux. This might seem pretty shallow to talk about clothes, but I think it's kind of important. I just think a performer could go out with more style instead of looking like everyone else and wearing the same tux or tails. What do you think?

Replies (42)

June 1, 2005 at 05:48 AM · The tux without the tie and the first two buttons unbuttoned works for me.

I find that the whole tie thing doesn't work for a violinist.

June 1, 2005 at 06:00 AM · Khakis and a polo shirt should be ok on fridays.

June 1, 2005 at 06:02 AM · I think the tux is the worst idea for violinists. We're trained for years to perform as relaxed as possible, then we put ourselves into a suit with big padded shoulders and what not! Bad idea...things should change!

June 1, 2005 at 08:04 AM · Should things change? I don't know. Perhaps.

Tux with tails has done for so long. It's possible to play in them - you just need to practice in them to get used to it.

I think Orchestra's are best in tux with tails, as it means they all look the same. Easier to organise than anything else. However, All black is a possibility - I know my youth orchestra plays in all black.

With Chamber groups, smaller ensembles, it might be possible to play in something else, perhaps a bit more casual. Depends on the music I think.

Soloists, well. I dislike Nigel Kennedy's dress sense (though I do like listening to him play). If you like something a bit less formal ok, but so long as it has a purpose - ie easier to play in. If you're wearing it just to make an impact then there's no point.

June 1, 2005 at 08:16 AM · I say that I prefer the all black standard, with the assumption that people don't show up in black jeans and t-shirts. Professional all-black should cover it. As for recitals. I have played many recitals in all black. Sometimes I wear a button nice shirt or something kind of stylish, but I tend to just want something that looks sharp and professional. I never wear a skirt or dress because I can't play in them since I never wear them, and the way I sit in orchestra screams "slacks"! I also wear a blazer when the concert hall is cold, but it has no shoulder pads and isn't any kind of silky that will cause the violin to slide. I find that if I'm selfconscious about my attire, I can't focus on what I need to focus on...the music and the performance. I don't like flashy dresses. Just a personal opinion. When I see someone playing in flashy or showy attire, it is distracting. But to each his own. I say whatever makes you comfortable and feel good on stage. If you want something a little more because it makes the performance feel special, that is understandable.



June 1, 2005 at 09:56 AM · I think that women are allowed to wear whatever as long as it is black, and so men should be allowed the same freedom. However, it does look nicer to see people more dressed up, but one goes to HEAR an orchestra, not see them. I always feel bad for men with their bow ties and jackets that I am sure make their arms feel strapped down. Perhaps if there was a general rule about men wearing suit pants or dressy slacks with a black button down shirt it would look that it is still a unified look but less restrictive. And if women wore similar fabric...just a thought.

June 1, 2005 at 12:42 PM · I think that one of the main reasons people don't really appreciate classical music is that they feel that it is very uptight and stuffy. I feel that preserving the tuxes and tails just ensures that this image carries through. AS shallow as it may seem, if orchestras want to attract the younger crowds, they need to relax the dress code a little. I'm peersonally a fan of all black. What the public needs is a way to connect to the music and/or the musicians. The reason pop music sells as well as it does is not because it's truly great music, but because the audience can relate to the performers in one way - clothes.

June 1, 2005 at 01:27 PM · Thanks, George. That's exactly why I started this thread. I don't mean someone should dress FLASHY or anything, just maybe a different color shirt of a nice material but not one that stands out much. I hate wearing bow ties.

June 1, 2005 at 02:29 PM · 1st of all, there is no such thing as a "tux with tails". It is one ore the other--a tuxedo, or a tail coat---not the same thing :-)

Also, I would say that the formal (tails) or semi-formal (tuxedo) dress is a 20th century thing--the 19th century was frock coats :-)

Also, tails do not have to be uncomfortable or restrictive. Most men wear shirts that are too tight around the neck and too short in the sleeves, just as most women wear bras that are too tight. If you bother to get fitted for your clothes rather than trying to squeeze into an off the rack model, you can have a perfect fit that also looks perfect. All it takes is a little bit of the "lost" art of tailoring.

