Proper attire for an opera
October 9, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Too many years of casual clothing-living has left me with no frame of reference. I'm attending my first opera next month and I'm wondering what the proper attire is. The opera is in Los Angeles and, if it makes any difference, I'm sitting in the nose bleed section.
posted by pibeandres to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have seen a noticable decline in the amount of dressing up people do to attend cultural activities.

While a gown, elbow length gloves and a hat are no longer indicated. If you're a dudette, I'd say a nice 'going out to dinner' dress and shoes.

If you're a dude, I'd say suit jacket at the least, full suit wouldn't be out of line.

Or anything along that continuum.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would go business casual, or what you'd wear to a nice dinner out or one of those clubs that specifies no sneakers or jeans.

I'm female and if I were going to the opera I'd wear a cute dress with some Not Sneakers (maybe ballet flats, pumps, or some sleek boots like a riding boot or something) and light makeup/presentable hair.

If I were male, I would wear slacks and dress shoes, but probably not a full on suit. A sportcoat would be nice.
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am female, and wear dressy pants to the opera (at the Met), a very plain blouse or attractive sweater, and low-heeled pumps. Throughout the theater, and especially up in the cheap seats, I see everything from the fancy to the very casual. Wear anything you like.
posted by JanetLand at 10:45 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's during the week or a matinee, I would go for dressy business casual - like one step up from khakis (dark trousers and a nice shirt are fine, regardless of gender, I usually wear a nice work-appropriate dress). You can go a little dressier if you want on a weekend - cocktail attire, the kind of thing you might wear to a wedding.

There will probably be people in jeans and people in prom dresses. No one knows how to dress for the opera.
posted by mskyle at 10:47 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi, young opera goer person here. Chicago.

If I were to wear the cute dress Sara C. links I would indeed be cute but I'd also be a bit overdressed. You can tell the people who don't go often or are at My First Opera because they're the ones going dressed all cute. Mostly people just wear what they wore to work to their I-can-afford-opera-tickets jobs, so business casual.

I'd file myself on the casual side of casual, and usually when I go I wear either a sweater dress or denim pencil skirt with tights or leggings (opera season falls during the freeze your balls off season) and, like, a shirt or a sweater or something. I never look particularly out of place.

My tickets all last year were in a row adjacent to a ~60 year old woman who had a bright blue mohawk and wore cargo pants, so really, like, this is not situation in which you must get fancy.

THAT SAID, if you do want to get fancy, it's also completely appropriate to get fancy. I just feel like the fancy folks look different way more than the business casual folks do, and they especially look out of place up in the affordable seats.
posted by phunniemee at 10:50 AM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Black tie if it's after 6pm.
posted by jingzuo at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Black tie if it's after 6pm.

lol wat

no, seriously


People will laugh at you.
posted by phunniemee at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2014 [22 favorites]

I go to the opera in San Francisco often, and I've been to LA Opera before as well. Business casual is the way to go, especially if you're in the nosebleeds! I'm a woman in my 30s and usually wear a casual dress and boots or flats. My male companion generally wears nice slacks and a shirt with buttons, occasionally with a jacket.

The level of formalness at the opera in California is definitely 1-2 notches less formal than what I've experienced in the midwest and east coast.
posted by soleiluna at 10:53 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

In my (Seattle) experience, you can go in jeans (although I'd go for a real shirt, though, not just a t-shirt). Nobody looks at you funny. In fact if you ask the staff, they'll say they like to encourage people to not think they have to be all fancy to enjoy the opera.

I like to go in "nice dinner"/"business" attire, though you certainly wouldn't feel out of place in a suit, either.
posted by ctmf at 10:54 AM on October 9, 2014

For what it's worth my first one of the season is on Tuesday next week and I fully intend (fingers crossed shipping gets here in time) to wear this skirt with a black top and black tights and some gray brogues.
posted by phunniemee at 10:55 AM on October 9, 2014

When opera in the US is concerned, black tie is for gala events (premieres, new year's events, fundraisers) and nothing else.

You can wear pretty much anything you like to the opera under all other circumstances.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm an LA Opera subscriber. I can assure you that no matter what you wear--from sweatpants and a t-shirt to full black tie regalia, there will be others dressed the same as you. Which is to say, wear what feels right to you; if you like the idea of "going to the opera" as a fun occasion to dress up, then there's no level of dressed-uppedness which will make you stick out and feel foolish. If you just want to enjoy the wonderful music/drama etc. and really don't care about playing dress-up, there's no reason to shoot for anything more than "tidy."

