Playing with formal shirt

Edited: September 18, 2018, 2:10 AM · Well, this is silly... I always play with the shirt neck unbuttoned with the violin in contact with the skin, but today I had to play in formal suit and black tie (as in my avatar) and it happened that the shirt had starched collar. The collar separated the violin from my neck and jaw and I felt that I had less grip on the instrument. It is my first experience with this, but I suppose it's the bread and butter of professional orchestra players... So question:
Do you arrange the setup (chinrest/shoulder rest) for that?
or Do you have any "optimal" shirt and suit to play?
I'm guessing that the wing collar of a bow tie would be more comfortable, but I see players often with regular shirt and tie...

Replies (22)

Edited: September 18, 2018, 2:36 AM · I only wear a starched collar when playing before royalty. Seriously, the uniform round here is ordinary white shirt with integral collar plus elasticated bow tie. No points get awarded for style.

Reminds me of the time I did play before royalty. Prince Charles came backstage in the interval to meet the band. "Such a shame one has to sit in the front row and hear all the scritchy-scratchy noises".

September 18, 2018, 6:34 AM · I always use wing collar and for me this is optimal.
September 18, 2018, 6:38 AM · Good question.
As an oboe-playing kid, of course I had to wear what I owned, which was usually something I had grown out of, so I was playing the oboe strangled. If I still played the oboe, I'd buy a couple of white shirts with huge neck sizes. But I don't.
But the question is still very pertinent to the violin, so I'll read this thread with interest.
September 18, 2018, 8:33 AM · I wore a "penguin suit" for concerts starting in 1963 - black suit and bow tie. When our daughter married in 1981 I bought a used tux (from a tux rental store) and wore that, elasticated bow tie and the fancy cuff-links shirt that went with it for all performances until the "dress of the day" was changed to all black. So now just black trousers and long-sleeve shirt - AND NO TIE. Seems to me it works for many soloists these days.

I like seeing an orchestra in uniform attire so that no player stands out, but there is no excuse to have to wear multiple layers under hot lights.

September 18, 2018, 8:57 AM · Am I getting a horrible flashback of a nightmare, or did André Previn make his orchestra dress in mustard-coloured polo necks?
September 18, 2018, 9:35 AM · I always have to perform in a black suit and tie—with padded shoulders! Suddenly my chinrest, which is usually just the ideal height, is way too high and slipping out from under me. Not to mention the tie. Really have to be able to support the violin with your hand in such cases.
September 18, 2018, 9:36 AM · Since OP is wearing a business suit and not a full black-tie rig, it shouldn’t be a problem to use a white shirt whose collar is not starched. Better for the shirt, as well.
September 18, 2018, 10:11 AM · Get your jackets without padded shoulders. Have them tailored if necessary.

Practice in your concert clothing, too.

Edited: September 18, 2018, 10:17 AM · @Steve ... Prince Charles quote: "Such a shame one has to sit in the front row and hear all the scritchy-scratchy noises"

Prince Charles knew what he was talking about. He played the cello in his youth.

Edited: September 18, 2018, 10:36 AM · Not many people have already answered the concrete question: how do you deal with the shirt collar between your collar bone and your violin? I suppose it matters much less when using a shoulder rest. I don't use a shoulder rest and when I play with just a polo shirt (or even easier, a T-shirt), I can open the top two buttons of the polo shirt and put the violin straight on my collarbone more or less. When performing wearing a shirt with starched collar, however, I put a chamois cloth over the violin. Ironically this creates one more layer of distance between me and my violin. Nathan Milstein seemed to use his tie to prevent the violin slipping away to his right side! Like Lydia said, you have to practice regularly in your performance clothing so that you are used to it.
September 18, 2018, 11:00 AM · Drop the suit jacket and bow tie, wear open collar shirt and call on gender discrimination if anyone complains!
September 18, 2018, 11:48 PM · Thank you all. Yes, I think I will have to practice with those shirts and I will probably look for one that restricts me less. The shoulder of the suit is not any problem. My violin doesn't touch that area. The problem is in the collarbone area... And actually I think that winged collar shirts will work better about that.
But no elastic tie, my God! I expect from a person that has the dexterity of playing violin, to be able to tie a bowtie!!
September 19, 2018, 3:43 AM · In my brief career as a card-carrying orchestral musician I believe I had to wear a white tie and borrow a tail-coat from somewhere. I inquired with Moss Bros about hiring one and went so far as to try it on before discovering the hire charge was more than my fee! The full penguin suit now seems to have disappeared completely from the UK concert scene.
Edited: September 19, 2018, 4:17 AM · For orchestral concerts I have to wear black tie. I go for a standard collar dress shirt with stud buttons and clip on bow tie. In the summer the dress is usually all black as a tie and jacket would be unbearable in the heat.

