Symphony attire.
February 2, 2008 4:42 AM   Subscribe

How do I dress for the symphony? I'm going to see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra tonight. I'm a student without many clothes. Is a nice sweater and some dark Levis okay? Thanks.
posted by Evstar to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total)
Dress as nicely as you can. No one will notice any way.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:08 AM on February 2, 2008

Not true that no one will notice. Many (most?) people are watching other people. (What else is there to do during the intermission, and before the concert starts?)

Personally, I find jeans rather insulting at concerts. Yes, people wear them. But really, can't people just dress up once in a great while? The people performing are wearing tuxedos. The buildings are absolute architectural gems. The town comes together for a special event, and they wear ... the same thing they'd wear to class? To the grocery store? To work on their cars? I just don't get the resistance to just once in a while look better than normal.

So find some pants that aren't jeans (or a skirt or dress if you're a woman). Make sure your clothes are ironed, and don't look like they just came out of deep storage. Wear nice shoes, jewelry if appropriate. Take care, to show respect to the performers and the volunteer ushers and the others who have been going to symphonies in suits and evening gowns for decades, the ones whose season tickets and donations make the symphony possible at all.

But more than that, treat yourself to a special evening, and mark how special it is by dressing up. It's so much more fun if you take the time to make yourself a part of the evening, and not just roll on in looking like you always do. Even if you're a student, you should have at least two or three nice outfits -- for symphonies, to meet dignitaries who come to your school, for weddings and funerals, for interviews, and for the other special occasions that come up and are best respected by dressing appropriately.

And have fun. Symphony performances can be absolutely sublime.
posted by Capri at 5:17 AM on February 2, 2008 [7 favorites]

Although TheNewWazoo makes a good point that attire for visitors for the Symphony and Opera, I agree much more with Capri that this shouldn't necessarily be the case. Do you have pants that aren't Jeans and are in good shape? Please, no sneakers or (shudder) sandals, also.
posted by piratebowling at 5:47 AM on February 2, 2008

I didn't finish that first part of the first sentence well... it should say "attire for visitors for the Symphony and Opera has become increasingly casual"
posted by piratebowling at 5:48 AM on February 2, 2008

It's great if you can dress up a bit, but don't let a belief that you must dress up prevent you from attending, or from being able to relax and have a good time. They're not going to throw you out in any case.
posted by amtho at 6:00 AM on February 2, 2008

From the TSO's own website:
What should I wear?

There is no dress code. Anything that makes you feel comfortable is fine. Most people wear business clothes or slightly dressy casual clothes, but you’ll see everything from khakis to cocktail dresses.
I think you're absolutely fine with a nice sweater and dark Levis. It's elitist to expect people to dress fancy, and a mark of our own barbarism. Some people go to congratulate themselves for their refinement and affluence, others go for the music. Wear whatever you like.
posted by limon at 6:02 AM on February 2, 2008 [8 favorites]

And that kind of snobbery is what keeps so many 'common people' from enjoying great cultural experiences.

Yes, people will notice what you're wearing, stuff them, don't let your limited wardrobe (or funds) keep you from an enjoyable evening.

Wear the smartest thing you have, if thats a sweater and jeans then, that's ok. What's important is the music, not what other people are wearing.

If the performers/event management cared what the audience were wearing they'd enforce a dress code. The concert isn't sold out, they need bums on seats, even denim-clad bums.

Have a shower, comb your hair and you'll be fine.
posted by missmagenta at 6:03 AM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

From their website:

What should I wear?

There is no dress code. Anything that makes you feel comfortable is fine. Most people wear business clothes or slightly dressy casual clothes, but you’ll see everything from khakis to cocktail dresses.

posted by Coaticass at 6:09 AM on February 2, 2008

This is what the TSO itself has to say on the matter": There is no dress code. Anything that makes you feel comfortable is fine. Most people wear business clothes or slightly dressy casual clothes, but you’ll see everything from khakis to cocktail dresses.

