What To Wear To The Symphony


Nobody wants to feel out of place when they go to a symphony concert, yet so many patrons wonder if what they are wearing will be acceptable. As helpful and welcoming the orchestras try to be by inviting patrons to wear what they want and emphasizing to come in what is comfortable, many people still want to feel like they are fitting in.

If you show up to a concert and sincerely don’t care what you wear, that’s just fine! You are doing what many orchestras invite you to do. But if you are the type of person who needs an idea of what to wear, are concerned you will be over or underdressed, or want some kind of guideline, I’ve come up with a simple guide to give you confidence in your attire for your next concert experience.

Consider the starting time

Afternoon Matinee Concert

  • Women: Pants are fine. Jeans are fine, just bump it up a notch. If you wear jeans, wear a dressier top, wear fancier shoes, and add an interesting piece of jewelry. Dresses and skirts are fine, but keep the sparkles for the evening concerts.
  • Men: Slacks or jeans with a button down shirt.

Regular Evening Concerts

  • Women: Dressier pants or skirt and blouse, or a dress. Dresses can be a variety of lengths.
  • Men: Dressier jeans with a blazer or trousers with dress shirt. Suit and ties also work nicely.

Galas, Fundraisers, Special Events

  • Women: Dressy slacks and blazer, Cocktail dresses, full length gowns. If you worry about being underdressed and don’t have a gown or cocktail dress, a sharp black outfit whether it’s pants or a dress, will usually help. No jeans.
  • Men: Even if the event says “Black Tie” you will likely see many men in suits. So a nice dark suit is fine, unless you are with a group from your company and everyone has agreed or is  expected to wear a tux or tails. No jeans.

Consider Ticket Cost

If the average price is $20 or less for a symphony ticket, you’re likely looking at a lighter fashion commitment. However if the average price is somewhere in the $60 on up range, you’re looking at a bit dressier.

Consider Concert Type

A pops concert is not going to be as formal as a regular classical symphony evening; most people tend towards jeans or other casual attire. A children’s concert is a more relaxed than a regular classical symphony afternoon matinee concert. A concert advertised as a Gala or fundraiser is usually the dressiest possible.

Call the Symphony Offices

If you feel pretty good about the guide I’ve put together so far but still feel uncertain, don’t hesitate to call the symphony offices. They will likely tell you to come in what you feel comfortable, but they can also tell you what the majority of patrons generally wear.

Own Your Look

If you are still feeling insecure about your outfit, have gone through all the steps, have called the symphony offices, and asked all your friends what they think, then just own your look with confidence. Wearing what you want is fine, just stand up straight, look like you meant to dress exactly that way, and walk with purpose. If you are the only person wearing jeans, you are probably making someone else wish they had worn theirs! The moment you decide you are not dressed right, or not fitting in, you will forget the whole reason you came to the concert in the first place.


About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

Never Miss A Post

Want to get a new email every time a new article is published?


94 thoughts on “What To Wear To The Symphony”

  1. It’s time we stop having these discussions. No one asks what they should wear to concerts of other types of music…. They just go to hear the music!

    It doesn’t matter a bit what someone is wearing, just that they bought a ticket and they showed up. The only requirement for “fitting in” should be a open mind, ear and heart.

    Musicians must take charge of the concert experience and re-train elitist and socially exclusionary board members and donors to ensure that symphony performances are welcoming to all.

      • The fact that there may be “rules” is what turns potential listeners away. Are there “rules” at other places where young people go to listen to music? Not likely.

        As a musician, and leader of your orchestra, you should be pushing your Board, donors and management to make the experience of attending a concert as easy and welcoming as possible. When you look out over the audience at the start of a Brahms Symphony, do you really care what they are wearing? Or just that they are receptive to the music……

        • Certainly, the goal here is to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable and to that end, I get asked all the time by new and regular ticket buyers what is acceptable to wear. More to the point, if ticket buyers are asking, we need to have answers so while I tell people to come in whatever they are comfortable in (which is mentioned in this blog post), some people still want to know what everyone else is wearing, and that is their choice.

          I also want to take a moment to point out that my board and management do an excellent job making the experience of attending a concert as easy and welcoming as possible. I am continuously impressed with how they regularly attract a wonderful cross section of our community. But don’t just take my word for it, I encourage you to come to one of our concerts so you might be able to see for yourself.

          • Excellent replies, Holly.

