Performance dress

May 20, 2006 at 05:24 AM · I you guys. This question is pretty much a male topic but is open to female ideas. What types of concert dress to male solo violinists wear in performance? I know that some suits really weigh my arms down and make me tired sometimes on the G string. I was wondering if others have this problem and if you have any ideas? Are there any materials made to be light but formal for violinists who perform solos or other string musicians? I thought this question would be a little different. Thanks.

Replies (51)

May 20, 2006 at 05:51 AM · I'm not just a classical violinist, so I'll offer up what I'm wearing on stage.

The Arizona Opry employs a costumer that makes glitter shirts and special costumes. I've got two Liberace style suits with coattails with added pleats in the back for bowing. Next season I'm going to have a light imitation tuxedo that is all black with the tails in the back. Other musical theatre shows tend to have custom designed outfits too, especially since they don't necessarily cost more to make than stuff bought off the rack.

When I'm doing classical concerts and it's cold, I'll sometimes wear a black sweater vest over my standard long sleeved white shirt. That frees up my arms for playing the violin. If it's super cold, I'll put my jacket over that too.

If I'm playing in an unfamiliar venue, I'll usually pack a full set of thermal underwear. Sometimes places can be so cold that it becomes hard to move one's fingers. Having a set of nice thermal underwear gives me the functionality of warmth and movement while not spoiling the external appearance of the concert wear.

At the Opry, I have these big bowties that have elastic in the back for rapid changing. Sometimes I'll run off stage to change ties, so I have to have stuff that I can slip on and off easily. When I'm on the road, I make sure that I have a black bowtie AND a black necktie so that I can go either way if I forget what I should be wearing.

One way I got around the problem of the heavy jacket was to wear a short sleeved white shirt underneath. The jacket was still heavy, but at least I had free arms.

When I'm working as a strolling violinist through restaurants, I tend to wear no jacket in order to make myself look a little like a waiter. But if I'm strolling at a wedding, then I'll wear that jacket since everybody else is.

May 20, 2006 at 08:14 AM · Unfortunately most male soloists have dreadful a sense of style. I don't know where so many of them get the idea that these 7 button, Mandarin collar jackets look good. With the money some of them are making, it's shocking to me that they can't get Brioni to just make them a nice tux with a higher right armhole and soft shoulders...

Sartorially, the old guys (Milstein especially, had a lot of penache) look far better than some of the clown suits you see the guys where these days.

May 20, 2006 at 02:12 PM · When I go to a concert I want to see an expression of reverence for the music, both from the audience and (especially) from the performer. I feel sorry for the people who have lost, or never had, the rich experience of formality. They don't know the special joy that comes from making an effort, from going to the trouble of combing one's hair, putting on a nice suit, tie etc. as a gesture to oneself, as well as to others, that they have a reverence for the occasion, and wish to go to some trouble to express it. This *really changes* the experience of attending the concert (or religious service, for that matter). The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

For playing recitals I wear a tuxedo, or a suit with white shirt and tie. I like the lightest possible summer fabric I can find, even if I'm playing in Wisconsin in the dead of winter, as stage lights can make Wisconsin in the dead of winter into Florida in mid summer.

May 20, 2006 at 05:55 PM · Oliver, can you be more specific as to what kind of fabric? Super 160s - 180s? I'm getting something new for myself and it makes a whole lot of sense to me to get something very light.

Your input on this would be appreciated.

For anyone else getting new concert dress (males), consider working with a tailor. I spoke to Harry Rosen (the owner of a fine men's store in Canada), and he said that he has done things for violinists and conductors before, and they require higher armholes and things like that...

May 20, 2006 at 06:04 PM · FROM: Skowronski: Classical Recordings

Let's face it 'guys and dolls,' the majority of classical musicians/performers on the boards today exhibit dubious 'GOOD TASTE' not only in their style of dress but in their approach to making music as well!

Head for the round house, Harriet,........they'll never corner us there!!

Skowronski: Classical Recordings

May 20, 2006 at 06:51 PM · What is wrong with a tux or a business suit?

When I preform at a recital, I usually wear black slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie.


May 20, 2006 at 08:03 PM · Pieter,

I just ask for the clothing store people for the coolest fabric. I don't know the specifics, but I would think Mr. Rosen will be able to advise you. Good point about the arm holes. When I try on a jacket, I swing my arms around from the shoulder to make sure that there is good freedom of movement in that area.

May 20, 2006 at 09:00 PM · Mr. Steiner,

What kind of tux/suit jacket do you wear? (double breasted, 2 - 3 button??)

