It can be hard to know what to wear for a concert, and it really depends on a number of factors, the most important ones being the genre of the music and the tone of the event. In order to dress appropriately, these must be considered fully so that the image is in alignment with the music and the setting.

Orchestral music has always had a reputation for the most formal attire on both sides of the stage due to the history of classical music and it’s association with nobility. In the 18th Century when orchestras would play in an environment such as the home of nobility, an attire of court dress, complete with powdered wigs would be worn.

It is generally believed that smart black dress will not detract any attention away from the music, and that audiences can appreciate the skill of the performers while not being drawn to unnecessary and non-musical elements. When women were allowed to play in orchestras during the 20th Century, this uniform was followed with smart black dresses, skirts or trousers providing the basis of an outfit.

For orchestral and classical performances that include a soloist, it’s common for the star to wear a striking colour so they stand out from the orchestra or other performers – this visually supports what is happening musically, and naturally draws the audience’s eye to focus in on the special guest. Often female soloists will wear magnificent evening dresses and embrace the aesthetic juxtaposition, whereas menswear is much more limited, with white dinner jackets or tails being the main ‘colourful’ options available to male soloists or conductors.

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For solo recitals, there is much more latitude today with acceptable dress including smart casual, a dinner jacket or black smart-casual dress. If the venue is more formal, it will be expected that the dress will be as well. The tradition of pianists wearing tails has gradually eased out of favour for the majority of performers and has been replaced with more practical and modern dress for all but the most formal of venues.

Nowadays, as orchestral musicians have gravitated towards all-black formalwear, concert blacks or show blacks are commonly used terms for smart/formal black clothes that must be worn by musicians and staff working in a concert environment. White tie and tails are seen as overly formal and somewhat stuffy in recent times, and the reaction has been to move to all-black dress. There are even companies catering exclusively to the market of smart, moveable black clothing for musicians, such as Black Dress Code.

Chamber music groups tend to dress differently from orchestral styles, and lean towards smart-casual wear, with pretty dresses donned by the ladies in the ensemble.

In other non-classical musical genres, though the music may be wildly different, there is still an unspoken association with the seriousness of the music and a smart appearance when performing. Folk bands and pop groups alike have seen a resurgence of the uniform look in recent years. While shirts may be made of linen or denim, and neckwear worn in a more relaxed way, it’s undeniable that the ensemble of shirts, waistcoats and blazers, ties, and braces sets up a ‘serious music’ image compared to those in mismatched jeans and t-shirts. While the folk, rock and pop worlds may be portraying a very different message in their music from the orchestra, the recurring themes of suits, uniforms and show blacks is unanimous across most musical genres for live performers.

Whether you are taking part in a concert or just going along, it has never been easier to study a score. Today you can download a score online for any work before the early 20th Century, and with the PlayScore 2 app you can play it back and really find out how the music works.

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