            And Holly is too gracious to say this, but I’m not: Andrew, you’re being both obtuse and self-righteous. Holly addressed your objections in her post before you even made them. (I’m sure she’s heard it all before.)

            It’s all fine and dandy and welcoming and inclusive and blah blah blah to say that we shouldn’t care what audience members wear and they shouldn’t sweat it either.
            But people are asking what they should wear, and when people ask for guidance – especially if they persist in asking for it after you tell them not to worry – it’s because they want guidance.

          • I am going to hear the Count Basie Orchestra. I love the music but have never attended an evening concert. The last thing I need is to feel out of place by what I’m wearing. I truly wish to enjoy the music. If my attire is unconventional or too casual I will feel self-conscious and it may inhibit the reason I came. I have Google searched what to wear all day and finally got a straight forward answer. Thanks to Holly I will feel comfortable and be able to focus on the music. THANK YOU!

        • These aren’t rules. These are sensible and practical suggestions specifically intended for those who might not attend a symphony exactly because they THINK there are rules, especially rules they don’t understand or would never comply with (like wearing a tux.) I am trying to decipher what, exactly, you disagree with in this post.

      • Thank you for the post, Holly. I was trying to explain to my children /teen that you don’t go to a concert in your jogging pants. Nobody is going to chase you there. Since the moment of civilization, people developed dress etiquette, eating and manners. I appreciate you shared about the dress code. While everyone else is free to choose what they wear, to me dress code matters. Thanks for sharing!

        • I agree with you. Everywhere you go nowadays everything is casual. There’s very little opportunities to wear a tux or mess dress ensemble

    • Andrew, what a bore you are–trying to lecture others. You must terribly uninteresting to be around. I hope that you enjoy talking to yourself, which Is what I could see you do quite a bit of. Sad.

  2. I agree with Holly in that sometimes people simply don’t know what to wear to a concert. There are still those who hear the word “opera” or “symphony” and think antiquated, black-tie affair and may be intimidated from the start. To have these guidelines (not rules) gives them some sense of what to expect, and hopefully they’ll come back for more and not worry about what to wear and just enjoy the music!

  3. I get asked this question a lot, and the answer should ALWAYS be, “whatever makes you comfortable.” For a gala or specifically formal event(I.e. Black tie), that doesn’t apply, but for any other concert people should feel free to dress how they please for a night out. There’s no need for rules.

    • I am curious, when you get asked what patrons should wear and you answer what orchestras typically answer “whatever makes you comfortable”, if you get a follow up question: “what is everyone else wearing?” or “what do people typically show up in?”

  4. That is a question that patrons ask, especially ppl who haven’t attended. Thanks for the article.
    The next one should discuss, when clapping is appropriate.

  5. I generally tell people who ask – because they aren’t already regular concertgoers – that orchestra administrations and concert presenters will simply be happy they’ve come, whatever they wear.

    If they still want some guidance, I tell them that it’s different for the cheap seats than for the expensive ones, and that they should wear whatever they’d wear to a restaurant where they’d spend per person what they spent on the tickets.

  6. This is a great discussion. The really interesting word, though, is the last one in Holly’s first sentence – “acceptable.” It leads to the really tough question, which is “acceptable to whom?” As noted, orchestra personnel – staff and musicians – are glad people come, whatever they wear. So it’s not an issue from the institution, officially. But it’s a hard truth that we can’t control the way our patrons behave. So even if you are dressed as you feel comfortable, even if you have dressed as most people dress, you might still get a condescending look or remark from an old-school patron. It’s the same with audience etiquette issues, particularly clapping between movements. While it is indeed wise to be able to give some specific guidance on these questions, the perception that there are “rules” and “codes” remains real baggage for our business.

    • This is a very fine point you bring up and unless I’m mistaken, it is in response to my comment reply “I get asked all the time by new and regular ticket buyers what is acceptable to wear.”

      Assuming that’s correct, it seems that the ticket buyers are ultimately the ones to decide what is acceptable. If they find comfort in knowing ahead of time what most people are wearing, they may call that acceptable. If they don’t care what people think, that they may call acceptable as well. It is up to them and how they want to feel.

      It’s akin to my than going to a hockey game here in Chicago, Googling what most fans wear, and deciding to show up in a Blackhawks sweater (interestingly enough, Googling let me know they were called sweaters and not jerseys #NotAPoser). In doing this, I felt more comfortable knowing that was what most people did. Additionally, I discovered, while searching what to wear, several things not to do at a hockey game, like standing while the game is in play (due to the stadium seating, it kills line of sight for people behind you). I enjoyed the game far more than had I shown up in a different outfit and stood to cheer.