I go for a 2 button. Some guys play unbuttoned, what do you do? Some jackets just seem to bunch up when you're at the frog.

May 20, 2006 at 09:10 PM · Sometimes double breasted, sometimes single breasted, 2 button. I leave it closed while playing.

May 20, 2006 at 10:07 PM · Thanks.

One last question, do you practice with a jacket ever?

May 20, 2006 at 11:31 PM · Some years ago I was facing the same problem. Namely, standard tuxes were made for cocktail parties and, basically, sitting still. And clothing which allows one to move one's upper body freely (elbow angle AND elbow bends AND shoulders AND shoulder blades) is possibly snazzy but somehow irreverent. I wanted the traditional look with no loss of comfort for playing.

And so, together with my mother's dress designer, I "invented" the musician's tux. Containing about 8 significant modifications, it looks fairly standard yet allows me to play without any restriction or hindrance. The only thing I've yet to do is to fix the dress shirts so that, in the process of performing, they don't continually get tugged up and end up overhanging the cummerbund.

As for the tux jacket, for a while I thought of making a business of it - selling specialty hand-crafted tuxedo jackets for off-the-rack prices. Given that Robin is such a fashion maven, in case she decides to try her hand at actual design and not just modelling, I suppose I still COULD go into business. But for now, until this thread was aired, I didn't even think there was sufficient interest in the classical music community to justify exploring all the necessary prerequisites: does one patent, trademark or copyright the design? how does one go about getting such documentation? how does one draw up business plans to obtain startup cash? how does such a business plan properly identify the demand for the product? how does one inform the demand that the supply exists? how is such a product to be distributed? etc.

So I guess I'm saying "yes, this sort of thing exists, though I have no idea where to go from there."

May 21, 2006 at 02:10 AM · I don't know Emil. I spoke with a gentleman who did stuff for Domingo, Berstein and a few violinists. But his prices are very high and he's using expensive fabrics.

A more "proletarian" garment could be good.

May 21, 2006 at 04:33 AM · i'm not a guy, so i can't say from personal experience, but i've seen joshua bell performing a concerto in a black linen indian-esq shirt (or at least that's what it looked like from my nose-bleed seat), and the guys in the gryphon trio have these manderine-esq short collared loose black dress shirts that they play in sometimes. honestly, i don't know how you guys do it- playing in jackets- i can't even stand playing in long sleeves.

May 21, 2006 at 04:47 AM · Tails, all the way. They're much more comfortable than tuxedo jackets...

May 21, 2006 at 05:02 AM · That makes sense, since they hang open.

May 21, 2006 at 05:17 AM · Pieter wrote: "One last question, do you practice with a jacket ever?"

Generally, I practice with a jacket only during the on stage warm up, before the audience is let into the hall.

May 21, 2006 at 07:24 AM · why not just wear the cool Versace leather pants and top wit matching Armani sunglasses like the rock stars forget tuxedos wear something that makes a statement and is toatly cool and atracts the chicks.Oh and by the way JB wears an outfit similar to the one I described.By this is Lewis Toni Furman's son.

May 21, 2006 at 07:23 AM · Wow Toni, you're equally as clueless about clothing as you are music.

May 21, 2006 at 07:25 AM · hey this outfit is mutch cooler than a boring tux.

May 21, 2006 at 08:06 AM · Pieter, he's a troll, irredeemably stupid, shallow and tasteless. I've talked to seven year olds with greater depth. Actually, I think I've talked to HOUSEPLANTS with a greater variety of repartee. There are algae somewhere, I'm sure, that can recognize more layers and subtleties of meaning. His mother must be very sad. I certainly would be if MY genetics or upbringing bore any degree of responsibility for a mentality like his.

On a more appropriate note, though, the jacket design was not reliant on any unusual fabrics, merely modifications in how the lightweight wool of which its made is cut. And ultimately there WAS a deal worked out with a factory in South Africa that was ready to mass produce these things at a price that would allow for a suggested retail value of about $250 for jacket and pants.

Nick, tails are very comfy around the middle, but what do you do in the shoulder area? I mean, as you go on to the G string, don't you feel the pull across your back of the tails' fabric? Also, the sleeves offer the same impediments as a tux jacket's: they bunch up INSIDE the elbow, and pull on the OUTSIDE of the elbow. The lower end of the jacket has nothing to do with that, after all. Most of all, though, what do you do for recitals? Or for afternoon concerts? Tails would be a bit inappropriate for those, no?

May 21, 2006 at 08:48 AM · How did the old school fiddlers pull it off?

