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ACCOUTREMENTS, APPAREL AND ATTIRE - Part 1: Orchestra

Posted on April 8, 2012 at 3:40 PM

So, I planned on getting all my attire opinions into one post, but I soon realized that it just wasn’t going to happen that way without being entirely too long. And I also need to do my taxes today.


I’m pretty opinionated about attire.


Let’s start with what to wear while performing an orchestra concert. Without a doubt, you’ve received a memo from the personnel manager stating the rehearsal and concert times/places as well as the dress code. If you didn't get the memo (Office Space? Anyone? Bueller?), it's your responsibility to contact the personnel manager and get the necessary information including the dress code.  Here is the dress code from one of the orchestras I play in taken directly from our most recent memo:


Men: White tie, white shirt, tails and tuxedo trousers. Black dress shoes (no boots) and black socks.

Women: Ankle length, solid black dress preferred (conservative neckline, no side slits, back slits six(6) inches or less), with at least 3/4 length sleeves. Solid black pants (no stirrup pants or leggings). Loose-fitting, opaque blouses or tops are acceptable. Leotard-style tops, bare backs, transparent lace, or flowered blouses/tops are not acceptable. Pants shall be with full (not snug fitting) pant legs. Black dress shoes (no boots, open-toed or clogs) and black hose. Conservative jewelry. Hair ornaments in black only.


For those of you who have played in an orchestra before, you’ve probably seen something like this. White tie and tails for the guys and all-black for the ladies (special orchestra dress codes will be discussed at a later date). Why so uniform? Why so boring?


An orchestra shouldn’t be seen as individuals, but more like a large school of fish working towards the same goal. That and if it were up to the individual’s taste, someone is going to show up in cargo pants, a stars and bars t-shirt, and combat boots. It probably happened at one time and that’s why orchestras had to crack down and make it uniform. I’m just kidding. It probably wasn’t a stars and bars t-shirt.  (It had long sleeves.)


So that’s why we should be uniform. But why is the dress code so specific?


Well, for guys there really isn’t much variation involved in white tie and tails, so they don’t need high amounts of specificity (and typically the gents aren’t as fashion oriented as the ladies). The only thing I have to say about the guys’ dress code is when the memo says “tails,” wear a freaking tailcoat. It’s obvious when you wear a tux coat instead. Don’t show up without a white tie, either. There are only so many the personnel manager has available for borrowing and you look like a moron to them if you don’t have a white tie! And do I need to say anything about white versus black socks? Always have a ton of black socks on hand and wear them in the concert. White socks and a tux looks supremely awful. I guess what was three things. Oops.


Ladies. Where do I start? I feel like I should have a post dedicated to what girls should and should not wear in an orchestra concert. We girls like to look good and we think any public event is an opportunity to go all out with the fashion. But as a school of fish is all uniform, we need to restrain ourselves a little bit from the more extreme versions of “all-black”. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.


I want to die my hair a spectacular color someday, but until I’m not playing in an ensemble where uniform dress code is necessary, I’m going to have to hold off. Why? Because bright blue hair will distract from the concertmaster’s solo or the quiet minutes in a Mahler symphony. The music is the important part and any visuals should always aid, not distract. Hair color can be distracting if it’s bright and un-natural.


Cleavage is a no-no. It’s not appropriate for the girls to be peeking out of your shirt, so wear a camisole and keep ‘em covered. It's not difficult so don't put the personnel manager in the awkward position of having to tell you that what you're wearing is inappropriate.


When the memo says loose-fitting, opaque, long-sleeved tops, that means that’s what you should wear. Don’t wear short sleeves and certainly not sleeveless. The audience will get distracted by your bare arms flying around which is why orchestras require ¾ to full length sleeves. While doing my undergraduate degree, one of the concertmistresses always wore a dress without sleeves and with a low, open back. People would be talking about her attire for hours afterward instead of the performance itself. That shouldn't have been the point of the concert.


Pants and skirts. This is not the time to show off your hind-end. Well-fitting is good, but don’t wear skinny pants especially when it says not to do that in the memo!


If the memo says close-toed shoes, that’s what you should wear. Same with black hose/socks. In one of the orchestras I play in, another orchestra member wears black socks with a colored print on them. I have no idea why she thinks this is okay. It’s not cute. It’s unprofessional. Are you catching the pattern here?


Now don’t get me wrong, I think well-fitting clothing is important. One does not need to look frumpy to comply with professional. But this isn’t a fashion show, so stay to the conservative side of your outfit. Save the skinny jeans and low-cut tops for the after party if you so desire.


The biggest part of this rant is respect. It may seem silly that the orchestra is being so specific with the type of jewelry you’re allowed to wear or the type of shoe, but that’s their rule. This orchestra hired you, so show them the respect they deserve by honoring their dress code. It’s very simple and it’s what’s appropriate.




Stay tuned for next week’s entry: ACCOUTREMENTS, APPAREL AND ATTIRE - Part 2: small ensembles, where I discuss coordinating (and not) within your small ensemble.

Categories: Stage Presence, Etiquette, Aware

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