      Giving people some inkling of what might be expected makes them feel they can tackle their first concert. While these rules and codes (which I like to call guidelines) might seem like baggage, it is no different than asking how to behave or what to wear at a wedding, restaurant, church, graduation, funeral, sporting event, fund raiser, etc. But in all cases, there are unwritten codes and expectations.

      I agree that there’s no need to be oppressively tight about dress but at the same time, providing structure helps newer and potential ticket buyers get past certain unknowns or preconceived notions.

      • Hi Holly – I was actually referring to the first sentence in your original post. Overall, I agree with you. I do think, though, that our field faces unique challenges in this area – because our unwritten codes and expectations are tied to perceptions about socio-economic class and exclusion that, sadly.do have some basis in fact, although hopefullly well in the past. Times have changed and for the better, but there’s still a perception on the part of many that they won’t be welcome at arts events, and I see the questions about dress as one manifestation of that perception. Yes, we can say “hey, it’s just like sports, they’re full of unwritten rules and codes, too.” On the other hand, I still think our challenges in this area are more daunting. In an increasingly informal and egalitarian society, organizations with past associations of elitism and formality (read: stuffiness), fairly or unfairly, are going to face greater challenges. I think a lot of mainline churches face the same issues.

    • Hear, Hear, Paul! That is why I was pushing Holly, as an artist-leader, to not be a part of the old-school classical music aristocracy. Rather than perpetrating elitist attitudes about dress and behavior, she, as the new concert master should be pushing them to be open and accepting of new audience members.

      • I’ve been following this thread and I have to wonder if Mr. Andrew is perhaps under the influence of some sort of mind altering substance. What from this article would make anyone with even an ounce of sense conclude the author’s orchestra, the Chattanooga Symphony, is neither accepting nor open to new audience members?

        Has Mr. Andrew been to a CSO concert? I have, dozens, and might be what others would call a good ol’ boy but I take pride in that fact and I do dress nicely to attend concerts; better than I usually do for work not because anyone else there makes me feel like I should or because of some pigeonhole image but because it is a sign of respect to the performers on stage.

        It sounds far more like Mr. Andrew has some unsettled issue from his past and he now latches on to an otherwise wonderful discussion in an attempt to derail it all while screaming “pay attention to me!!!!” He also strikes me as the sort who would wear something to a concert that is so different from everyone else just for the attention all while claiming that “we” are trying to keep him from flying his freak flag.

        Mr. Andrew would do everyone a wonderful service if he would stop “pushing” others to do what he thinks is right. All it does is make good people second guess doing the right thing.
        All of the suggestions in this post contribute to creating an open and inviting concert experience, they are thoughtful and the epitome of good etiquette and by that I mean making others feel comfortable.

        Thank you Ms. Mulcahy for being such a bright light on stage and here in your articles. You exude grace and charm and your inviting spirit permeates every one of your concerts a special occasion. Please, don’t listen to that person and keep on contributing to the wonderfully inviting experience that is a CSO concert.

  7. “That is why I was pushing Holly, as an artist-leader, to not be a part of the old-school classical music aristocracy. Rather than perpetrating elitist attitudes about dress and behavior, she, as the new concert master should be pushing them to be open and accepting of new audience members.” Seriously? If there was any truth to Holly being part of the old-school classical music aristocracy, I highly doubt that she would have listed jeans, or dressier jeans as an option listed above. Are you implying that Holly’s helpful guidelines are part of the problem with “stuffy” classical music concerts? I disagree wholeheartedly. My impression of her blog post is that she is trying to make it less so…and as the new CM of the orchestra, I have observed Holly’s stellar efforts (and success) with encouraging people that she meets to come and hear the orchestra…brava!

    Much of this discussion is quite interesting, although I’m at a loss as to why there are digressions from the original post. No need to snipe at someone who is trying to help ease the discomfort of an audience member who might be intimidated about attending their first classical music concert. I was also recently asked this question by a couple who were going to a matinee at the opera for the first time–about what was “acceptable” to wear. I sincerely doubt that they were truly afraid of being “accepted”, but rather, wanted to fit in and acknowledge the occasion. My response was very similar to Holly’s–they were relieved to have had the input, and I was happy to help. They had a wonderful time, were comfortable with blending in and being seen, and were able to concentrate on the opera without having to worry about what they were wearing. The result? They want to come back! Quite frankly, I have no idea how anyone could possibly see her guidelines as stuffy rules that will drive away audiences. Is there a backstory here? If so, I’m not interested. Thank you Holly, for this lovely post…!