May 21, 2006 at 03:51 PM · Emil, I have smart black pants from South Africa called Travelite, made of 55% polyester and 45% new wool. I have no complaints about them at all! Really light and easy to wash, not too hot on stage but not see-through either!

I can also add that if you get your coat tails suitably tailored they can be completely comfortable. I received a tails jacket that belonged to a famous violinist of the same build as myself, and the jacket fits me like a glove. I can play with absolutely no problem. I can see it's been altered in numerous places, most likely to aid this.

May 22, 2006 at 02:08 AM · Oh Please Emil ,Verscace is one of the most fashionable and reconized designers out there,so how can you call me tasteless.I mean come on a tuxedo is sometimes just boring,variety is what I say, you can wear the tux but not at every single performance.Be creative.Were musicians for god's sake. Plus Emil your arrogance and feeling of self superiority is sickening.You must not have many friends.

May 22, 2006 at 02:45 AM · >so how can you call me tasteless?

simple. If you had any taste you would have shot yourself a long time ago.

May 22, 2006 at 03:10 AM · Emil, sounds cool! I'm not a guy so I know not whereof I speak, but the guys in my quartet have done their share of griping about tuxes etc. so I see it's a problem. (On the other hand, none of you guys have to wear pantyhose or heels...arrrrrgh) But anyway, if you can scrape together a business plan, I'm sure your "musician's tux" would be a hit! Good luck! :)

May 22, 2006 at 03:13 AM · Lewis, what you describe would be kind of a cool outfit for you if you ever really do become the Hendrix of the violin. As for us stuffy, old-fashioned classical players....we'll stick to the traditional stuff. :)

May 22, 2006 at 04:14 AM · Emil,

The tails I which have, happily, fit me well. I think the fact that they hang open not only increases comfort around the middle but allows more freedom of movement in the shoulder and torso, merely because there is less fabric below the arm to move around. I agree with you about the G-string problem. I've never played in a jacket that didn't pull when I lifted my right arm to go to the G string. I usually end up pulling my shirt sleeve out a little and my jacket sleeve back a little, and somehow it helps. The rather large sleeve diameter helps with the bunching. Of course, having smaller shoulder pads, or none at all, helps me with mobility as well. (My jackets actually have some padding, as I don't play with a shoulder rest and it gives some support without being inhibiting) Afternoon concerts, I play in a suit...evening recitals, either a black suit or my tuxedo.

You are right, however - most of these things have nothing to do with whether or not the jacket is a tuxedo, tails, or otherwise. A good tailor can be a lifesaver. Nevertheless, the tails I've worn have always been more comfortable than the tuxedos...

I'm leaving for Italy tomorrow, and when I play there, I plan to wear nothing at all...though perhaps the judges wouldn't appreciate that. Hm. Any suggestions?

May 22, 2006 at 04:41 AM · Maura... I'll trade your panty hose any day for my jacket and oppresive tie.

May 22, 2006 at 11:45 AM · panty hose you may be able to pull off, but have any of you fellas broken a heel on stage? and had to stand the rest of the concert balanced on one foot without looking completely ridiculous?

May 22, 2006 at 12:11 PM · You should have borrowed a shoe from somebody in the front row. You must have panicked or something.

May 22, 2006 at 02:16 PM · Pieter,

Suuuure. After one concert in pantyhose you'd have a nervous breakdown. I'd wear a jacket and tie any day instead of all the nylon and straps and heels and assorted instruments of female imprisonment that I have to deal with. :)

May 22, 2006 at 06:11 PM · O yea Maura? Try playing in orchestra or chamber music when those very thin dress pants (when bunched up) become razor sharp and create a death grip on a certain area. Some guys here will know what I'm talking about.

I'll take your panty hose and strapless dresses anyday over a pair of mutinous pants which want to render me infertile.

May 22, 2006 at 06:25 PM · Ouch! Lucky I've never had problems with, er, that particular area. Dammit, I know we're traditionalists here, but sometimes I wish we could all just play in jeans and T-shirts!

May 22, 2006 at 07:31 PM · I personally agree with Toni (or Lewis) that classical musicians should loosen up a bit and wear clothes with more style and that are a little different. I definitely think they should be tasteful and though Versace and Armani are of course great designers, going on stage as a classical musician with leather pants and sun glasses would be just... gross. But it is admittedly pretty boring to just see tuxes and tails all the time. But the clothes also shouldn't stand out too much that they're distracting.

May 23, 2006 at 03:24 AM · Well at least there are guys out there who are trying... even if they don't look good in what they chose.

Personally I like something simple but comfortable like a black turtleneck -- but you gotta watch the love handles.

