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January 17, 2008 9:25 AM   Subscribe

What should a modern, semi-professional a capella choral group wear as concert attire?

I sing with a relatively new a capella choral group in Philadelphia. Our repertoire is focused on performing secular works both ancient and modern. Our most recent concert was a collection of works commissioned by local composers that focused primarily on great modern poetry. But our upcoming concert is primarily one of English madrigals and other partsongs, to be followed by a performance of Monteverdi's Fourth Book of Madrigals.

We need to look "classic," but with (at least) a nod to our additional modern focus.

Some have suggested "loud" shoes with otherwise black attire. Scarves were used to accent the black attire worn by the women. And most recently, we took pictures wearing a hodgepodge of modern "business casual" attire. None of these things has really suggested the right image for the group. So what will?
posted by greekphilosophy to Media & Arts (19 answers total)
It's hard to go wrong with (although it's boring) tuxes for the men and identical long black dresses for the women. As a nod to modernity, I suppose you could go with identical black pants suits for the women.

Of course, you probably considered this already.

I saw a choir once where the women wore identical royal blue (rather ugly) dresses. That was unfortunate.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:30 AM on January 17, 2008

It's hard to go wrong with (although it's boring) tuxes for the men and identical long black dresses for the women.

Actually, it's easy to go wrong with matching dresses for women, because they're often unflattering, ugly, and uncomfortable- that polyester junk does not breathe! I get uncomfortable just looking at them. I think having everyone in all-black pieces from their own wardrobe could work out.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:44 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the best I've seen is everyone in black, but with one brightly-colored accessory. Everyone's color was different but equally bright. And solid, nothing patterned. It could be shoes, a tie, a scarf, a hat, whatever - it looked great. And as much as the one thing stands out, the blacks should be as similar as possible: same or similar sleeve length, opaque fabrics, nothing sparkly or sequined.

Definitely don't do completely matching junk. Everyone should wear clothing that fits their body type and personality, within the constraints that the group sets.

Actually, I like leahwrenn's idea of pants suits for everyone.

I wish I were in that kind of choral group - that's my ideal repertoire to sing!
posted by bassjump at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2008

Seconding TPS. Riffing on the suggestion you mention above, what about loud ties for the men and bright scarves for the women (of each choirster's personal choice, of course)? That look will convey less formal, though. Is formal what you're aiming for?

I saw a choir this past summer with a great look. Everybody wore a plain dark grey as a base, but the women had handmade crocheted shawls/scarves, made of fancy shiny wool, which each woman wore a different way, and the men all had ties the same colour. The scarves and ties were in sage green. It looked awesome, without looking hokey.
posted by LN at 9:52 AM on January 17, 2008

Former choir guy here. A few thoughts:
- Don't do robes. Too "formal". Too much religious overtones.
- Ditto TPS. Matching dresses for the women is... weird. Like you're a bunch of bridesmaids who got lost.
- The business casual doesn't seem right. Looks like just random people.

That being said, I'd say, have everyone in all black - pants, shirts/bouses, shoes. No dress/skirts. Allows for some variation, but you'll still have a common theme.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2008

How about everyone in smart 1950's/60's suits? Could be expensive, but oh so chic! Picture all the women looking like Jackie O or Audrey Hepburn... Men with pocket squares...

This may be a bit of a surreal suggestion, but maybe it will provoke another idea.
posted by amtho at 10:14 AM on January 17, 2008

Instead of the overused basic black, you could try a sharply limited color palette. You could use black and the same shade of red, for instance, or white or light blue with dark gray -- whatever you all together agree is the most wearable and attractive choice for everyone. You can then alternate the colors to whatever individual degree you care to while still looking cohesive. It also helps if you stick to a palette of style -- all the women wearing choices from a couple of universally flattering options like empire-waisted or A-line dresses or wide-legged pants, and all the men wearing Thom Browne-style skinny suits or otherwise cleanly tailored menswear or something. It depends on the range of body types and taste you all have but if you stick to an agreed-upon family of color and style I think you could look fresh and modern, but still cohesive.
posted by melissa may at 10:23 AM on January 17, 2008

Black jeans and shoes and either solid colored or black turtlenecks.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 10:45 AM on January 17, 2008

I've seen a video of the recording of classical vocals where the men had their shirts off, for better sound they said. I wonder how much wrapping up in suit jackets you really need.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:34 AM on January 17, 2008

- We also did the various black options, which worked out decently well, but was still too...boring (in my opinion). I also agree with all the commentary re: matching outfits being creepy, and about business casual looking too random.

- I had wondered about the all black+ option, with everyone using a different brightly colored accessory to accent the otherwise basic and classy all black outfit routine. I might suggest we attempt this one at our concerts next month. But even this presents a problem for men. Women have shoes, scarves, belts, shawls, and even brooches that they can wear as accent color. Men have ties and maybe pocket squares. Perhaps a hat or scarf - but neither is appropriate for all venues (we've performed in churches before). So what other options are available for men to accent themselves?

- I am also very intrigued by the idea of setting a palette for the group. The group is named for a rather famous painter, and so it would be visually quite fascinating to borrow colors from one of his paintings and then apply them to the choir itself. That might be a little too complex to understand though, and hard to carry out. But certainly something to think about.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:40 AM on January 17, 2008

How about all black for the singers but some colorful stage props? When I sang in an a capella group the women wore long black skirts and long-sleeved black tops and the men wore black suits with white shirts. I always thought the white shirts were distracting, and really liked the look of the (female) singers' faces floating above a sea of black. It really focused the attention on their faces, and singers are often quite animated.