  8. Being a symphonic musician, dressed to the nines (Tails, Tux or a suit and tie), I appreciate
    when audience members show some concern for their visual participation in the performance.
    At a concert we all feed off one another. We appreciate each other and value each other, but
    neither musician nor patron is doing anybody any favor for their presence. We want to look nice
    for each other.
    Young people should see by example, without fear, that it feels good to be attractive in the
    presence of some of the greatest examples of human creativity.

    • “We appreciate each other and value each other, but neither musician nor patron is doing anybody any favor for their presence.”

      Oh dear …

      That attitude from professional orchestral musicians always worries me a bit.

      Yes, orchestral musicians are highly skilled professionals who deserve respect and decent pay. But the patrons, though they may not be the people who hire you directly, are ultimately the clients who are paying you for your highly-skilled professional services – just as a client pays an attorney for her highly-skilled professional services.

      An attorney who told her client that he wasn’t doing her any favor by being there (and paying her fees) would probably lose that client.

      Unfortunately, most symphony orchestras no longer have an oversupply of clients waiting gratefully for the chance to pay for their services. (Neither, it seems, do attorneys, at least these days.)

      That doesn’t mean that orchestral musicians should grovel before patrons (any more than attorneys should grovel before clients) or that patrons should be rude and patronizing to musicians (or attorneys).

      But audience members can sense a you’re-not-doing-us-any-favor-by-being-here attitude from an orchestra, and if they sense it strongly enough, they’ll wonder why they should bother paying for tickets, let alone making donations.

      (Especially when musicians go on strike and cancel performances and tours at the last minute because they’re only the second- or third-best-paid orchestral musicians in the Western Hemisphere rather than the best-paid.)

      Remember: audience members and patrons are your customers, and they can always spend their money elsewhere.

  9. While we are on the topic, I write as a former professional orchestra member – turned conductor. Why is it that the orchestra members still have to wear their “monkey-suits” which are very uncomfortable, expensive to keep clean, etc. – ,hot in warm weather and under the hot lights of the stage? And yet the conductor can come out in just about anything they wish to wear? Let’s keep it neat and uniform, but let’s get the orchestra into something that is more comfortable and yet still attractive. I think most all professional orchestral musicians would welcome such a change.

    • So would many potential patrons. And many more patrons, potential and actual, probably wouldn’t care much either way.

      Personally, I don’t fully understand why orchestras, choruses and chamber groups didn’t just switch to black turtlenecks and slacks/skirts back in the ’70s, let alone any time since.

      These days, no other adults wears tuxedos except bridegrooms and cater-waiters.

  10. My wife and I enjoy dressing up, and for us the symphony is a good reason to do so. My motto is life isn’t special unless you make it so. That being said, I have no issue for those who prefer to dress in more casual attire. I am glad for anyone attending that supports the arts. Vive la difference!

  11. I love an opportunity to dress up a bit. A trip to the Tivoli is a great opportunity to dress up – the surrounding lend themselves to a pretty dress and heels and men in suits. Pops in the Park encourages sundresses snd shorts. Mostly the music mskes the event!!!!

  12. I also like dressing up more in a suit and tie as it makes the concert feel more like an “event” to me. But I think it depends on the type of concert you’re going to see and, ultimately, what experience you’re looking to have. The whole point is to have memorable and enjoyable time.

    For instance, going to a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert at Disney Hall has become sort of a hip place to both see the orchestra and “be seen” (the fact that the hall is such an iconic big draw for L.A. doesn’t exactly hurt in that department). For the evening concerts, I’ve seen guys in a number of combinations — suits and ties or bow ties, jeans and ties, dress shirts and slacks, even some t-shirts here and there. Women either look like they’re going out to a nice dinner (in a dress) with their date/husband, or wear slacks and blouses. The last concert I saw in December, I saw teenage kids dressed in sport coats in ties escorting their dates, while some Colburn School students were in polo shirts or sweaters. So there’s quite a latitude. Nobody is going to throw your butt out of the hall for “wearing the wrong thing.”

    The point is to have fun and sport your own style for the night — i.e. if you’re taking your wife or a date out for the evening, or just want to impress and look dapper, then dress up. How far you want to take it is your choice.