One thing is, if you have a gut, it's possible to look somewhat distinguished in tails or a tux. (Hello Oistrakh, Stern, Perlman etc.) Unlike a turtleneck, tails can be 15 pounds "out of date" and still work, more or less...

Leather pants -- um, my only comment is: if you think you look good in them, you'd better be right. :-o

May 24, 2006 at 01:09 AM · I always wear the same thing:

black paten leather shoes, Black socks, black pants, black belt, black button-up shirt, a black suit coat, and a nice tie. It is usually red but only because it's my favorite color.

May 24, 2006 at 09:55 PM · O.K., I know I'm not a guy, but I do have a suggestion.

I know this is a bit off the wall because I'm not suggesting something to wear, but have you concidered that the problem might not be entirely with the jacket, but also with the fact that you are not used to playing in the jacket? I always practice in what I will be wearing for my recitals for at least two days before I perform. I have to be careful what I select to wear because if I pick something made in the wrong fabric, I drop my violin (I don't use a sholder rest).

Kelsey W.

May 25, 2006 at 03:13 AM · Yeah. Girls, be sure to practice in your concert shoes!! Or you may find yourself in agony mid-way through the cadenza!

May 25, 2006 at 12:21 AM · I'm all for looking great on stage. I like to think that I usually dress fairly well. However, I'm a music student. I spend most of my time practicing, not working. I don't earn enough that I can just go out and buy me the latest design versace suit, perfectly tailored for my build and needs.

What I usually tend to go with these days is a nice black shirt with black pants, and then a tie to add a bit of colour. Never underestimate the power of a tie - gold, red or blue on black looks awesome. This combination allows you to fit in for most situations - wear a plain tie for more formal occassions, and a patterned one for less formal.

May 25, 2006 at 02:51 PM · As a woman, I think if you can do the very formal tails with a flair it is really cool and hip while being respectful to a grand tradition.

You respect tradition, but say it's 2006.

Dark shirts keep the audience focused on the violin and your face more. Colorful waist gear can be a bit distracting. I would think you want their eyes on your upper body. Just an opinion.

May 25, 2006 at 02:56 PM · "I think you would want their eyes on your upper body"

LOL! :)

May 25, 2006 at 02:59 PM · Pieter,

You might know that some of those "7 button, Mandarin collar jackets " are made by the likes of Kenzo, Issey Miyake and Yamamoto and may cost as much as Brioni...

Just a fact.


P.S. Tails suck.

May 25, 2006 at 10:03 PM · Ilya,

I know, I'm a snob, remember? A hot pink Hummer costs as much a tasteful German car but it is hideous..

I'm referring specifically to what I saw certain meditaranean violinist wear...

Edit: I think it's possible to dress with a lot of flair without being garish. The best dressers (duke of Windsor for example or Bruno Agnelli) could do wonders with a well selected tie and pocket square. I suppose that in terms of formal wear, I am a traditionalist. I can't even stand notched lapels on a tux, but this is all a matter of taste. At the end of the day it's hardly important since people are there to hear you play.

May 25, 2006 at 10:31 PM · Vengerov wears some pretty strange stuff. He more than makes up for his fashion sense with his playing, but still.....egad, that plaid suit on the DVD is horrid...

May 25, 2006 at 11:56 PM · A bit off-topic: Nigel Kennedy has always been a rebel about dress-sense. A decade or so ago, he responded to criticism of this by John Drummond, head of UK Radio 3, by having a special concert outfit made which looked like a normal tux (DJ) on the outside. He walked on, dedicated the occasion to JD in an impromptu speech, and ripped off the outer layer to reveal a snazzy alternative outfit of the sort Toni describes. Then proceeded to play his concerto.

May 27, 2006 at 02:11 AM · Yep Kennedy he's my man,Oh this isn't Toni this is her son Lewis.

May 27, 2006 at 03:38 AM · Lewis, we always know it's you. :) And you're right about Nigel Kennedy, he is pretty cool. :)

May 27, 2006 at 05:04 AM · Lewis, if you're using the account more than she is, why not just make your own account?

April 28, 2011 at 05:01 PM ·

I've noticed that quite often Joshua Bell does not wear a jacket while performing, from what I've seen in online videos.

April 28, 2011 at 05:07 PM ·

At a recent symphony concert here the guest soloist (violin) wore black dress slacks and a black silk shirt.  Very elegant!  Also avoided the "bunchiness" of a jacket, tie, etc.

April 28, 2011 at 11:36 PM ·

Flannel shirt, and blue jeans.

Oh, sorry. I'm a fiddler.

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