21 October 2016 at 5.30pm | 132 Comments
Most opera houses won’t enforce a dress code. But the notion of what to wear has remained a sticking point for years. So long, in fact, that for many seasoned opera lovers, it's as tiresome as its sister question from the world of classical music: 'Should you clap between movements?'
That said, we're still asked almost every day by soon-to-be audience members about the 'correct' attire for an evening at the Royal Opera House – so: should you dress up for the opera?
Kasper Holten, Director of Opera for The Royal Opera, says yes.
‘Going to the opera is and should be special, a treat for yourself, where you go far away from everyday life and into the stuff that really matters in life,' he says. 'You will be seeing and hearing amazing artists who have trained for years and years performing for you in incredibly beautiful surroundings. Celebrate it.’
The idea that attending an opera is a special occasion is shared by many other companies too, in varying degrees. Sydney Opera House says wearing a tux is not the norm, but they do insist ‘shoes are worn at all times’ – Einstein on the Beach-wear isn't encouraged for opera-goers making the trip from nearby Bondi.
The Metropolitan Opera won’t turn you away for wearing jeans, but there’s an inference what you choose to wear is part of the whole performance of the evening. Visiting Lincoln Centre is a ‘great excuse to get dressed up’ – and if you do, you might be one of the chosen few that makes onto their style blog – Last Night at The Met.
Glyndebourne offers more of a nudge, calling formal evening dress ‘customary’ for the summer festival and even warns audiences about the perils of the British weather. The tradition reaches back to when the festival was founded by John Christie and his wife Audrey Mildmay, who felt wearing your finest attire was a way of showing respect for the artistry and talent on stage.
For many, the idea of donning your glad rags is met with horror or alarm. How can opera be for 'everyone' if not everyone feels they'd fit in wearing a fancy outfit? But, as Kasper Holten explains, it's not about the clothes, it's about the whole experience of the night out:
‘Dressing up doesn’t mean being able to afford Armani or Prada,’ says Holten. ‘It can mean putting on your favourite jeans, the dress you use on very special occasions, making an effort to make yourself feel special, to feel that this is something special. So don’t go to the opera to dress up and impress others – but impress yourself.’
We asked our Twitter followers what they thought:
— Margaret Brown (@MagsTheObscure) October 19, 2016
@TheRoyalOpera However you feel comfortable, you're there to enjoy yourself. But it's a nice excuse to dress up a little if you want one
— Jane J-B (@Bouillabaise) October 19, 2016