    Seeing a classical concert isn’t like catching Nine Inch Nails or Skrillex. It’s going to be a very different type of experience, but that’s part of what makes life so cool. Not everything in life has to be dressed down, dressed up, or exactly alike. Just pick out a program you’d like to see, maybe dress in nice clothes the first time and then sort of gauge it against what you see at the hall. If it’s a matinee, go a bit more casual.

    But most important of all, support your local symphony and just give a try. You only live once and, as George Sanders once said in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “every experience is of value.”

    And just to give my two cents on it, I like the fact that the orchestra plays in white tie and tails. I might not be in the majority, but seeing them out of uniform is like KISS without the make-up and costumes. Again, if this attire somehow scares you, then maybe see a matinee concert where they’re in suits and slacks on stage. Many orchestras occasionally do Friday night casual concerts where the band plays in jeans as well.

    • It seems you may have only read the headline because if you read the post, not to mention the comments, you would clearly see that this is all about making classical music accessible. And yes, the article does say that patrons should wear what they are comfortable with so please, don’t post comments based on headline only analysis and assumptions.

  13. Thank goodness we don’t have all this carry on in Britain! when it comes to going to concerts or the opera in any priced seat!! Why are we having these kinds of conversations in 2015? Get a life and go and listen to the music properly, not how you will stick out in a crowd of people wanting to be seen!

    • Why are you so filled with nastiness? It seems people are having the conversation because others are asking. Why is that a bad thing? Helping people get past preconceived notions is what we need more of not less. I think you may be siffering from the same headline-only shortcoming as the comment before yours. And even bough you may not like it, people do think about what they wear and how they either blend or stand apart from the crowd.mthey also judge you on what you wear (interview much?) so why not offer wonderfully inclusive suggestions such as these. Frankly, I think every orchestra should publish this article at bier website.

  14. We are having this discussion in 2015 because people are asking. End of story. If you don’t want to participate, move along. Thanks.

  15. Thank you, Heather. I am both a symphony musician and manage the box office for our orchestra. People ask us daily what they should wear. We always tell them that most people dress like they’re going to church or to a nice dinner, but they should wear whatever makes them comfortable. As a musician, I just enjoy seeing enthusiastic people in the audience. As long as they are wearing SOMETHING, I am happy.

  16. Great post and discussion. I still can’t get over how this question ALWAYS comes up when I invite friends to a concert or opera, but it does come up. It is asked, every single time. So we can’t just ignore it…not addressing the question literally keeps people away.

    Having lived different places, I think that different cities have varying levels of formality at concerts. Some of it has to do with the city’s culture – L.A. is a place where being fashionable and chic matters much more than in casual-minded Boston. But I also think it has to do with how much classical music is around. Boston and New York have A TON of performances, and audiences tend more to the casual in my experience. Small towns with just a few performances tend to be dressier…it’s an ‘occasion’ to see an orchestra or chamber group.

    I live in Atlanta now, and a while back I decided at the last minute to attend the Atlanta Symphony…I was in jeans and a casual shirt. Less formal than my usual attire, but this was a last minute decision. I was the only person that I saw that evening in jeans, including groups of college students. I really didn’t care – but if I wasn’t a confident concert-goer, I could have felt extremely out of place.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences in the locations you’ve been enjoying concerts! It is so helpful to know (if it matters to one) what people come dressed in. Your experiences are spot on, the kind of patron we LOVE!!

    • Rachel–exactly! Ignoring this question and/or becoming indignant that the question is being asked (after all, it’s 2015!!) only adds fuel to the fire for those who believe that classical music is “elitist”. Music has been cut from the curriculum in a lot of schools, and many aren’t even able to identify a violin, let alone know what to wear to a concert. Let’s be kind, not condescending, to those who show an interest in the arts…a helpful suggestion is always appreciated.

  17. I have been attending “The Phil” since the very beginning. We dressed in our best attire. Everyone must have an appropriate dress/suit to wear for that special evening. Why do people come in shorts, tee shirts, jeans? People talk about being comfortable. Nonsense! This is a special place and we should look special for the two hour event. Is that asking too much?

    Jean Atherton

    • Musicians and orchestras are always grateful whoever shows up dressed in whatever they want. If they are in jeans and tee shirts, we are grateful they are comfortable. One of the reasons I put together this guideline was for those who wanted to know what the majority of people come dressed in. I did include the statement that if one doesn’t care, one has that right as well.