So wear your dark Levis and sweater and enjoy the performance.
posted by Neiltupper at 6:11 AM on February 2, 2008

I once heard a joke about the key to a successful orchestra career, which if I recall consisted of:

1. Don't be late
2. Don't talk
3. Don't play out of tune
4. Don't play out of time, and
5. Don't smell.

Hopefully the audience need only worry about 1, 2 and 5.
posted by Coaticass at 6:23 AM on February 2, 2008

How you behave is much more important than what you wear.

Capri can shudder all she likes (if she ever goes to Toronto) but the opinions that matter most are those of the people you are going with. And, of course, those of anyone you might enjoy getting into casual conversation with. Dressing like a student who is making a special effort would seem to hit the mark very well. Spend any spare time you have today in learning more about the pieces being performed, not on a clothes hunt.

Have fun.
posted by Idcoytco at 6:37 AM on February 2, 2008

People drag their teenagers to the symphony and the teenagers are dressed like the death-metal potheads they are. If you put minimal effort into dressing and grooming yourself you'll be fine. Like Idcoytco said, look up the pieces in Wikipedia and don't clap in the middle like the other ignorant fucks. That's much more important than wearing jewelry.
posted by creasy boy at 6:56 AM on February 2, 2008

Good lord, wear what you like. You've shown your respect to the performers by paying your money. There's nothing better than such arts being enjoyed by a wide variety of diverse people - I personally love it when I see punks at the ballet, for example.

I hope you have a very enjoyable evening.
posted by goo at 6:59 AM on February 2, 2008

Some people go to congratulate themselves for their refinement and affluence, others go for the music. Wear whatever you like.

Exactly right.
posted by danb at 7:00 AM on February 2, 2008

5. Don't smell.

But what if they're selling tasty snacks? Can't I smell those? Har har har.

I agree that capri comes off as sort of snobbish, or something along those lines. But I agree somewhat with this point:

Take care, to show respect to the performers and the volunteer ushers and the others who have been going to symphonies in suits and evening gowns for decades, the ones whose season tickets and donations make the symphony possible at all.

Particularly with respect to the artists and ushers. They've gotta dress pretty nicely for you. They're (hopefully) putting all they've got into the performance, or their role in making the event a success. If you have something nicer than jeans, I think you should wear that. However, you do mention being poor, and then mention jeans, which could mean you currently have nothing nicer than jeans. If that's the case, then obviously just wear your jeans. Or maybe you have something nicer that isn't well suited for the cold. Don't wear that. I live in Minneapolis, and fequently see people dressed nicely, but weather inappropriately, downtown. I have little sympathy. I do have some, because they're probably underdressed (for the weather) because they feel society wants them to overdress (for their event). But if that's really what most of society wants, maybe I'll just go live in the woods and grunt a lot. Anyhow, when you get down to it, any norms for dressing, for a fancy event or just in general, are totally artificial. So you could dress down because you think those norms are dumb, or you could dress up because you don't think the norms for this case are any dumber than any other case. But, as capri pointed out, the performers don't really get to choose to screw the norms. They have to dress all fancy. I don't necessarily think you have to go black-tie dress code, but I'd wear something less casual than jeans at least.

I'd also point out that you could call me a "jeans and t-shirt guy". I hate that society tells me that for certain circumstances I have to wear something I don't really want to wear. But I do it anyway in some cases, because, well, I don't really want to go live in the woods and grunt a lot.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 7:23 AM on February 2, 2008

The nice sweater is perfectly fine. I'd avoid jeans if at all possible, but don't feel bad if it's the only option. Enjoy the show!
posted by earlofgrey at 8:34 AM on February 2, 2008

Last time I went to Roy Thomson Hall, people were wearing everything from sequinned cocktail dresses (it was an afternoon concert so that wasn't appropriate) to nice casual outfits to more formal daytime outfits like suits to jeans and sweaters. Wear the nicest outfit you have, make sure you're well-groomed otherwise, and enjoy the concert. Very few people will notice and fewer will care. And I guarantee someone there will look a lot more inappropriately dressed than you. Once at the ballet I saw a woman in a dress, ankle socks with pom poms on them, and running shoes.

