Dressing for the theater

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Dressing for the theater
Dressing for the theater

Are you going to the theater for the first time? The theater is one of the few remaining places where the traditional upper class rules still apply. The actors, set designers, stage actors and director who stage a theater production have worked countless hours to give audiences a performance with a polished, professional appearance – the least theatergoers can do is treat it with respect. Unless otherwise directed by the theater directors, it is not necessary to show up in full formal attire, but knowing some basic attire guidelines can greatly enhance the atmosphere of a night out at the theater.


Method 1 of 3: Dress formally

Dress for the Theater Step 1

Step 1. Choose from flattering formal attire

In some cases, such as opening nights and special theater black tie events, attending a stage production may require formal attire. For these occasions, you should combine some of the more elegant pieces in your wardrobe. Normally black and white are the best color choices for such events.

If a production is announced as 'black tie' or 'white tie', or if it is a typically formal event, such as an opening night or opera, then formal attire is expected

Dress for the Theater Step 2

Step 2. Wear clothing appropriate for a special event

In the present times, the rules of formal wear have changed somewhat. An effective strategy is to dress as you would for a night out at a fancy restaurant, or maybe even in a professional setting. As a woman, this could be a mid-length skirt or trouser suit, although evening wear such as a tasteful cocktail dress has a bit more allure. Men can opt for a well-fitting suit in dark, neutral evening tones, but shirtsleeves with a tie and pressed trousers are generally acceptable.

For modern, formal theater events, the same attire you might be wearing to a wedding, funeral, or charity dinner will generally suffice

Dress for the Theater Step 3

Step 3. Choose your accessories

Complete your formal look with a necklace, bracelet, watch or other jewelry. Wear closed-toe shoes with the right socks or smart stockings, even in summer. Carry a matching purse or handbag for small items (if you have a larger bag that takes up too much space in the aisle, leave it at home). Please be courteous to the actors and other attendees, and keep your cell phone and other devices away until after the performance.

  • Too big or too much jewelry can look gaudy and distract from an otherwise sleek outfit.
  • Theatrical binoculars are allowed if the theater where the production is being staged is quite large, or for people who are slightly nearsighted. Because they do not make noise or give off light like telephones and cameras, binoculars are considered normal theater accessories.
Dress for the Theater Step 4

Step 4. Wash and style your hair

Your hair is also an essential part of your appearance. Messy, tangled hair that clearly needs a wash can ruin an otherwise striking ensemble, so be sure to wash your hair the night or morning before the performance. Buns, loose curls or straight hair are suitable for women. Men should style their hair with pomade, smooth or part medium length hair, or tie long hair back neatly.

  • Consult a style guide for models that suit your hair type and hair length.
  • As silly as it may sound, hats and high hairstyles can obscure the view of those around you. As a rule, hats should not be worn indoors and you should be mindful of other theatergoers when styling your hair.

Method 2 of 3: Dress casually

Dress for the Theater Step 5

Step 1. Choose an acceptable casual garment

Informal or 'casual' as a clothing style has a different meaning than is usually assumed, so don't come with just anything. If casual attire is most appropriate for a particular production, you are expected to pay attention to it anyway, because even though there may not be a formal dress code required, you agree to be part of a carefully considered spectator organized event. Shorts, T-shirts, tank tops and sandals will not be appreciated. Think of a 'dinner at a slightly more upscale restaurant', not a 'lazy evening after work'.

Dress for the Theater Step 6

Step 2. Dress clearly and comfortably

Do you remember how your mother used to dress for church or to visit your family? Learn from mom's casual style. Good choices for men are khakis, polos or shirts and loafers or boat shoes. Women undoubtedly have more options: a simple blouse and skirt will look great, but a sundress or a knitted sweater with tights can also, depending on the weather.

Regardless of what you wear, you should be dressed for comfort. You'll be sitting for a few hours, so choose clothes that don't chafe and aren't too tight

Dress for the Theater Step 7

Step 3. Take advantage of the season

There are many beautiful seasonal exclusive combinations when it comes to dressing and accessories. Make use of it. Spring and summer is the time to work with lighter colors and fabrics like pastels, while fall and winter favor heavier materials and a more elaborate layered look. A cardigan, sweater, boots and linen can all be part of a fresh, seasonal style.

The theater can feel a little warm or cold in certain climates. Apply a warm extra layer that you can remove if necessary

Dress for the Theater Step 8

Step 4. Maintain good hygiene

Just because the event isn't formal doesn't mean you shouldn't put in the effort to make yourself presentable. Keep your hair and clothes clean and tidy. Tuck in loose shirt flaps and don't wear skirts or dresses that fall above the thighline, or tops with a plunging neckline. You'll soon be in a busy theater near other visitors, so refresh your deodorant. If you want to put on perfume or cologne, only apply it lightly – exaggerated scents are often too overpowering.

Brush your teeth, touch up your nails, wear clean socks and wash your face and hands – these are good hygiene habits too. It would be embarrassing to stand out because you look or smell bad

Method 3 of 3: Dressing for a particular production

Dress for the Theater Step 9

Step 1. Know what is expected

Not all theaters will have the same dress requirements. Pay attention to what kind of production you will be attending and decide on the most appropriate way to dress. For example, a production aimed at children is unlikely to require a certain fashion sensibility, while attending even a small, locally produced opera might make you consider a nicer wardrobe choice. In this case, it's about context. Special black-tie events and opening nights usually require more formal attire, while you should feel free to dress casually for the average theatrical or matinee performance, or for more conceptual dramas such as those by "black-box" theaters.

  • It may be a good idea to find out or check with the theater managers before a performance if there is a dress code.
  • If you're ever unsure about what to wear to a particular event and don't have any guidelines to follow, it's usually okay to go casual.
Dress for the Theater Step 10

Step 2. Buy and wear merchandise

If you've seen the show before, or if a merchandise booth is selling souvenirs for the show, buy a T-shirt or hat to show your support. Many long-running or family shows appreciate it when fans and the audience wear the clothing of that production. These products are often unique and exclusive to that show, so you'll never get a better chance to showcase them.

Dress for the Theater Step 11

Step 3. Put on a costume and paint your face

This is definitely not something you should do for most opening nights and select productions, but for established shows such as The Lion King and Wicked it is encouraged and can be a lot of fun, especially for younger children. Dress up yourself and/or your child as one of your favorite characters and immerse yourself in the event. However, don't overdo it with costumes and props – after all, a spectator's appearance can distract from the performance.

Do some research to find out if a particular show recommends the use of costumes and props before buying your tickets, and decide what to wear. Even then, keep it to yourself and don't be tempted to draw attention or make noise during the show

Dress for the Theater Step 12

Step 4. Wear everyday clothes

In rare cases, it may be okay not to dress special. Smaller shows and productions usually don't require a dress code, so jeans and trainers won't be a problem. Always know ahead of time what the expected attire is for a particular production or venue, and enjoy an increasingly rare opportunity to fashionably present yourself at a formal, social event.

Even if you are allowed to come in your normal clothes, it is never a bad idea to dress nicely. Your appearance says something about your character, so make sure it's good stuff


  • Depending on the time of year and how many people are there, it can be very cold in the theater or very warm. Bring a jacket that you can easily put on or take off.
  • Don't worry too much about what to wear. Just do your best to look beautiful and enjoy the performance!
  • If you've never been to a theater production before, you may not know proper etiquette in addition to the required attire. Search articles (such as https://www.wikihow.com/Practise-Proper-Etiquette-for-a-Broadway-Show) for more information!

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