Boys/mens performance clothes for picky people

January 29, 2019, 3:36 PM · My son has a solo gig coming up with a professional orchestra and needs to wear something nice. He is extremely picky about what he plays in and usually just wears an unadorned dress shirt. For this event, he needs something more formal. He does not like to play in suit coats, ties, or bowties because they mess up his position. He used to play in vests, which look great on him (13yo long-legged, short torso stage!), but the last few times he has complained about the vest sliding while he is playing, making his violin slide.

Does anyone have suggestions for something very formal that won't screw up his playing? This is only his second time soloing with orchestra so I would rather he be comfortable than worried about his attire. I've seen Joshua Bell and others wear some pretty snazzy shirts, but I can't seem to find anything like that.

Replies (29)

January 29, 2019, 3:42 PM · I usually wear something like black dress pants and a 3/4 sleeve length black shirt for solos. I'm a girl, btw...
Anyways, people will be upset any way you have him dress. People will say my concert blacks are too bland, or if I wore a shiny silver dress, they would say it's too flashy, I guess you can't make everyone happy, right?
Also, he could wear a plain black or white shirt with a blazer (no shoulder pads), but move the blazer slightly off of his shoulder, so his violin/shoulder rest is directly on his shirt.
January 29, 2019, 3:43 PM · Or he could use a chamois cloth and put that on top of the blazer, then the violin/shoulder rest.
January 29, 2019, 3:57 PM ·

Here's the website profiled in the NYT article:

January 29, 2019, 4:01 PM · I've seen Joshua Bell perform in a long-sleeve "hang-out" shirt (perhaps a guayabera shirt - some call that sort of thing a "Mexican Wedding Shirt"). It's not formal, but some situations it is formal enough. My tux has hung in my closet for 20 years and I've worn a black guayabera shirt for every performance since - black trousers too.
Edited: January 29, 2019, 4:24 PM · I play in a regular oversize suit usually (sadly, I'm not allowed to wear coattails in my orchestra). It's a slim cut and only looks really baggy if you slouch—back straight!
No matter what, your suit will get in the way, but wearing one that's a bit large hugely reduces the arm strain.

For solo performances I dress in either a white or black button-up collared shirt. Thin, to be sure, but definitely not translucent. That's good enough.
And, playing without a shoulder rest does really help the slippy-slidey vest issue. Wink wink.

I've always wanted to strut about with my violin and a cape.

January 29, 2019, 4:38 PM · I've seen more than a few male violinists showing up in black slacks, a black turtleneck (difficult but not impossible to match) and nobody seems to complain. Since a lot of conductors now opt for something like a black caftan, anything goes...
January 29, 2019, 4:48 PM · My personal preference is Chinese style tux ( or the so called Mandrian collar) which is comfortable to perform in and is gaining popularity among Asian and nonAsian violinists, though I would stay with black (unlike Pearlman who apparently likes much brighter colors).
January 29, 2019, 6:09 PM · We're talking about a child here. I agree with George Wells. I would suggest black slacks, black shoes, and the plainest possible black shirt with as little collar as you can get away with, such as a mock-turtleneck or Mandarin collar. The Josh Bell look is perfectly fine too. No bright colors. Even white is hard to look at from the audience under bright stage lights.
January 29, 2019, 6:18 PM · I agree with Paul, especially the suggestion for a Mandarin collar.
Edited: January 29, 2019, 6:52 PM · If you've got to skip the suit (daytime) or formal wear (evening), then all-black is the thing. I am at a British university now, and black is pretty well standard for all the orchestras and chamber groups, no jacket required even though-- ironically-- everyone already has black suits for exams, and most men have black tie rigs for various dinners throughout the year.

My own solution on the shirt was linen/cotton blend, with a plain point collar and square bottom hem. If it is quite warm, I wear it untucked with a black t-shirt below. Otherwise, tucked in with or without a black v-neck sweater. If I were a soloist, I might be more fussy, but that hasn't been a problem yet.