That being said, variety is sometimes fun. "Summer dress" in many orchestras is different than winter---I think the primary reason for the "dress code" is that the sound is supposed to dominate.

Why not experiment though--try a concert where all the 1st violins wear chartreuse top-hats, the violists wear beanies, the cellists wear purple spandex, and the conductor wears a skeleton costume.

I also disagree with the statement that popular music is popular despite its mediocrity as a result of the dress or appearnace of the musicians leading to them "relating" to their audience. Rock performers in the 70's (my formative years) frequently wre clothes that were completely out-of-norm--that the audience could not relate to--that was the whole point. Would you go around wearing make-up to mimic KISS? Or wear glittering skin-tight pants (a la ziggy stardust)?

Much of popular music "makes it" due to the talent and musical genius of the "performers." Take the "Talking Heads" for instance, or Jeff Beck, or "Aerosmith" or "ZZ Top"--these bands did not make it on appearance alone--most of us who grew up on this stuff did not know what they looked like until after we liked the songs (the radio, remember those?)--these guys make their own music and it stands on its own merits most of the time.



June 1, 2005 at 02:00 PM · In an orchestral setting, uniformity is the key. The ensemble should look polished and uniform, whether it's white tie or all black. But as a solo performer, or _especially_ in chamber music, a little loosening up can go a long way.

I'd say it depends mostly on your personality and how you want to project that to the audience. If your style and repertoire is more traditional, then you might stick to a tux or tails or a long evening gown. But if you're trying to "break the mold" or give an edgier feel to your performance, then some out-of-the-box thinking about concert dress might be in order, to give the audience a visual link to what they're hearing.

June 1, 2005 at 02:14 PM · I have always been quite envious of the women because they don't have to wear sleeves. We live in an era of supposed gender equality. Black tank tops all around!

June 1, 2005 at 02:36 PM · Eeew.....only if men shave their armpits. :)

Sorry...I couldn't resist that one!

June 1, 2005 at 02:50 PM · sarah - have you seen a game of AFL? One of the most masculine sports around (in my opinion) and all of the guys have shaved armpits.

BUt yes, if the guys are going to wear tank-tops, a shaving policy should be in order.

It would probably also keep the turn around in orchestras fairly regular - who'd want to see a 65 year old man in a tank top?

June 1, 2005 at 03:26 PM · uniformity in an orchestral setting is important.. but i think orchestras (especially younger ones) look so much better in more modern clothes- i find that often many orchestras take the 'all black' for granted- people show up in ill-fitting clothes, frumpy clothes, washed-out blacks, t-shirts.. and i'm not even talking about youth orchestras..

but i just saw the kirov orchestra play- and they looked so good! all the women were in dresses- really nice formal dresses. and every one of them were different.

and just imagine a string quartet that looked like they were straight out of the pages of vogue.

of course the quality of music is important.. but the visual is important, too. afterall- performances are musical presentations. it's all about how you present yourself...

June 1, 2005 at 05:11 PM · I think it is about finding a balance. Personally I would not want to play in what Saeke was wearing during a final round, but I did just buy a very cool pair of paints with a nice strepless top on it for my performance with Vivaldi next week. There is absolutely nothing wrong with moving out of the 19th century!!!

I'll be shot for even mentioning this again, but I think Janine Jansen looks amazing on her cover of the Vivaldi CD's, that's how you get the thick image of music being so elite and in a suite away. Too bad that she is not wearing more stuff like that on her DVD, there she goes back to the old normal concerto clothing stuff, which is really very nice, but again a little bit too boring for me.

