It was my birthday Friday, and our anniversary in a few weeks so Saturday night my husband took me to a fabulous dinner and performance of Cirque de la Symphonie.  It was INCREDIBLE!  If you've ever seen Cirque de Soleil you have an idea of the amazing feats of human performance going on while the symphony played wonderful pieces.  Amazing like Jarek and Darek, the Living Statues pictured below.  If you haven't seen these jaw-dropping performers, here's a link to a little preview video.
It was a delicious, exciting, enchanting, romantic and sublime evening.  I encourage you, no, I implore you, to find a performance near you and go.  And when you do, you sure as heck better dress appropriately!  Because the tragic outfits I saw that night have forced me (much like the Sunday Best experience) to once again shout from the rooftops, "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO EVENING WEAR!?!"

My parents had season symphony tickets while I was a teenager and I was lucky enough to go to a few performances every year.  The casual dressers bothered me back then too.  This is the first performance I've been to in several years and the blow it struck me was appallingly fresh.  We walked out the door behind a man in khakis and a ratty polo shirt and a woman in a very worn Docker-style skirt and Teva's.  I kid you not.  And among the appropriately dressed patrons were plenty of jeans and t-shirts.  The Ringling Brothers circus was at the venue 2 blocks down so I think they got lost. 
I wanted so badly to tap the couple on the shoulder and say, "Hello.  I'm writing an article about how people make their fashion decisions.  Could you please tell me what possessed you to put this on before you came here tonight?  Did you not know where you were going?" 

People, there IS such a thing as a Dress Code and how to dress appropriately.  I was pondering the confusion about how to honor a Dress Code and came up with too many possibilities for this post; the casualization of society has killed the standards, people would like to dress appropriately but don't know how or how to shop, too many titles for the same code, etc.  We'll explore them more in future posts.  Today we're talking about the symphony or opera.  So let's discuss WHY it's a good idea to dress up.
  • It's not about "fitting in" it's about respecting the situation, the performers, the people around you and yourself.  It's about showing you have class and that you understand where you are.  
  • As I often do I searched for other answers already given to this type of question and in about half a nanosecond I found some very wrong ones.  Such as, "Dress as nicely as you can.  No one will notice anyway." Wrong!  Everyone notices.  Someone else said, "Dress any way you want.  They're not going to throw you out."  Oh.. if only they would!!  I had a nice time daydreaming of the petite little usher at our entry manhandling the offenders right out onto the street.  Then there was this one, "The symphony doesn't care, they just want butts in the seats."  Sadly, that last part is true.  They DO care but they also need to fill the seats, especially in an economic cycle where people are cutting back on entertainment spending.  Trust me, they care.  One answer was particularly good and made the same point I'm trying to make about respecting the performers, the occasion and the venue and she added, "the others who have been going to symphonies in suits and evening gowns for decades, the ones whose season tickets and donations make the symphony possible at all."  Very insightful!!
  • Lastly, why WOULDN'T you want to dress up?  I honestly can't think of any reason I wouldn't want to pamper myself and treat myself to an evening of looking and feeling fabulous.  Mom's especially sometimes need to look for excuses like this, so take the opportunity when it knocks!
And when it comes knocking, what should you wear?  Well, most symphonies have an "informal dress code."  This does not mean you can dress "informally", it means the dress code is not forcible, but recommended. And the dress code at the multiple symphonies I found who actually post one is Business Formal to Business Casual.  Business Formal = suits and ties or tuxedos for the men and fancy dresses or evening gowns for the women.  Business Casual = sport coats for the men and cocktail dresses or fancy pant suits for the women.  The exception is the Saturday or Sunday matinee performance when casual dress (khakis and collared shirts) is more appropriate. 
No denim. Don't even think about it.  You can never go wrong with a black dress, which every woman should have in her wardrobe if she also has a pair of jeans.

