What should you wear to the opera?
The short answer, is, of course, wear whatever you like. Inhabit any part of the denim/tuxedo spectrum of dressiness. No outfit will result in you being turned away at the door that wouldn’t also get you turned away from, say, Sears (disclaimer: I am, of course, writing from my experience of Canadian, American, and the odd European opera houses. It is quite possible that what I have to say does not apply in Singapore or Russia, for example).
That said, what you really want to know is, what should you wear so you won’t look out of place? What are the limits of underdressing and overdressing?
The truth is that any modest effort to look nice – such as for a religious service, or the wedding of someone you don’t know very well, or a friend’s small dinner party – is more than sufficient. There will be very few ballgowns or tuxedos on display. Most people will be a little bit dressed up. Some will be very dressed up, but a roughly equal number will be dressed casually. Any energy spent worrying about your outfit is wasted energy.
Some people – especially women, I find - are a bit disappointed by this. They imagine the opera as an opportunity for glamour and grandeur, like in The Age of Innocence or Pretty Woman. They’re itching to pull their long sparkly gowns and/or white ties out of the closet. And then they arrive, matching evening bag and all, to see a lot of people who look like their mothers’ friends dressed for dinner theatre.
Don’t be disappointed! There’s enough intimidation and snobbery in the opera world that we can afford to dispense with this particular layer of it. If you become an opera buff and make attending a habit, it will be a relief to know that you can come to the theatre straight from the office or the dentist, and have no one look at your outfit with contempt (well, most of the time).
If you have time to prepare, enjoy yourself a little. Opera nights are when I pull out the feathered hairpieces, the tulip skirts, the brooches and shawls – things that are fun to wear but would look a little silly at work or in class. I put on more makeup than usual. But my floor-length strapless graduation dress, thankfully, stays in the closet.