I think we can not change immediately the image of classical music, but it is really nice that slowly people are entering the 20th century, maybe in 10 years we'll have caught up into the 21st century. That does not mean, that we should play always in jeans, but I think it would be cool if guys could wear something different then tails and girls could be wearing indeed more stuff out of the Vogue, instead of the bridal catalogue...

June 1, 2005 at 06:19 PM · So far we seem to be discussing the dress of musicians and performers. What do you think of relaxing dress for the audience? Would it bother any of you if the audience showed up in more casual dress?

June 1, 2005 at 06:27 PM · (As an audience) I once went to the orchestra in bermuda shorts and a coat and tie (last concert in the winter series--must have been April or May). I was amazed at the extent to which normally refined people actually *stared*--not in a hateful "stare you down way"---rather more the way a 4 year old stares at something...

But I clearly was not breaking any "rules"--only stretching the norms...

June 1, 2005 at 06:30 PM · If everybody dresses down it won't be long till the audience starts yelling for the orchestra to play Freebird.

June 1, 2005 at 06:33 PM · Bill,

I'm amazed you were amazed...most people would find that combination to be most incongruous, I think. There are certain outfits which seem to say "I'm trying to be different," or "I'm begging for attention," and the bermuda shorts with coat and tie is one of them...I think I once saw a picture of Keith Moon (drummer for the Who) in such an outfit...just my 2 cents worth.

BTW, I'm for uniformity (with taste) in ensembles, and casual and comfortable (with a modicum of formality) in solo recitals.

Ben, what is AFL--is that arena football?

June 1, 2005 at 06:45 PM · Hi Mike,

Yes, I was not surprised, but it was still amazing to experience. Of course most people did not even notice. And what I did not explain was that this was a classic Bermuda get-up--not just a pair of shorts with a tie--long socks, dress shoes etc. Philadelphia is a bit more eccentric than many places--perhaps I would have been drummed right out of there if I'd been in another city.

June 1, 2005 at 09:25 PM · "if everybody dresses down it won't be long till the audience starts yelling for the orchestra to play Freebird. "

Yes...That's why the dignity should always be maintained, but still not wear restricting clothes.

June 1, 2005 at 09:45 PM · I love wearing "concert black" and, for all the groups that I play with that means-

(for women)

Floor length black skirt with black shirt (long or short sleeve depending on weather)


Floor length black dress (at school, our dressees are supplied by the school)

I just love how it feels to be dressed up in concert dress, and I think it looks great too!


June 1, 2005 at 09:59 PM ·

June 1, 2005 at 09:53 PM · I don't do tuxes, or anything with bulky shoulder pads, unless they are required for orchestra. Ties, get in the way also. I basically wear black pants and dress shoes, and a black or white button up dress shirt.

June 1, 2005 at 10:21 PM · An adult male in shorts, Bermuda or otherwise, would definitely be noticed at our symphony's performances...probably more than the teenager with purple hair. Actually, with a sport coat and tie would raise eyebrows more than a casual shirt. What you've described is "notice me" in my area.

June 1, 2005 at 11:44 PM · The point being that people can wear whatever they want when they are coming to view the concert. It ultimately turns into an economic class issue. I wear jeans to performances. Sometimes, if I'm in the mood, I dress up a little, but it is because I want to. I mean, who cares what the audience is wearing? The patrons, maybe. It comes down to who is supporting the music financially and what they think and how they may or may not be offended. In this area, there is a lot of casuality at symphony or ballet or opera concerts because students can get in for 5 dollars with an ID card and there are several institutions around the area. And if someone wants to waer bermuda shorts and a sports coat, why shuold that automatically mean that they "want attention" from it. Maybe they like looking like that because it makes them feel more like themselves in a way. Or not. Whatever. That is besides the topic. The same rules do not apply to the performers as the audience. The performers are working, doing a job, the focus. They have a responsibility. The audience is there for education and entertainment. So let them relax! And if people stare, it is because they are stuck in something. And most likely, they don't spend hours standing in line for food stamps. Which means...da make a point finally...that the poor have just as much right to go to a concert. So to mechanics and laborors and every other sort of worker. Is it not our goal to have the love of classical music spread past those who already appreciate it? That is why it is "stuffy". The rules really turn off those who don't care about them and just want to see what this symphony music is all about. Maybe take their wife somewhere "with some culture" to feel good or do something nice for the family, maybe diffrent or "classy". But that doesn't mean that they have to be "cultured" or "classy" themselves to enjoy it. I much prefer these kinds of audience members. They pay more attention to the music and want to talk about it instead of the nit picky things and criticisms. They are appreciative. Wow. Sorry to ramble. But that is what I think.



