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The Code: your guide to concert dressing


It’s been a busy week in music land – eight concerts in the last ten days. This kind of pace is not just a stretch for the grey matter. It also presents a serious challenge for the wardrobe. Black, black, black or… more black? With the winter opera season fast approaching and a good deal of Mahler in my near future, I think we need to get this concert dress code properly sussed out. Advice, anyone?

This is my draft plan (for women):

Opera – shiny, silky, sparkly and probably black. High heels, lipstick, little bags with no room for anything but a lace hanky and a cloakroom ticket. Length of hem: long, longer or very short. Only you can decide whether your legs are up to the task. Alternatively, and for the very bold, production themed fancy dress. My husband wore a kilt to the opening of Lucia. I didn’t. Also, negotiating the Opera House and environs can be like a three day hike in the Blue Mountains, so use your cloakroom ticket to redeem bag with foot-friendly shoes.

Sydney Symphony – depends on the day of the week and the program. A Saturday night Master Series could be nearly as dressy as the opera, although skip the miniskirts and bare shoulders. Mozart in the City is suits and tailored shirts. Meet the Music is school uniform… Similar code for Musica Viva.

Australian Chamber Orchestra – Stylish, baby. You can dress as daggy as you like, as long as it is vintage, designer, sourced from a market (preferably in a third world country) or hand knitted.

Australian Brandenburg – all of the above, although probably not floor length ball gowns. But given they perform at the most easily accessible concert hall in town you can wear those thigh length high heeled boots without a care.

New Music — varies according to venue, but you should be safe in jeans and / or black. Hair colour optional. Facial hair optional. In fact, hair optional. NB: If it involves percussion, tibetan hats and/or waistcoats strongly recommended.

I jest, but people-watching can be almost as fascinating as listening to music in Sydney’s music scene. Am I near the mark or way off? Comments, please.


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Code: your guide to concert dressing « A Cunning Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. No comments yet? Says something about the music commentariat, doesn’t it? Where is Maggie Alderson when you need her?

    Anything goes at the theatre and concert hall nowadays. That much is clear, This is a pity. What ever happened to the feeling of a Great Night Out? Surely some style and clothing substance is desirable? The elements of such a night should demand some fashion class. Planning, dressing, the journey, perhaps a pre-performance meal, the mingling in the foyer beforehand, the interval discussions, and perhaps even drinks afterwards. And think of the performance. Some girl is going to sing her heart out for you, some guy will grip you with his Chekhov, or some hoary piece of standard repertoire will suddenly have you on the edge of the seat because of some special intensity of beauty. Some may argue the event itself has no influence on dress (unless you subscribe to the theory, recently espoused on Twitter, that some people listen differently in high heels.) It is, after all, not necessary to wear tails to enjoy the Vienna Philharmonic. I can relate, however, that there is a group of opera fans in New York (the Metropolitan Opera Club) who always wear tails to the Met to keep up some form of tradition. Good luck to them.

    I did wear tails to the Met’s Opera Ball one year. That dress was pretty much demanded for this occasion. By way of digression, it was a lucky chance. Each year a country sponsor is selected for the event, and suitable fare and drinks are appropriately sourced. This particular year (1991) the country was Sweden. Nobody in the, then, martini swilling city had bothered to mention that Sweden did not produce wine. What to do? Well, Australia sells a lot of wine to Sweden, so we got the gig and Australian wine was served. Of course, my wife and I had to attend (paying our own way, I hasten to add). Domingo conducting, Giovanna Casola as Tosca and James Morris as Cavaradossi. Dancing after dinner to Lester Lanin. (I know, I know! Lester who? Ask your grandma.) This was a Great Night Out.

    Performance space managers have decreed that the arts must not be seen to be elitist. Come along in your daggy jeans and join the hoi polloi. Don’t aspire to a great evening. Get the children fed, grab the bus, fight for a drink at interval and rush home to release the baby sitter. No wonder it’s a while since you really enjoyed the evening rather than just the performance. The world loves royalty. Let’s dress like royalty and bring back the Great Night Out.

    Oh, and I’m in deep trouble. I can’t remember what my wife wore to the Opera Ball.

