Friday, August 10, 2012

Know the (Nonexistent) Code: Is It Necessary to Dress Up for the Theatre?

As theatre has changed over the years, our ideas of what constitutes proper theatre etiquette have changed as well. What happens when someone's phone goes off in the middle of a play? Is it okay to sing along in your seat at jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys? And what the heck are you supposed to wear to the theatre?

This last question has been a hotly contested issue in the theatre community in the last few years. As audiences for commercial theatre are widening, their sartorial choices are becoming increasingly more casual. Despite this, there is still some unspoken expectation for audience members to dress up for a theatrical production, particularly at the professional level. This expectation can scare off young people who might be uncomfortable dressing up for a night at the theatre.

I asked some of my Twitter followers how they felt about dressing up for the theatre, and their responses were surprisingly split. Some enjoyed the process of dressing up as part of the general experience of going to the theatre, while others found that the expectation to dress up, “makes the theatre seem too exclusive.” One friend described her personal theatre fashion rules as, “Office-appropriate clothing a necessity; dressy clothing for openings, post-show receptions, and Lincoln Center/the Met.” Another said, “Although there isn’t an OFFICIAL dress code, I hate this sort of social requirement because it does keep certain people away from the theatre or at least makes them very uncomfortable or feel out of place when they are.”

So, what do I think about dressing for the theatre? I think that theatre patrons should be able to wear whatever they want to the theatre, within reason. Personally, I go for a smart-casual look when I’m going to a show. I’ll throw on a dress and a cardigan or a nice blouse and a pair of black pants. I do think that making an effort to look presentable shows respect to the cast and creative team behind a play.

However, the most important aspect to dressing for the theatre is comfort. In the end, you’re going to sit in a theatre for several hours, so while you still want to look presentable, you should wear something that makes you physically and emotionally comfortable. Your sartorial choices shouldn’t detract from your overall experience at the theatre.

How do you dress for the theatre? Do you expect the audience to dress up for a performance, or do you think we should be allowed to wear whatever we want? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

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