Maybe you could have some colorful flower arrangements off to the side, or if your singers hold music, maybe the scores could have colorful covers. But really, I think solid black (rather than white shirts for men) might be enough of a "modern" edge for your group.
posted by Quietgal at 11:43 AM on January 17, 2008

I don't mind the identical dresses so much (I've never found it 'creepy'), but I am totally understanding of he impossibility of finding dresses that flatter all body types.

The issue I was trying to avoid---and maybe for the type of group you're in you won't have such a problem---is the one woman who thinks that "long sleeved top, long black skirt" means a sleeveless top and knee-length skirt. Somehow, there's always at least one in every choir.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:46 PM on January 17, 2008

Another way to be cohesive is to limit accessories. For the men, ties only. For the women, maybe ear studs of your choosing but the same necklace on everybody -- some elegant and understated symbol in the same material that immediately marks you as all in the group. You could repeat the symbol for the men with a tie clip or cufflink or something. You can commission pieces quite inexpensively these days -- one of my favorite places is Kutuu and she has a lovely leaf pendant right now I could see working well. Or you could have her do something special, or find an artist local to you -- there are so many possibilities.

I love the idea of playing off your artist inspiration's palette. It's subtle, but why not? Your music and self-description sounds like you're pushing against staid traditionalism a bit, so echoing that in your fashion makes sense. If you turn this into a big exciting group project where you shop together, give each other tips on where to find the colors and cuts you are looking for, etc., this could be such a fun bonding experience for you, even the people who aren't big shoppers. Whatever you decide, I hope you post an update.

As an aside: if you put a site together, I hope you share it on Projects here or with sample or two in Music -- I just love good choral music and would really like to hear what you are doing. Best of luck!
posted by melissa may at 2:17 PM on January 17, 2008

I'm weary of the black too. My first thought was simply to have every one in gray instead. Fresher-looking and less funereal. Sure, people will pick different shades, but they pick different shades of black, too.
posted by desuetude at 2:39 PM on January 17, 2008

Black bottoms (pants, skirts, jeans; either uniform or singer's choice) for everyone. Dark grey shirts for the men, with a non-patterned brightly colored vest. Women wear solid color (to match the men's vests) tops, preferably long or 3/4 sleeve (short sleeve looks too casual, sleeveless is rarely flattering after 30). Not velvet! For something even more casual, long sleeved polo shirts from Land's End come in a rainbow of colors and in sizes to fit nearly everyone.

Be *very* specific about uniform requirements. Our band uniform requests long skirts for women, and while I have no problem with those who wear palazzo pants (until they move, you can't tell that it's not a skirt), there are always a few who think that 'oh well, tea length is fine'. It's not. (Our summer uniform is a white polo shirt with the band's logo embroidered on it worn with black pants -- that may be a little more casual than you're looking for.)
posted by jlkr at 3:16 PM on January 17, 2008

If you do go with the black+ [random thing], the men could also try the colored item as shoes, a belt, or suspenders. Bowties can be fun if not overdone - a nice variety from regular neckties.

If you tried business casual: what about khakis and a shirt of a uniform color?
Although now that I mention it, all I can picture are Starbucks baristas, so maybe not, unless you can think of a fun way non-food-service way to pull it off.

I've also sung in a group that did black pants with a long-sleeved shirt that was any shade of blue. For a wide palette, maybe try blues and purples, or all the cool colors (green, blue, purple), or a specific range of colors that would echo the work of the painter you're named for.
posted by bassjump at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2008

The last group I sang in called for black bottoms of the singers choice (women weren't required to wear skirts, though I believe we all did) and for the women, a jewel-tone or metallic gold dressy blouse or sweater, something suitable for a party or wedding, celebratory. The men wore black or white button down shirts with matching ties which had a stained glass pattern of jeweltone and gold colors, so there was coordination, even though there was also variety.
posted by Dreama at 5:46 PM on January 17, 2008

Wow, thanks for the great feedback.

The painter we are named for is Thomas Eakins - I submitted a link to our website through Projects, so if you are interested in checking us out, keep an eye out for it. I found what I consider to be a picture with a really great palette that would transfer itself quite well to a vocal group - or at least I think.

And given the suggestion of props, it might be an interesting idea to get a large print of the painting to display while we sing, permitting the correlation to be drawn between the singer's outfits and the painting they are inspired by.

I also liked the idea of shades of gray. That would be sufficiently elegant without being quite so formal. And I also love the idea of picking a cool color palette and letting people just go in their own direction and letting it all blend together (especially since we sing mixed instead of in "sections").

I'll try to upload a couple of our songs to Music, but barring that we are on MySpace at Perhaps hearing our sound from our last concert will help people know what kind of image is most appropriate.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:31 AM on January 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Piling onto the idea of scarves etc., my choir had formal tuxes/identical black dresses like many groups, but the women had handpainted silk scarves done by a local costumer. They were more like stoles, really, but we all knotted them in similar ways. You could pick whatever colors you wanted; the men could just be plain (like ours) or wear some sort of coordinated pocket squares or ties -- heck, even handpainted pocket squares.
posted by Madamina at 12:04 PM on January 19, 2008

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