June 2, 2005 at 12:36 AM · Right, the audience isn't performing so I don't think it matters at all what they're wearing.

June 2, 2005 at 01:24 AM · My community symphony orchestra has an egalitarian dress code for performances: white above the waist, black below.

I'll take this opportunity to ask a silly question. When I see a woman concert solo violinist in a sleeveless dress or a dress with spaghetti straps, I wonder: Will the dress really stay up when she moves her bowing arm? Does she ever think about that, feel distressed (not dis-dressed), and get distracted from her playing? Ladies, I'd like to hear your honest responses.

June 2, 2005 at 02:09 AM · I have performed (both piano and violin) in a dress with spaghetti-straps. If the dress fits well to begin with, then it isn't a problem - hooray for natural friction! But I do remember almost subconsciously checking once during a piano concerto movement (on stage) to make sure one strap hadn't slipped down.

Personally, spaghetti-strapped is the farthest I would ever go onstage (or probably for anything, for that matter). Strapless dresses seem extremely dangerous. Especially on stage.

June 2, 2005 at 02:14 AM · I wore a strapless dress once during a performance. It was quite snug on the chest, I wasn't worried at all about it falling down. But I was worried about being able to breathe freely while playing. It all turned out well though. There wasn't much of a problem.

June 2, 2005 at 02:23 AM · leopardskin is the new "black"

June 2, 2005 at 02:57 AM · I love formal! I just feel all special when i'm suited up and stuff. And i look great in formal if i do say so myself. And i love how woman have a little more variety in what they can wear. They're like little flowers in a sea of dull men. (Sucking up to all the womderful woman violinist out there)

kiss came out to australia and they did a concert with the melbourne symphony orchestra backing them and the orchestra were all done up in kiss make up.

June 2, 2005 at 04:04 AM · I agree that the dress should be more varied but I also think that the atmosphere of the audience should be more relaxed too. I recently saw the last night at hte proms concert and i really liked the way the audience could really relax and be enthusiastic rather than be so restricted by proper concert etiquette. I think concerts like that would attract more people, especially for us teens.

mmm talking about fashion, I noticed a lot of people like Lang Lang and Perlman wearing the Chinese traditonal tops. Definitely more relaxed and loose but still classy and interesting. I don't think dress should really get casual for the soloists but there should be more variety. What other interesting outfits do soloists (i guess this question is mainly pertaining to the guys since dresses are endless) wear? The only other one I can think of is josh bell.

June 2, 2005 at 05:20 AM · Look at Mischa Maisky's Deutsche Grammophon page... he's wearing weird stuff. Same with all his other CDs... weird but still elegant but more stylish.

June 2, 2005 at 10:01 AM · AFL stands for Australian Football Legue. The game is Australian Rules Football. Think NFL, but without all the body armour, and all the players kick the ball (and sometimes handball, never throw). Full Contact sport. Played on a ground roughly larger than an athletics track.

It's difficult to explain, best way is to start watching games.

