Dress Code for Musicians and Their Audiences

What happened to style for ladies?  I realize this may be way off the topic of most of my posts about working musicians, but it does directly involve how female musicians dress for work.  As we start a new season of symphonic performances, I often wonder what fashion choices we will see onstage and off.  In recent years, orchestras have had to put dress codes in their contracts to make sure that the musicians show up for a concert dressed properly. Perhaps we need a dress code for the audience, too.  I can see it now in the fine print on the back of everyone’s ticket is a phrase that says:  “Dress accordingly for this event.  Those who are found in violation of proper attire may be denied entry.”

Okay, that may be going too far, but many fine restaurants and golf courses have dress codes about “no tank tops, no shorts, jacket required, etc.”  Maybe Performing Arts Centers should have a dress code for their patrons.  Until they do, I have a few suggestions for the ladies.

Since when did shorts, tank tops and flip-flops become acceptable attire for every situation?  More to the point, when did flip-flops become acceptable footwear for anything outside of walking on the beach or showering in public showers?

Those who know me personally know that I have an entire closet just for my over 400 pairs of shoes (over 300 pairs are 4” or higher heels).  I’m not suggesting that everyone have this many shoes, but every lady should have two pairs of dress heels with at least a 2” heel in the basic colors of black and navy blue, and several pairs of nice flats in the basic colors of black, navy blue, white, and brown.  Each lady should also have a good pair of walking shoes that are NOT sneakers.  Sneakers are for athletic events; shoes are for work, gigs, meetings and engagements.  Flip-flops (no matter how decorated or fancy) are NEVER acceptable, especially for stage.

Working our way up the body, ladies should wear hosiery.  Rarely does bare skin look pretty on stage under stage lighting.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the way body builders oil and tan themselves for their performances.  No one wants to see dry, pale skin under stage lighting, but I don’t want to see oil on clothing, either.  We especially do not want to see the broken veins that most ladies have after 25 years of age – on stage and off stage.  Vegas showgirls wear fishnets and other hosiery. Ballet dancers wear tights.  I have extremely pale, fair skin and I wear hose all the time.  Many of you have said:  “Pantyhose are too hot for Florida!”  Then wear cotton hosiery!  Fishnets are cotton with a touch of Lycra and have lots of holes for your skin to breathe.  If you don’t like the “panty” part of pantyhose, then wear stockings with a garter belt or thigh highs.  Your spouse or significant other will probably approve, too!

Then we get to the bottom of it:  proper foundations and undergarments.  It’s not just about panty lines.  Some ladies should NOT wear bikini underwear at all.  It cuts across your bottom and your hips in a very unflattering place.  This is especially noticeable with the clingy knit dresses that seem to be so popular.  I have seen many brides in gorgeous, slinky gowns wear a thong that is three sizes too small that ruins the look of the dress and their image.  This is why we have pantyhose in the first place!  For more shapely ladies, we don’t want to see the rolls falling all over the place.  They can be contained and smoothed out.  Old-fashioned girdles, merry widows, and now Spanx and other brands keep your beautiful shape without all the unwanted motion.

Still on proper foundations, we arrive at the bra.  Properly fitted bras do not allow your breasts to fall to your knees, nor do they push them flat to your chest.  Sports bras are for sports, and NOT for the stage (unless you are a dancer, but even then, many will agree with me.)  Take the time to go to a reputable store that specializes in bras where you can be measured and fitted accordingly.  And do this once every six months!  My weight fluctuates (as do most women’s), and our bra sizes change, too.

For overall clothing, a lady must accept the fact that she should dress for HER body type, not just by what fashion dictates is the trend of the times. I even did a blog post for musicians that all black is not the same.  Low-waisted pants do not look flattering for most women, especially with love handles and muffin tops spilling over the top of the waist.  Most women have curves, and there are styles that will enhance the beauty of their shape.  The clothing of the 1940s to early 1960s fascinates many men and women alike because ladies were taught to dress for their bodies.  Pencil skirts are attractive for shapely hips, while circle skirts are attractive if you want to show a smaller waist.  Cover more of your skin.  Most men have told me that it is better to leave something to the imagination and mystery of a woman.  Sleeves are also an excellent place to cover arms that may have problem areas, including the “wings” that many ladies are prone to having after a certain age.

Finally, a lady should appear well groomed, from her hair to her nails to her skin care.  The truth is that most women look better and healthier with some makeup.  Not everyone needs to be a drag queen when they leave the house, but a little mascara, maybe some eyeliner, and lip color go a long way.  When on stage, ladies must wear appropriate makeup when under stage lighting to not appear like they are death walking on stage.  I have the dreaded “hickey” from my violin and viola, but I still use concealer when leaving the house so it’s not as noticeable.  I cover it up with makeup, even when I know I’ll be performing.  I use a handkerchief (I own many) that gets washed after every use to prevent the makeup and sweat from getting on my instrument.  Hair should be neat and styled.  Nails should be clean, healthy and ONE length for all fingers (exception:  classical guitarists and certain plucked instrumentalists often have to have varying lengths.)  It doesn’t matter that you CAN have long nails on your right hand as a violinist; they should be the same length for all fingers.  Jewelry should be appropriate for the occasion.  Dangling earrings and necklaces will not work for violinists and violists as they will rattle on the instrument or even get in the way of playing.

Throughout the recent decades, I have witnessed society’s fashion choices swing like a pendulum between slobs and conservatives.  Sometimes this pendulum goes in circles, while sometimes it does figure eights around the varying sides.  The idea of what is “proper” for a situation is simply not taught anymore.  Parents in the 1950s were taught by their parents, and the fashions reflect this.  Then those children from the 1950s became the hippies of the late 1960s and early 1970s and ignored what their parents had taught them (including manners, but that’s a topic for another day.)  When the hippies had children, they didn’t teach their children how to dress for the workplace or for society.  Now those children are grown with their own children and don’t know how to dress either.  They have to seek professional help for how to dress when they want to be successful in their chosen careers.  But now their children are graduating from college with no idea how to dress for an interview, let alone for a symphony concert as either a patron or a performer.

Just because we are creative artists and musicians does NOT mean that we have to appear unclean, unhealthy and slovenly.  Perhaps if more artists and patrons would tend to their appearances, more people would attend artistic events. After all, it’s a show where people want to see and to be seen!