      Having shown up to a concert as an audience member a few years ago, I decided to wear jeans, nice jeans mind you, but jeans nonetheless. I was appalled at the dirty looks I got from some of the other patrons. Yes, it is a special occasion for some, for others it is merely a night out to enjoy music, and yet for others, the affordability of a ticket vs. buying a “appropriate dress/suit” might mean they couldn’t come. We’d rather they purchase a ticket and feel welcome!

      Being a professional musician, I felt perfectly comfortable wearing what I was in, and I owned the look. With orchestras struggling to maintain an open door and inclusive gestures, it is inexcusable for audience members to make others feel unwelcome. If someone is dressed to the nines, that is fantastic, but don’t be hard on fellow patrons. Please refer to #6 in this Rules On Alienating Audiences

      We like when people dress up a bit, it shows it is a special night for them and we are honored they go to the trouble. But we also like when people come in what they are comfortable wearing. If that means asking everyone else what they are wearing too, to decide, or if they don’t particularly care, it’s all good.

    • As a musician of 31 years in the orchestra in which Holly is the concertmaster, I have seen a great variety of dress. I am just happy that people want to come hear us, and I don’t care what they wear. And Jean, some people don’t own any dressy clothes. That shouldn’t keep them from coming, and I don’t believe you ought to criticize them, especially since you probably don’t know them or their financial situation.

  18. It is interesting to have this discussion now in this format. I have, in the past, written about this subject in letters to the editor in the Naples Dailey News. It is never necessary to “buy an appropriate dress/suit” for the occasion as you stated to my reply. I would think that everyone has a pair of long pants and a shirt that is nice enough to wear there. When you make the Phil special, you feel special and should dress that way. Wear the shorts, tees, jeans, to the market and (oh my gosh) on the airplane, but not to the Phil. By the way, I will always refer to it as the Phil.

    • I’m so glad you will keep calling it the Phil, as it will always be the Phil to so many including myself!

      To be specific regarding the appropriate dress/suit comment, I took it directly from your original post.You’d mentioned that everyone must have that appropriate dress/suit for that special evening. I would love to agree with you, however knowing some of the ticket buyers in the various orchestras I’ve performed with, I know that for some, buying a ticket is a stretch and getting a suit/dress just for that occasion would make the entire evening financially impossible. Some people just don’t own clothes like that.

      Our society is changing and orchestras are trying their hardest to make their concerts accessible to everybody. It is almost always the patrons who dress up who feel the strongest about this, understandably, but if orchestras imposed a dress code or told people they’d not be as welcome in whatever they were comfortable wearing, then there’d be the beginning of the end of live orchestral performances.

      The guideline I’ve put together is general, it is for those who haven’t been to a concert before and want to know what to wear so they feel like they fit in. The guide merely allows access to what most people show up wearing to various types of concerts.

      I commend those who dress up to the nines like yourself, and I commend those who pay homage to the live music by just showing up in what they’d wear at home listening to the same music on CD. The orchestra business is grateful for all our listeners who enjoy their symphonic music live!

  19. I’m with Andrew. The topic should be closed down quickly by saying, wear whatever you feel comfortable in. To say more is paternalistic and not good for business.

    • The topic remains open until the assumption that people automatically know this becomes rule. That is not the case, sadly. Therefore this guideline is a simple invitation to that fact and is most certainly good business!

      • All this talk of fashion and concert taste is fine as long as we all remember this. You’re never fully dressed without a smile. Come to hear great music with a smile at the anticipation and excitement of what is about to happen. An orchestra is the greatest collected sound on earth….other than that of a great choir.

    • And when people don’t think that’s enough and specifically ask for more guidance than that, we just tell them “Tough – figure it out for yourself” ??

      Well, that‘s helpful …

      And – since this entire post and conversation is about what to tell people who explicitly want more guidance than “Wear what you feel comfortable in” – what you’re suggesting is, in effect, telling them to figure it out for themselves.

      Seems to me that’s more likely to be “not good for business” than giving useful answers to questions that people actually ask when they actually ask would be.

  20. And when people don’t think that’s enough and specifically ask for more guidance than that, we just tell them “Tough – figure it out for yourself” ??

    No, we tell them, we trust your judgment and we know you’ll love the concert.

    • “No, we tell them, we trust your judgment and we know you’ll love the concert.”

      Hm. Seemed to me that Holly had made it clear from the outset that she tells people that first – and that this conversation is specifically about what to tell people who make it clear that “we trust your judgment” is not a sufficient answer and that they want further guidance.

