Home / Performance & Technique

The Best Bets In Concert Wear

As we gear up for Winter Concert Season, your wardrobe may need a little revamping. Once you’ve joined the school orchestra or band, brush up on what the dress code requirements are for concerts and other public engagements.

In almost all cases – you’ll need black-and-white dress clothes, black socks/tights/hose and close-toed shoes (although there are exceptions).

Black (and white) is concert dress tradition for a reason

If you’re tired of all the all-black, or black-and-white dress restrictions, we sympathize. Perhaps it will help if you understand you’re participating in hundreds of years of classical music tradition.

As a recent post from classicalfm.com reminds us, the musicians of yore performed live, in wealthy or well-to-do households. Back then, black, formal attire was a standard and – to be honest – it also blended better with the similarly garbed servants in the household, so there’s a little history for you.

From a more contemporary perspective, however, concert musicians typically wear black because the music – not the performer – is what should stand out to audience members. Without a standard of consistency and a unifying blend with regard to attire, certain performers’ wardrobe choices would stand out, taking away from listeners’ aural experience.

In other words, an orchestral or group performance isn’t your outward style’s opportunity to shine; you’ll have to save your authentic fashion-self for solo performances.

Always adhere to your instructor or conductor’s instructions

In almost all cases, your instructor and/or conductor provides precise instructions regarding the concert dress code. This is not a time for personal dissent – it’s in your best interest to follow his/her instructions to the letter. Doing so is a sign of respect for the instructor, your orchestra as a whole, and yourself as a musician.

Also, following dress code instructions is a good habit to develop. Failure to do so later on could cost you points at a competition or at a camp or music school audition.

Classic, traditional modesty is the norm.

Do be aware that concert dress will vary significantly from the current trends of tighter (more on that next), shorter, and lower-cut. Concert dress is modest dress – again, as a way of keeping the audience and fellow musicians attention on the music being performed.

If a specific skirt/pant length, type of sleeve, or neckline isn’t specified by your instructor, it’s worth asking. Otherwise, comply with the school dress code to be on the safe side. If you’re out of school, use your best, judgment and err on the conservative side. In case you’re rolling your eyes – here are direct quotes from music schools around the country regarding concert dress stipulations:

The University of Puget Sound’s requirements for orchestra concert dress:

  • Black tuxedo, white shirt, black bow tie, black dress shoes, black socks


  • Long-sleeved (3/4 length minimum) floor-length black dress, closed-toe black shoes (two-inch heel or less)


  • Long-sleeved (3/4 length minimum) floor-length black skirt or black dress pants, black blouse, closed-toe black shoes (two-inch heel or less).”

The Peabody Institute’s requirements are very similar and they emphasize them by stating, “Students who arrive for a concert improperly dressed will be sent home to change or…will have their grade automatically lowered and may be pulled from the concert. Consistent failure to maintain a professional appearance in performance will have a negative effect upon one’s grade.”

Consider stretchiness and comfort

Since comfort is rarely synonymous with “formal dress,” your mission is to seek out garments that meet your body’s demands as well as concert dress requirements. While you’re shopping, look for garments that:

  • Breathe well. As you know, concerts are long and demanding, and a full house combined with nerves and stage lighting can make for a warmer playing experience. Look for fabrics that breathe well to help keep you cooler.
  • You need to move your body while you play so look for fabrics that stretch and accommodate your arm’s reach, your torso’s positions and movement, and the span of your legs (if you play cello). Plus, if you don’t grow much more in height – stretchier fabrics accommodate minor weight fluctuations over the coming years.
  • Bigger may be better. For similar reasons, it might be better to have a suit, shirt, waistline, jacket or dress waist that’s slightly larger than you normally prefer. Again, this accommodates movement but also means you won’t have to purchase new concert clothes for a while.
  • Durable and washable. The more washer-friendly garments are, the better, as it reduces the need for pricey dry cleaning. Durable clothing is worth investing in since it lasts longer. And, if you’re wearing a tuxedo or suit jacket, learn how to properly clean and steam/press your jacket – eliminating the need for dry cleaning altogether.

Once you find your perfect, “lifetime” concert dress or suit, you’ll look forward to wearing it with pride – and comfort – for years’ worth of concerts.

Violins on the wall