I read with interest the thread that went through Orchestra-l recently about many symphony musicians who feel that orchestras just dress too formally to relate to their public.
Well, I have the absolute opposite opinion — many of us dress way too informally.
Yes, white-tie and tails are an anachronism from another century and perhaps should be replaced by at least the tux, but formal black dress for women is elegant and, I think, part of the concert-going experience for our audience. If you’re paying $100+ for a ticket in the orchestra section, you should expect the folks on stage to look worthy of that price.
My complaint is with the women (men have no choice — tux or tails means something very explicit). What makes some women (usually young) think that wearing a pair of spandex black pants and a skin-tight black top, with boots, is appropriate when you’re sitting next to a man wearing tails??? Our contract states something about women wearing something like ‘equivalent to the attire of the men.’
Personally, I hardly ever wear a skirt as a “civvy,” but I wouldn’t consider performing a Masterworks concert without wearing formal attire, always a skirt. It’s “my uniform,” just like the men have their tails and tuxes. (I do wear velvet pants and a very fancy top for Sunday matinees.)
One of my female colleagues wears pants — the type I’d wear to a business meeting — with loafers and a nice blouse and she figures she’s dressed up — sitting next to a man in tails! I want to scream, sometimes.
I don’t know how to educate people about this. My orchestra was hired to play a New Year’s Eve performance a few years ago with the group that was doing those Vienna concerts around the country — I, as then OC Chair, had to go around and personally ask every woman to wear a skirt — to get dressed up! Some were really angry with me. My point was to try to get us rehired next year — if we looked bad on stage, they wouldn’t ask us again. (Most complied and we were indeed rehired the next year — some women wore beautiful gowns, but almost everyone wore a skirt.)
But why couldn’t they have done the same thing the next week, when we had a Masterworks concert, in terms of getting dressed up? It’s a continuing problem and I don’t have any answers. I welcome your comments.
Yvonne Caruthers wrote an article about dress codes a while back, and she quoted one of my colleagues in the HSO, Carole Olefsksy, who is a vigilante about trying to maintain our dress code. Sadly, I think we’re just where we were when Yvonne and Carole talked about this a few years ago.
Performing is really a bit about show biz, no? So we should dress the part!