One thing: if you do like playing dress-up, you might want to order drinks ahead of time at the ground floor bar for intermission. Then you can swan down the lovely Dorothy Chandler mirrored staircase at your leisure and drink your drinks among the beautiful people who sit in the Orchestra (not that there aren't beautiful, and beautifully dressed, people up in the nosebleed seats, too, or schlumpy people down in the orchestra, come to that, but just that you'll find a slightly higher hit-rate of dress-up types down at that bar.)
posted by yoink at 11:00 AM on October 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

Veteran of not just US but also European operas here.

Like poffin boffin said, unless it's opening night or you're on a date/date night, regular business casual is fine. That said, while it's not that anyone is really paying attention to you, I understand that the question is more about making sure not to cause some sort of offense.

Also, treating opera as overly formal is a big signal that the attendee is familiar with it only in its manifestation as "high culture" in the US--as snobbish pretension rather than a living art form. I went to La Scala about a decade ago on a weeknight and at least 50% of the men in the audience were in jeans. That's at one of the biggest/most important venues in the world. And I once saw a subscriber give flowers to Tiziana Fabbricini while wearing a plain (albeit tucked-in) t-shirt.

Short version is that you're fine, let yourself feel moved, dress how you'll be comfortable sitting for a few hours.

(Btw, typically sound is best in the first balcony, center.)
posted by migrantology at 11:07 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

treating opera as overly formal is a big signal that the attendee is familiar with it only in its manifestation as "high culture" in the US--as snobbish pretension rather than a living art form

This is just a reverse snobbery, though: "I'm serious about the music man, not like you in your stupid posh clothes!" That seems just as self-conscious and mannered to me as wearing black-tie because you think you're "supposed" to. Again, wear what you will enjoy wearing. There are plenty of people out there with a profound love for opera as a living art form and a deep intellectual appreciation for the subtleties of the music who also like to have an occasion to play dress-up. Those things are in no way in tension with each other. The person judging you to be some kind of opera rube because you got dressed up is just as much of a shallow snob as the person judging you as an ill-bred boor because you're wearing jeans to the opera. Both judgments will be made by some people there, the vast majority simply won't care--no matter what choice you make.
posted by yoink at 11:14 AM on October 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

FWIW I have a friend who works for the New York Philharmonic and I've been to last minute "we have an extra ticket" events with her at Lincoln Center, and, yeah, I mean can you wear jeans? Sure. Should you wear jeans? No.

Wear something nice. Frankly, in most situations in life -- aside from a yoga retreat or Cross Fit -- when in doubt, wear something nice.
posted by Sara C. at 11:17 AM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

The number one most important thing: Don't go for sex appeal. Stay away from low cut or excessively short.

If this is based on your own personal dislike for sexy clothes, fine. But as a descriptivist account of "what people wear to the LA Opera" it's wrong. There will be plenty of women wearing low cut and/or short dresses. Again, wear what you want to wear, but if that includes "sexy" and your worry is "will I look horribly out of place" the answer is decidedly "no."
posted by yoink at 11:26 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

What yoink said, both comments. I went to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert earlier this year, the first time I'd been to a symphony in about 20 years... and while I guessed that people would be less formally dressed than 20 years ago, I was surprised just how informal the crowd was.

I'd say the median was business casual leaning towards jeans and t-shirts, but there were plenty of jackets and suits also. I wore black tie because I own a tuxedo, and wear it for other private events a couple of times a month; I knew I was going to be overdressed but I'm comfortable in a tux, I like dressing up, and couldn't care less about getting the occasional sideeye. And dammit, it was the symphony! Although I wound up being even more overdressed than I'd expected, I still felt less conspicuous walking around Symphony Hall in a tuxedo than I do popping into my local podunk minimart. It's a beautiful, elegant building and it was an evening of beautiful, elegant music. For me it felt right to be dressed up for it.

I know I am an outlier here, so I guess what I'm saying is: decide how fancy you're comfortable with getting, decide how fancy you think the event is, and split the difference.
posted by usonian at 11:44 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi. I'm a 42-year-old season ticket holder to the Knoxville Opera. People attend the opera in everything from jeans to black tie. Last year we did a western-wear theme for Girl of the Golden West; I wore nice, clean jeans, a pressed western blouse and ostrich boots.

