Black Clothes – NOT all the same

If you are a musician, one thing you must always have: black clothes. But what types? Types include: pit black, dress black, rock black, stage black, formal black, and backup black. You might say, “But isn’t black all the same?” And that is where you would be completely wrong.

Pit black is what musicians wear in the orchestra pit. Depending on the show, and how much of you can actually be seen, it can be anything from a black T-shirt with black jeans to a full formal tux. Sometimes, it’s tux top with black jeans on bottom. Most of the time, it’s whatever black you happen to put on that night. Shoes and socks don’t matter since no one sees them anyway; many musicians wear sandals or sneakers. Makeup and hair in a comfortable style for the musician.

Dress black is usually for a recital or corporate event. This is generally nice black skirt/slacks with blouses for ladies, with black hose and black shoes. For men, it is generally a button down black shirt with black slacks, black socks and shoes. Sometimes a tie is involved, but not always. Makeup and hair in a dressy style for the ladies and neat hair for men (nothing that would appear slovenly). Flip-flops and sandals are NOT appropriate.

Rock black is reserved for rock shows. This is where the ladies can be very sexy and show some skin, legs, and other assets. It can include denim and satin, fishnets and boots in the same outfit. Men can do most anything from ripped T-shirts and jeans to nice shirts and slacks. Shoes are generally sneakers for men, and killer stilettos for women. Again, flip-flops and thong sandals are NOT appropriate; dressy regular sandals can be acceptable, depending on event. Hair can be mild or wild, depending on event. Makeup needs to be fitting to the show; this usually means heavier makeup for the ladies so it will show up in the lights onstage. What many women consider normal makeup is way too light for stage, and it makes one appear tired and washed out. Focus should always be on eyes and lips.

Stage black is close to dress black. Skirts for ladies are generally calf length of longer, with black hose and dressy black shoes. There can be more “sparkle” in the outfits as it is meant for stage. For men, it is again a long-sleeved button down black shirt with pressed black slacks, black socks and black dress shoes. There is almost always a tie involved, but there can also be more “sparkle” via some sort of tie pin or other jewelry (like cuff links). Flip-flops and thong sandals are NOT appropriate; men should be in nice shoes, whereas ladies can wear dressy sandals (with a heel.) Makeup needs to be heavier on stage to not appear washed out. Hair should be neat and clean.

Formal black is exactly that – formal. Ladies: floor-length formal skirt with 3/4 or longer sleeved dressy blouse, black hose and black dress, closed toe shoes (usually with a 2″ or greater heel.) Jewelry should be kept to a minimum, and should always be conservative in taste. Men: black tuxedo with properly fitted jacket and tuxedo pants, white pressed tuxedo shirt, black bowtie and cumber bun, black dress socks and black high-polished dress shoes. Again, jewelry kept to a minimum. Flip-flops, sandals or other open shoes are NOT appropriate. Makeup should be conservative, but still enhanced more than everyday makeup to blend well with the stage lights. Hair should be neat and conservative; no wild colors or excessive appearances.

Backup black is meant for that emergency change of clothes. I always keep a set of backup black in the car. It’s basically one of everything you will ever need: 1 shirt, 1 skirt, 1 pair of hose, 1 pair of flat shoes, 1 pair of dress shoes, and 1 black nice sweater (some venues keep the air conditioning like a meat locker). In the winter, I also keep an extra black scarf and gloves, as well as a few packets of the “air activated” hand warmers. I also usually have a travel makeup kit, overnight kit (complete with contact solutions, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste), and other emergency kits.

As to where to purchase such appropriate clothes, it’s easy to find the right pieces just about anywhere! I have items from a thrift store (emergency purchase when traveling and spilled something on my shirt), discount retailers, department stores, specialty stores and even many designer pieces from the designer boutiques. My two favorites are: Chico’s “travelers” collection – washable, no iron, no wrinkle, no lint clothes, and Betsey Johnson – formal wear that’s always appropriate for stage.

All in all, the main thing to remember about black clothes is to ASK THE CONTRACTOR what you should wear. Are short sleeves allowed? How long/short can I wear my skirt? Is the event outside or inside? Once you have determined what to wear, make sure you have LOTS of choices in your closet. I try to get only machine washable clothes to help cut the costs of maintenance. I do have some things dry cleaned (like my ladies’ tux and other formal skirts), but most of what I wear is washable. It’s one of the first things I look for in the tag when I see a piece I like. After all, I will wind up wearing it several times a month, if I’m lucky enough to be that busy!