      Also seems to me that both Holly and other folks who actually deal with new patrons say that this situation arises very, very frequently.

  21. As a longtime music critic in Denver, the subject of concert decorum came up all the time — which I always found kind of silly. Common sense should apply here. You’re going to a symphony concert, not a rock concert. You’re in a hall where the audience is quiet and listening intently. There are likely pieces on the program you’ve never heard. So, what to do? It’s an occasion, a night out, so why not dress nice? It’s great music that reminds us of the brilliance and heritage of Western civilization, so why not be respectful and let your emotions guide you? If you’re worried about when to clap, just wait for the bulk of the audience (not a few isolated souls) to applaud, and then join them? Oh yes, and why not get there early and read the program book BEFORE the concert begins? And why not say hello to folks sitting near you, and happily inform them that this is your first (or second or third) concert? This is not rocket science, it’s just music. Enjoy!

  22. Personally, I am thrilled by a more relaxed “dress code”. I would rather use cash from a limited budget to buy tickets to hear wonderful music than spend these funds on dresses or clothes which have little practical value.

  23. As a 44 year old newly single professional, hard working mother I actually had to Google what to wear to a symphony because I was asked to go by a beau for a second date. I’ve never been to a symphony and I didn’t want to disrespect him or the musicians by dressing inappropriately. Always putting your best foot forward is important so I wanted to thank the writer for her guidance. I am less unsure about the evening and I don’t feel as though dressing up takes the focus away from the music. I think it adds to the importance of it and these highly trained leaders in their field.

  24. This was a bit more detailed than I expected. The main thing that, I think, should guide people in deciding what to wear is to show due respect to the orchestra and the time and work they (and the venue’s staff) put into making the concert happen.

  25. Thank you for the great article. I’m attending my first performance and didn’t want to arrive in comfortable clothed but be so out of place I’m not able to enjoy the show. The price of ticket as a guide was a good idea. I will now be more comfortable.

  26. Thanks, I am going to my first orchestra with my husband for my 30th birthday tonight.. And I WANT to dress up!! But hate looking overdressed.. I hope the orchestra has not become movie casual, but a special place to go!
    I guess I’ll find out for myself.

    • Hope you have a special birthday celebration! I bet you will be perfectly dressed! In my opinion it’s far better to feel over dressed than under. I really don’t think you can go wrong if you dress up!

  27. I think this is a great article. I wish I came across it before I attended my first classical music concert a few years ago. I didn’t feel I “had to” wear anything specific as I think being there in the audience was enough. However, I also have one of those personalities that doesn’t want to stand out in an unfamiliar setting. I never listened to classical music until my kids started studying it. Now I will try to attend with my children or my friends. I did spend a lot more time than I wanted to decided what to wear to the venue i.e. Kennedy Center for an afternoon concert. I know this all sounded silly to many – I felt it was easier to decide the attire on an evening event at Kennedy Center than afternoon one. Also, even if I didn’t care what to wear, I would also like to know what to expect. I think this is a difficult article to write as the orchestra field/business is in transformation – trying to appeal a wider range of audience without trying to sound exclusive; yet, the reality is it is still somewhat exclusive, it is good to have some guidance. Thank you again!

  28. Thank you for a very nice article. My husband and I are middle aged and we live in a rural area. We’re not rich or well educated, but we like traveling to the “big city” to watch concerts, country music or rock concerts, or even the symphony, once in a while. I remember seeing one of the medical specialists we go to, at one of the symphony concerts with his wife, suitably dressed formally, and I had to hide because I didn’t feel I was “dressed” for the occasion. My husband couldn’t care less. He was wearing his good cowboy boots and freshly washed jeans. It’s nice to know that professional musicians are welcoming not just the upper class patrons, but us regular folks as well. Thank you.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful! And I’m most glad that you and your husband take in the symphony now and then!! Musicians are always grateful to see the hall filled with music lovers.

  29. I disagree that dress is unimportant. In today’s society of butt showing styles, I for one, am tired of seeing a drastic decline in proper dress. What’s wrong with dressing up once in a while? Why does everyone want to look like a heap of unfit and uneducated morons? Dress up! Make a statement! Be bold! Wear a suit, a tie, an evening gown and fur once in a while! It doesn’t hurt and might even make one feel better. I know I like to dress to the nines quite often. So stop dressing down and gain some long lost self respect and decency in attire. If you are comfortable in a sack, wear one! But don’t fault the rest of us for wanting to put on the ritz.