You can't go wrong with a dress or suit. Upscale business-casual would be totally inconspicuous too.
posted by workerant at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is just a reverse snobbery, though: "I'm serious about the music man, not like you in your stupid posh clothes!" That seems just as self-conscious and mannered to me as wearing black-tie because you think you're "supposed" to. Again, wear what you will enjoy wearing.

Ah! Not what I was going on about, but I see your point and how my words led you there.

The disciplining of opera as "high" art--requiring fancy dress, demanding serious concentration, forbidding coughing or moving about and so forth--is a way of making it raced and classed, among others. Those aren't mere "dress up," but forms of exclusion. Every semi-regular operagoer in this thread, including you and I, know that the audience wears pretty much whatever they want. Both jazz (music) and hip-hop dance performances demand audience feedback, whether through vocalizations or gestures or whatever else.

When I wrote "overly formal," I didn't intend that only to signal dress, but in fact an entire suite of behaviors. But my experience is that some folks *do* police other people's attire at the opera, whether actively or passively. What that policing reveals is (at least) two things. First, the logic of opera as something you "must" take seriously (via dress, attention, etc) belies that this production is far from universal, but is actually a cultural production trading on a European cache without a whole lot of relation or interaction with (southern) European opera culture (my experience ). Second, it attempts to turn opera from a living art form--and as a form, this encompasses not just voices, the orchestra, and so forth but extends out to how audiences interact with the performance and cultural practices around those performances--into a static object to rework and reinscribe privilege.

The operation of "high" culture, and its separation from other forms of art, visit exclusions on folks of less privilege. That doesn't mean we have to give up the art. One strategy--the one I was invoking above--is to make it art again, rather than removing the art to make it a symbol of a certain status.
posted by migrantology at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I attend the opera/symphony only a few times a year, so I'm hardly an expert on those traditions. That said, I've frequently been surprised at how informally people tend to dress. Sort of like at most weddings these days, there have been occasions where I've muttered a disapproving "really?" (For me, putting on my nice duds is a sign that I'm taking an interaction/event seriously.)

However, I'm one of those types who never misses an opportunity to dress nicely, and -- apparently -- so are many other attendees. On my last visit, I'd say that at least two thirds of the audience was wearing mid-range "nice" clothes: Coat (and often tie) for dudes, and some sort of dress or slacks/blouse combo for ladypeople. Plenty of suits, too, and a few in actual formal wear. Yes, there were quite a few people in jeans and a t-shirt, so if that's your jam, you won't be alone (or asked to leave). But if you like to get spiffy, it's one of the few remaining places where it's not seen as weird or stuffy to do so.
posted by credible hulk at 1:50 PM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I go to the opera in Los Angeles and I've seen everything from flip flops to black tie. I would say the majority of people at an evening performance tend towards the dressier side of business casual.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:07 PM on October 9, 2014

I love the opera and have been going since I was a little kid with my grandmother (who always made me dress up in uncomfortable floofy little-girl dresses). Nowadays, I actually love getting dressed up so I always treat the opera (or the ballet, or whatever) as an opportunity to wear my clothes that would look out of place during the daytime, or at the office. That said, wear whatever you makes you feel like you wouldn't mind being caught wearing it should you run into someone you haven't seen since high school.
posted by Aubergine at 5:43 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Speaking from my NYC, Metropolitan Opera house experience... People will be dressed ranging anywhere from jeans and sneakers to full gowns with fancy accessories.

Couples in theirs 20s and 30s - usually the girl wears a cute dress (maybe even a bit more casual than the one Sara C links to), and dark jeans + jacket/sportscoat for the guy. Fancy elderly folks wear more serious formal dresses, regular elderly folks clothes wear slacks and a sweater. College kids come in jeans / khakis.

Majority of the women have dress pants/business casual skirt and a nice blouse/sweater or a casual dress, and majority of the men have nice jeans and a casual jacket/sportscoat, or nice sweater over a button down shirt, or a button down shirt.

To give you a point of reference, in my experience, people DEFINITELY dress up more for weddings than the opera.

Friday nights and Saturday nights are dressier than weekdays or weekend matinees.

Don't worry, no one will judge you no matter what you wear! There will always be people more dressed up than you and less dressed than you.
posted by at 7:49 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Multi-Function Office Machine   |   That Guy Wasn't the Wallet Inspector Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.