In general, fancy dress tends to manifest itself either in color or fabric.  For example, a pair of nice pants and a top in all black can be just as fancy as a satin sheath dress or sequined skirt in a lighter color.  It's another version of the teeter-totter principle.  If I totter down, as in down to more casual pieces (which pants are for women) then I should also take the color down.  If I teeter up to a fancier cut garment, such as a fitted dress or skirt, I can up the color. 
I'm painting with very broad brush strokes here to help clarify the big picture.  I saw a gorgeous sequined black dress on Saturday night, as well as a lovely pair of pale pink satin pants and a matching embroidered strapless top over which the woman had draped a black pashmina to cover her shoulders.  Both women were wearing nice accessories, fabulous shoes and looked wonderful.

So how 'bout it?  Can't we all just dress up when the occasion calls for it?  Can we commit to elevating our style and enjoying those times we get to look amazing?  It'll be a refreshing change for the better that our society could really benefit from.

Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on why you think Evening Wear  (or appropriate dressing in general) has taken such a hit.  Simply click the word "Comments" at the top of this post.


09/22/2009 23:23

I'm not sure that I <i>entirely</i> agree with you, but it's a matter of degree is all. That, and I HATE heels. So does my husband, so I'm in luck.

That being said, I too would appreciate a little class from the audience at classy events. Several years ago my husband and I were fortunate to attend a Kodo performance. Traditional Japanese drums. They.Were.Amazing. Wow. The best musicianship I have ever heard in my life! The audience was amazing too... but not in a good way. Jeans, t-shirts, every day college wear. But that wasn't the worst of it: if you dress the best you can, but it's still not really what it ought to be for the event, you can make up for a lot in classy behavior. Which the audience didn't have. Talking during the performance, whistling... it was way worse than just underdressed.

We're practicing with my Monkey on the school concerts and things that we're invited to. Now that you mention it, we might start practicing the dress code too. It's a good reminder.

09/23/2009 09:55

Ritsumei - thanks for your thoughts and the point about acting with proper decorum as well as dressing. Your fellow spectators are such an integral part of the whole event. You either get into it together and sort of bond, or some try to enjoy and others try to ruin.
And you're right about starting to teach kids young. Hopefully it'll lay a foundation to carry them through their lives and save a lot of frustration. It's so uncomfortable not knowing what to wear or being sure you're appropriate.
I'd love to see one of those concerts someday. My husband's niece is in Japan right now and we hope to go back and travel with her someday.

As far as the "sky-high heels", that's just MY preference for fancy dress. There are so many fabulous embellished flats and sandals out there today you can dress up and still wear what you love.

10/07/2009 15:15

Hey!!!! I went to that on a Saturday night too! But I don't remember what day it was now.... anyway, my husband and I were SO talking about that at the concert! I was appalled. There were SO many people not dressed up. What happened to that?? what happened to Sunday best???? People have no manners these days. It's an "i don't care" attitude wherever you look. It's disgusting. It's not just about YOU it's about the people around you as well.

10/14/2009 15:19

As a man, I agree with you 100%. Opera/symphony/ballet should be "Black Tie ONLY" in my opinion. For some reason society feels the need to be "comfortable" rather than proper. You hear people answer that question about what to wear to the opera/ballet/symphony with "just wear something comfortable". I'm "comfortable" in my pajamas more than a tux, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate to wear my pajamas to the opera! It is about respecting the artists who spent countless uncomfortable hours rehearsing, and your appearance is important.

10/14/2009 20:19

Fred - You have the honor of being the very first man to leave a comment on Image Interpreters! (My husband has the luxury of just talking to me.) Your insight is dead accurate that yes, we are usually more "comfortable" in very casual clothes but they aren't appropriate! I would LOVE to see an entire audience all in black tie. It would be breathtaking. So glad to hear it from a man, since men often try to champion the casual dress code. If the rest of your sex only realized how dang delicious you look when you dress up!

10/14/2009 20:32

Elaine - I think you hit an important nail on the head; not dressing up is part of a larger "I don't care" attitude. I'm betting you see it around campus every day as well. You're dressed casually but still cute and careful about your outfits while others are in pajama bottoms and ripped or stained t-shirts.

06/10/2010 15:19

Thanks so much for your article. My husband is taking me to the symphony for my first time and now I have a much better idea of what to wear. I'm a mom of two and am dying to ditch the jeans and sweater for a dressy dress and heels!


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