For one concert last season I ahd to wear a tux buit with qa blcvk shirt and no tie. I found it easier to play wiothout a tie and thought it still looked smart/formal enough. I now wish this was the dress for all orchestral concerts.

At an orchesra AGM one time some of the ladies said they found the white shirts taht teh men wore to be distracting as all other clothing was black. I didn't understand how this could be the case.

Obviously for non orchestral performances such as a local music festival I can decide for myself what I wish to wear. Usually plain black suit trousers and black shirt if it is a daytime performance and tux trousers with the same shirt for an eveing peformance. Maybe a bow tie or waistcoat if the venue/event justifies it.

Edited: September 19, 2018, 8:34 AM · Playing with full dress, shirt, jacket, etc between you and your violin may well be THE advantage of shoulder rests. Like an "angry young man" said on a video that was posted here on the forum a while ago, you really have to learn to play the violin without a shoulder rest. However, once you can do that at some reasonable level, a shoulder rest will help in a variety of situations, not in the least the one discussed here, playing fully clothed around your neck.
Edited: September 20, 2018, 12:10 AM · In these days in age, I don't understand why the orchestral world still insist on men wearing black tie (or equivalent) attire. I agree with the need for uniformity, but why insist on men wearing what is plain uncomfortable attire to play with when the quality of playing (hence why the players should be comfortable) is what matters most. Isn't that counter productive?
Edited: September 20, 2018, 12:37 AM · I have to work with suit, and use different formal suits depending on the occasion (actually, that's why I found the problem with the collar, as I was in a reception...)
We could extend that complain "why in this age, we have to wear a suit". I hear it often from my staff, when they arrive new.

For me the dress code is not only a matter of comfort or expression of personality. It also shows respect to the persons you work with: Colleagues and clients. Unless you are very certain that the people you are going to meet in the day are also in an informal mindset, wear a suit. It's simple game theory. If the client wears a suit and you dress informal, the client may find it disrespectful ("I don't deserve the bother"). On the other hand, if you wear a suit and the client doesn't, you don't get any starnge looks. And it's actually easier to take off the jacket or the tie.

Similarly in the orchestra playing, though it's a reminiscence. There was a time when people attending to a concert, theater or opera, dressed formally. The staff attending the event, including the musicians, had to equal that formality. It may have currently no other excuse than traditionalism, but the act of playing violin centuries old music is an altar of traditionalism.
Actually what I miss is that people attending to the concerts don't dress formally, then again in my home we have the rule to "dress for dinner", daily.
These social rules are very cultural or even regional rooted, but for me Manners Matter, and dress codes are part of "Manners".
I don't know if the trend towards informalisms in dress and personal relations is good or bad, but I don't like it much...

Edited: September 20, 2018, 5:14 AM · Carlos - you put me to shame. Not only do I wear an elasticated bow-tie but I don't dress for dinner. Although looking at the state of the tuxedo ("dinner jacket" over here) I wear for concerts it would appear as if I do.

My game theory tends to be the reverse of yours. I hate to be forced to conform and while the extent of my rebellion in the orchestra goes no further than black chinos and pumps, I can claim to have single-handedly subverted the necktie code in my workplace (where the clients usually wear night-dress and slippers). I wouldn't call it an "informal mindset", but I think there are many situations where relaxation of traditional formality pays dividends.

September 20, 2018, 8:08 PM · "But no elastic tie, my God! I expect from a person that has the dexterity of playing violin, to be able to tie a bowtie!!"

Agreed! And there are plenty of youtube videos demonstrating how to do it.

Edited: September 21, 2018, 3:25 AM · For me the dress code is not only a matter of comfort or expression of personality. It also shows respect to the persons you work with

I can't agree more with the above statement. I'm not at all a performer, but given my job and my current schedule I always take my classes in a formal shirt. The shirt doesn't usually bother me at all, but I can't stand playing with the tie, so just before starting the lesson I take my tie off and keep it slightly folded in my open case. I put it on again after finishing. If I were to perform in front of an audience I would probably wear a bowtie. If the shirt sleeve of the shirt restricts my right arm movement, I pull a bit from the right side of the fabric, so that it's not so deep in the trousers, but also being careful not to pull enough to look scruffy.

My teacher says he hates having to wear a shirt for orchestra playing, and that I'm one of the few students he has who attends classes in a formal attire... and the only among them who enjoys it.

September 21, 2018, 4:14 AM · I didn't say I couldn't tie a bowtie! Never tried actually. I'd just feel a bit silly as the only man in the orchestra to be dressed smartly.

Unfortunately the elasticated sort are more liable to malfunction, requiring emergency use of the safety pin which of course one carries in one's case

September 21, 2018, 4:16 AM · I found one at Wal-Mart that has a non-stretchy neckband and an adjustable clip on the back. Works like a charm, going on 4 years of moderate use.

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