January 29, 2019, 7:02 PM · Paul's suggestion should be more than good enough for a teenager. The main thing is that it's neat & doesn't distract from the music.
January 29, 2019, 7:07 PM · Thank you all -- the mandarin collar is exactly what I was thinking of but I didn't know the name of it. That should suit him fine. I found some online with some slight decorations that look pretty snazzy.
January 29, 2019, 7:57 PM · For the vest-- what about attaching some non-slide stuff under the shoulder so it doesn't slide? You know, the type of stuff you might use under a rug on a wood floor. Or, double-sided clothing tape-- the kind women use to keep bra straps and body parts under control in thin-strapped or strapless dresses.
January 29, 2019, 8:30 PM · I use vests everyday. It is rare that they slide like you describe, so I would give a chance to another one that fits better. A vest And a +1 to the Mandarin (Mao) collar.
January 29, 2019, 8:46 PM · Vests can look great, and allows the arms to be free. If it slides around, then either it doesn't fit right, or is synthetic fabric. An older style lapel-vest of wool should not do that.
January 29, 2019, 10:07 PM · The vest should be an add-on. Something you can wear if it's chilly or not if it's warmer in the room. You want clothes therefore that will look good with or without it. I know a fine pro violinist who wears vests and a mandarin-collar shirt with ordinary worsted-wool trousers.

The "Mao collar" should not be confused with a Mao suit! That's one reason why "mandarin collar" is perhaps a better term.

January 29, 2019, 11:09 PM · I actually have an all-black performance outfit now that looks like formal gear, but is all made of performance fabric. Got it at Uniqlo!
January 30, 2019, 10:45 AM · I do the mandarin collar too, and I even unbutton the first few top buttons so that I can get a little contact with my collar bone. Tedi Papavrami wears mock-turtlenecks.

Teenage boys usually look pretty dorky no matter what they are wearing, so I would lean towards comfort.

January 30, 2019, 11:18 AM · "Teenage boys usually look pretty dorky no matter what they are wearing, so I would lean towards comfort."

Yeah - that! My kid is also going through part of his growth spurt so clothes never seem to fit. I tend to buy them on the big side so they last more than 2 months. My son has gone from size 12 to 16 in the past year.

January 30, 2019, 1:48 PM · Also, what's your son playing? I'd just be curious to know. Also, good luck to him!
January 30, 2019, 1:52 PM · @Nina Roco -- Wieniawski Concerto.
January 30, 2019, 2:15 PM · Scott, is it really orchestral practice for their handbook to cover what the soloist wears?
January 30, 2019, 3:02 PM · Scott, I think this is for a solo situation, so not bound by the orchestra's dress code.

I think no jacket is within the prerogative of the soloist, especially for kids. Dress shirt with mandarin collar, and a vest, seems totally appropriate. Indeed, a kid playing a solo can probably get away with a little more color range -- black shirt and a silver vest, red shirt and a black vest, etc.

January 30, 2019, 3:52 PM · Sorry, Susan, but there's two. I'm assuming #2 in D minor because that's more common for a student, and it's pretty advanced and makes sense to be played by an advanced teenage violin student.
January 30, 2019, 4:24 PM ·
January 30, 2019, 4:24 PM ·
January 30, 2019, 4:31 PM · No fast rules and all depends on context...but:

Tux dress code does not pertain to soloists, for youth orchestras or major symphonies in North America and Asia, in my experience. You probably might not want to do the rough-edge look a la Nigel Kennedy unless that's really what you're going for. I would never expect a soloist in a professional engagement (much less a teenager) adhere to a strict black-tie tux.

What Lydia said!

January 30, 2019, 5:39 PM · Sorry Nina Roco, yes the d minor one -- I should have specified. Not the f#! He hasn't played that yet--rather hard. This one is easy for him.

He plays in a suit for orchestra, as is required, but for solo I think he should be allowed a bit more freedom. The recommendation in the paperwork I was given was pretty vague so I think he will be fine as long as he looks professional.

January 30, 2019, 6:16 PM · Here is one more perspective and story. My son was getting ready for his first solo performance with orchestra. He always thought Augustin Hadelich looked great in his suits. So, he wrote to Augustin through his website and he wrote back right away. It turns out that his suits are all custom made to give extra room while playing. He made some great suggestions. We searched the internet and found Hockerty ( We took some measurements, added extra space as needed and then ordered a mandarin suit. The cost was around $170 dollars and arrived in about 2 weeks. It fit perfectly! Since that time we have ordered a black suit and tuxedo to fulfill all the performing needs. We have also been ordering mandarin shirts from Fortino Landi on Amazon for about $20. Hope this helps.

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