  30. I found this information to be very helpful. There are simply standards of conduct in many situations, may it be social, professional or personal and many times that includes dress. So as we have never been, my three daughters and I will be able be a bit more prepared tonight! Truth is I will come comfortable AND well prepared (not over nor under dressed)!! I was also surprised this to be such a controversial topic as I thought it was an acceptable and appropriate question for someone who’s never been. “Come comfortable” tells me nothing, I’m going to do that anyway 🙂

  31. It’s such a treat to have events in our culture where we still get to get “dressed up”! It’s lovely and refined to do so. It makes me feel extra special for the evening to wear something more dressier as well as I enjoy seeing other patrons fashionable clothing.
    I have a degree in music, so of course, the content of the concert is my greatest interest in going. However, it is such a nice thing to keep some things refined and a little more formal and polite in our society. Thank you for the well done article.

  32. So much commentary. Wow , well I ,ll add mine too. I love many genres of music and when I can I g9 to see live performances. I LOVE an excuse to look understated but exquisitely classy and the passion I feel for classical music inspires me to enjoy a little dress up. I wear black , with comfy heels and a beaded shawl or teardrop emeralds and probably put my hair up. If it’s winter I wear gloves. It puts me in the mood, and I feel I,m having a special evening out. I also feel it s respectful to the musicians. The message is ‘ I think your performanceis special, and worthy of best look. I don,t think this makes classical music , “ unapproachable “. I dress up a little to go out with a friend. It,s a way to show some love. Who knows who you might meet in the interval ! If you like dressing down , dress down ! But I know what I’m wearing !!, clothes do not make music of any genre inaccessible. It s a nonsensical notion I think there,s a suggestion that classical music is elitist in some way. I ve never it to be the case. There s brilliance as well as mediocrity in every genre of music.

  33. I just want to say “Thank You” for this article. I am attending the annual “Sounds of the Season” event here and have never been, ever, to a symphony and was looking for answers as to what to wear. I am one of those people who rarely dress up or attend functions so this article is so very welcomed!

    Thank you so much! Have a wonderful holiday season!

  34. Thanks for the answer. I was going to wear a suit but hate wearing a jacket in Florida. Looking forward to my first symphony. Now even more so.
    Happy Holidays!!!😁

  35. Thank you for this article. I have read some of the comments and am a firm believer in respecting your surroundings as well as others. I have not been to a concert in a long time and I know that dress standards may have changed since I had first attended one. I also know I come from a different era where it was appropriate for ladies to dress in a dress and men in suits/tux and wanted to be prepared for my first orchestra concert in years. Glad ladies can wear pants now. I am taking my daughter for her first evening concert and did not want her to feel out of place as well as be uncomfortable. Thank you again.

  36. Your symphony concert attire reflects more than status. It reflects ones degree of self respect, and respect for the venue, the composer, the musicians, and fellow attendees. So, yes, your attire is ultimately up to the you, but hopefully good taste and fashion will be observed. Andrew, however, is excused from this conversation due to his lack of good taste.

  37. Nice informative article, I found your website by chance, and i found the meaningful contribution of your mind reflects on those people who are looking for new ideas and information. Thank you for giving this type of information.

  38. I can’t help but notice that many of the commenters complaining that such a post even exists are men, while many of the commenters commending this post are women. I for one am a woman who very much appreciates this article. And for what it’s worth, I have also googled “what to wear to a Backstreet Boys concert”. I am a person who just likes to plan my outfits in advance and likes to know what I should expect most of the other attendees will be wearing. There aren’t rules but there are generalizations that can help me to frame my expectations. Thank you Holly for putting this information on the Internet.

  39. Just wanted to say thanks. My partner and I are going to the symphony for a pops concert tonight. Most of what I found was for a typical regular evening concert, which seemed unhelpful for this type of event. Thanks for addressing that in your post. There have been so uncharitable comments, and just wanted to say I really appreciate how thorough and welcoming you were throughout. Your intentions are clear and communicated well.

  40. Thank you for this article. I found it most helpful. I have never been to a symphony and I love classical music; plus I would like to do something nice for my mother.
    I don’t understand the angst against providing general guidelines like this. If you think teenagers don’t care about what they wear to a pop concert by their favorite artists then perhaps you are too far removed from your own childhood. No one wants to stand out for the wrong reasons.
    Anyway, thank you again for the article.


Leave a Reply to Jerry S Cancel reply