June 2, 2005 at 02:33 PM · I agree with George's comments. As someone who doesn't play in an orchestra, my perspective is more that of an audience member. I think the formal dress code is part of the "deal with the devil" that classical music has maintained for many years in order to stay afloat financially. That is, in order to attract adequate numbers of rich ticket-buyers, the snob factor is crucial. Whenever I'm at a concert at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, I'm struck by the fact that a large majority of the audience doesn't seem to have any idea of what's being played, doesn't care, and takes naps regularly. But they shell out the bucks because they're attending "The Symphony". These are the people who expect to see the orchestra dressed formally, because it plays into their fantasy of stepping into a high-class, high-rent museum-like event where the riffraff is excluded. They want to see classical musicians as some kind of cross between an Artist and a headwaiter--a gifted professional who's there to serve them. And orchestras are slow to change because they don't want to take a chance on alienating the people who pay the rent. So the cycle continues.

Well, I guess that may sound pretty cynical. But it's what I experience in these situations. I'd much rather see an orchestra dressed appropriately for the activity at hand--making music. Neat and uniform, sure, but comfortable and without the heavy, stuffy symbolism of Formal Wear.

June 2, 2005 at 07:56 PM · Let's a group, ensemble, orchestra, do what's right and wear the concert dress attire. If you're flying solo, do you're own thing! If you want to be tuxed-out, then wear the tux. But if you prefer the rockstar look, get the right pair of jeans, button down shirt, let your hair style go, and let the tatoos show. And maybe then we can tear down some of the barriers that peg us violinists as tight-waded, un-original, left-in-the-1800's, attitude that SO MANY people have.

Just my 2 cents.

-Ross Christopher

June 3, 2005 at 12:57 AM · Wow, Terry. I've wanted to say that for a long time but never knew how, and you just did. You're so right. I always see snobs at concerts who don't even pay attention, they just peruse the program or look at their watch and they're there just so they can say they saw Beethoven's whatever. By the way these are the people who cough all the time and it's SOOOOOO annoying. They always cough on the quiet parts when there's supposed to be a mood and it pretty much ruins the piece....

June 3, 2005 at 04:26 AM · I don't see anything to be bitter about.

June 3, 2005 at 06:19 AM · Well the fact that all the big orchestra like the NY Phil still dress formally for concerts says something. I don't think it's a snobbish thing at all. I guess I'm just more of a traditionalist however it's really up to the artist(s). There shouldn't be a rule one way or the other.

June 3, 2005 at 06:57 PM · In Mozart's time, the typical dress was everyday dress. The orchestra never really had to be showy other than a nice wig perhaps. Operas of baroque and classical periods were all about showing off the latest fashions while the singers performed. You would never see a greek tragedy or comedy set to music wearing the traditional toga but rather the women would have tall wigs on with elaborate dresses. It would be like going to see a perforance at the Grammy awards. I think that this "stuffy" image has been something that the orchestras have held onto since the Victorian era when things were very strict and not so relax as they were during Mozarts time. I think if we started changing the way we dress to a "hipper" fashion we might just draw in the younger crowds or people of my generation. As a 25 year old I like to dress in what is considered nice today. An express shirt nice slimming black slacks and a nice hair style. I think I try to portray the sexy violinst look.

June 4, 2005 at 04:05 AM · I don't mind the sexy violinist look- I'm a fan of the "Mutterist" sleeveless dress for solo performances.

However, in an orchestral setting, the "sexy" look would just look a bit comical, to say the least.... I think that the all black look certainly works quite well. I like the tux/very nice suit look (although I am not a male and I realize that they can be relatively uncomfortable to play in). I have no problem with people stepping up the fashion a bit- big black frocks are not on my high list of potential outfits. However, I think the orchestra should try to be uniform, look professional, look appropriate for all ages LOL, and be somewhat aesthetic. After all, if the audience didn't want to see something interesting as well as listen, they'd just turn on the radio, although I realize that yes, that is not the same as hearing it live). We would never try to purposely have our bow going opposite of the others. I think uniformity is the main reason why the all black has continued- it's simply the easiest way to maintain this. And let's face it, all black is far more slimming than black bottoms and white tops... :)

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