    • I’m with you on this. When I go and see Art (for want of a better word) I’m always hoping that I’ll see or hear something that makes me feel amazing, different, takes me out of the ordinary. Of course, 90% of the time it doesn’t take you all the way there, but it’s worth going just in case that night is the 10% night. And if you’re know you’re on the hunt for the extraordinary, I want to start by dressing up, a bit. (I raised a fellow concertgoer’s eyebrows by wearing funky velvet trousers to an Australia Ensemble gig recently. He was wearing jeans. It was a sea of corduroy and sensible shoes. They were playing Beethoven, very well indeed and, frankly, Beethoven deserves better! Arguably not velvet trousers, but not jeans either.

  3. I have to say that I loved that little space of time when Sex and the City gave permission to women of a certain age [mine] and marital status [also mine] to dress in fabulous and outrageous ways; I no longer wasted time worrying that my clothes were too colourful for new music, too reclaimed for the opera or too bling for an orchestral matinee.

    But once I was all dressed up I definitely wanted the evening, well-begun by the performance event, to continue on with a meal, a drink or at least a coffee afterwards to talk about the music, what worked, what didn’t, why, wherefore…. Being dressed for the event signalled I was in it for more than a hit-and-run attendance – I wanted to absorb the ideas, to mull and reflect on the magic (or otherwise) of the concert for some time after the last note sounded.

    All this past tense reminiscing? Parenthood has certainly rendered my concert-going a rare treat rather than a regular part of my week, and finding the time to create my own wardrobe-performance is almost beyond my powers.

    For now. My son edges closer to school age, and I hear there’s a new Sex and the City movie coming out.

    • I call it my ‘combat gear’ – the child wrangling regalia. Reviewing my way through the parent years has been a wonderful excuse to get out of combat gear (and out of the house!)

  4. i’m usually lucky if i can afford the ticket, let alone something decent to wear. shorts & trainers 9 months of the year.

    whoever who are out there concert goers, rest assured do not take your fashion tips from the performers themselves. they all generally look like arse. spangly tinselly ballgowned arse.

    • Good point. Jeans and a concert ticket is better than jeans and no concert ticket (or worse still, concert ticket and no jeans).
      As for performers’ dress sense or otherwise, that’s a whole new minefield…

      • Oooh, a post on *that* sometime between now and Christmas would be oh so fun!

      • Not substantive, but just remember Katia Beaugeais playing her own work at the ISCM Sax Project concert at the Con. The only one to challenge black with a bright red top and black satin pleated skirt. I’m sure it did not influence the learned panel of assessors, but she did win her ISCM/IAMIC prize with great style. Could it have been that her confidence was enhanced by a feeling of standing out from the crowd?

  5. Most amusing!

    what about shorts and thongs for offspring’s bowling club concert series?

    • Given the weather, maybe it should be shorts and ugg boots… Sorry I haven’t made it to one of the concerts yet, but I’ll be there eventually!

  6. this is all interesting and amusing…in past i remember feeling I had it wrong many times, under-dressed, over-dressed etc etc….when I saw Pogorelich my companion wore tails….when I saw Victoria de los Angeles I had a completely out of proportion string of huge pearls…and seats way back for both concerts I would think.
    These days I go mainly for comfort whether performing or listening, black always works, jeans are fine, a big hunk of jewelery goes with anything.
    but I really would like to dress up!!

    • I love to dress up too, unless I’m in the mood for sloping in and sloping out again. The Mad Scene – a facebook group who do opera – have organised a few themed opera nights, including an 80s night for ‘Bliss’. There should be more of it, I say!

  7. I have always remembered an article on dining out by Terry Durack in SMH some years ago where he said that the diners responsibility and contribution to a great night out is to look fabulous and be fabulous, and that adds to the atmosphere and pleasure of all in the restaurant that night. I agree, and must say I always love people watching especially at the opera where the colours and fabrics are a feast for the eye. Brandenberg on Saturday night for me will be black velvet and a bit of sparkle, and I must say I am looking forward to Fiona Campbell, I am told her outfits are as gorgeous as her singing!

    • Definitely worth dressing up if you’re seeing them on Saturday night! Fiona Campbell does the diva thing fabulously.

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