If it really bothers you, hit a thrift shop this afternoon and see what you can find for $15 or so. It's a good idea to have one semi-dressy outfit in your closet in case you have to go to a funeral or something.
posted by orange swan at 8:51 AM on February 2, 2008

I think it depends on where your seats are. I go to the Chicago Symphony in the nosebleed seats way up top-- lots of jeans up there. The closer you get to Orchestra, the nicer the clothes. I agree that you want to dress to honor the music and the place, so no ripped jeans. But hey, February in Toronto? Sensible and warmth first, then style. And really, you just need to be consistent with the people you're going with.

As I've said other times, in my alter ego as Miss Manners, while it may be rude to dress inappropriately, it is more rude to notice it in someone else. So if someone thinks you are dressed inappropriately, and mentions it or glares or whatever, be secure in the fact that they are ruder than you are.
posted by nax at 9:00 AM on February 2, 2008

Yay, the TSO! All the times I've gone, it's been like orange swan said. They've been actively pursuing a younger crowd, so it's quite welcoming and relaxed. If you've got a tsoundcheck ticket, you could end up sitting anywhere; you're probably not going to get stuck in the nosebleeds. Personally, I like dressing up for it because I rarely dress up for anything, but I would also feel comfortable there in jeans and a sweater. Just make sure to turn off your cell phone, lest you inspire the polite wrath of Torontonians. :)
posted by heatherann at 9:02 AM on February 2, 2008

When I worked for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I'd tell people who asked this question that business-casual attire was recommend, but really, anything goes, except for heavy colognes/perfumes (pretty much just because I hate it, but whatev; now it's actually on the website). Dress to the nines if you can or want to; that can be fun.

When they'd invariably mumble a defensive remark for asking such a lowbrow question, I'd handily remind them that the cheapest seats in the house are actually the best seats in the house in terms of sound - at that time the Gallery (see also: nosebleed) seats were $25 (now $33-35). Interesting, no? Totally true. The students, senior citizens, and extreme musicgeeks who generally take those seats know it. Hah.

On that note, I think it always pays to ask where the "best" seats are; not the "pricey" seats. All musicians look exactly the same - I go there to hear the music.

Berlioz is great! Make yourself totally comfortable, and you'll have the best experience. And as far as I'm concerned, highbrow rules are for assholes.
posted by heyho at 9:33 AM on February 2, 2008

I haven't missed a Seattle Opera in 10 years. Every single performance, no matter what time of year, there is at least one guy with shorts, sandals, and a fanny pack. And it's not the same guy. It's such a truism that it doesn't surprise me anymore.

So there's that guy, but there's also lots of people in jeans/sweaters and it's clear that they dressed up as nice as was practical for them. It's actually surprising and encouraging to me that the opera really isn't about all the richy-riches with their tuxes and monocles.

Still, I am going to throw in with Capri. It's *fun* to get dressed up. People wear amazing, incredible clothes to these things. Full on kilts, silk chinese dresses, I wore a dhoti once. Don't get dressed up if it's because you *have* to. Get dressed up because you *want* to. And if you really don't *want* to, then rest assured you will not be the only one there in jeans and a sweater -- you just won't be part of the party.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:42 AM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it's possible to dress up a nice pair of jeans that aren't faded out or full of holes. It's great that you are aware enough to ask. Here in the PHX, I've seen guys at the symphony wearing cargo shorts and sandals.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:45 AM on February 2, 2008

Not true that no one will notice. Many (most?) people are watching other people. (What else is there to do during the intermission, and before the concert starts?)

Jeeze, go look at your Siamese cat through your jewelry-encrusted monocle or something.

A sweater and dark Levis will be just fine for the TSO. Wear shoes instead of bright orange sneakers and you'll be fine. No one's going to give the slightest whiff of flying fuck.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:52 AM on February 2, 2008

It depends a lot on where you sit. I subscribe to cheap seats and I see anything from Sunday best to jeans. Closer to the orchestra I see furs, more jewelry and dressier dresses. Almost never evening wear: when I see it it looks kind of overdressing and out of place, no matter where the seats are.

Opera is a little different: evening wear seems ok in the boxes and front row seats. I see less jeans, but I still see some.
posted by francesca too at 9:56 AM on February 2, 2008

I think it's nice to dress up for the Symphony, and don't understand why people show up looking like they're about to scrub their toilet either.

(A preference isn't a mandate, folks. Pitchforks down.)

That said, it's understood that students may not have much in the way of business or evening attire. If your nicest, least-beat up pants are Levi's, that's a better option than an ill-fitting suit rescued from the back of the closet.
posted by desuetude at 10:39 AM on February 2, 2008

I grew up in New York City, the daughter of a single mother was a school teacher. Because she was a member of the strong, almost mafia-like teachers' union, we often got reduced-rate tickets to the symphony, ballet, and Broadway theater (bless the teacher's union.) We were obviously not wealthy but my grandmother always said, "If you have but one dress, keep it clean and ironed, bathe, shine your shoes and tell everyone else to kiss your ass." (She was a southerner and not one known for decorum.)

If you have five dollars to go to the thrift store and buy yourself one nice pair of slacks in the event you get another symphony invitation, do that. If not, wash and iron your jeans, take the lint balls off the sweater and add a nice shirt underneath if you can, shine your shoes, bathe and tell everyone else to kiss your ass.

And enjoy the symphony. The times I went to listen to beautiful music at Lincoln Center and Avery Fisher Hall or Radio City when I was a child were truly some of the most memorable experiences of my childhood.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:10 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should try to dress as nicely as possible. If you are going to the symphony for the first time why not make an event of it? You know, like going to a wedding. Moreover, I do not agree that going to the symphony is only about your personal enjoyment of the music. Unless you are a solipsist, you will probably agree that its a communal experience (audience, musicians, etc.) usually held in a special place (architectural gems as Capri put it). Why not make it as nice as possible for everyone by behaving your best and looking your best?

That said, if you are unable to buy or borrow a blazer/dress, etc. at least try to be well groomed...!
posted by sic at 1:08 PM on February 2, 2008

H'm, I disagree about the jeans. Mr. Arnicae and I are frequent symphony-goers (he's a professional musician) and he typically wears dress pants, shoes, and an ironed shirt. I usually wear nice shoes (often heels), my nice dark jeans, and a pretty blouse with a nice jacket when its warm or a nice wool coat when it isn't.

We're usually among the better-dressed people there.

Jeans are fine. This opinion changes if you're planning to wear a ratty pair of jeans, a faded pair, a really baggy pair or otherwise objectionable pair of jeans. anyone who says different either doesn't attend the symphony and therefore doesn't know what is deemed appropriate attire or is entirely out of step with my generation AND my parent's generation.

When I go to the opera, I often fancy it up just a tad- people do dress more nicely for the opera, but I still am comfortable in a suit from work or a simple dress. Think "church clothes" or "garden party" to weed out inappropriate garments.
posted by arnicae at 2:29 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well as I'm a composer then going to a symphony concert is a little like work for me (not that I don't enjoy it, it's just very close to what I do) so maybe my answer is a little biased, but I tend to wear jeans or similar to orchestra concerts and the opera. I don't wear suits in everyday life, so why on earth would I put one on to go to a concert? It's the music that's important. Enjoy!
posted by ob at 2:40 PM on February 2, 2008

...The buildings are absolute architectural gems....

Clearly, you have never seen the (Canadian) National Arts Centre which always looks like it's a prison, with a dreeeammmm.

But yes. Having gone to a few symphonies at the NAC, wear decent-looking clothing and you'll be fine.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:08 PM on February 2, 2008

I see this from both sides, as an orchestral musician and a concert-goer - the audience member I'll always remember (from a performer's point of view) is the one who sat on the front row at St John's, Smith Square, London, wearing ripped jeans, a vest and a huge green mohawk. He was the most enthusiastic applauder I've ever seen.

I'd much rather know someone who wears jeans to concerts and enjoys himself, than someone who primps and just goes to be seen. Most people fall between these two extremes, of course, and there's nothing wrong with taking care over one's dress - but there's plenty wrong with sneering at those who don't.
posted by altolinguistic at 10:05 AM on February 4, 2008

n-thing jeans are fine. I go to TSO often and see a mixed bag, including t-shirt and shorts occasionally.
posted by mutantdisco! at 10:36 AM on February 4, 2008

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