7-Step Guide to Dressing for the Opera

No matter how good your voice is, you will never sound as good at the opera as a professional. This might seem like some kind of impossible fairy tale, but it’s not. There are dozens of ways to prepare for the big day by following a few simple rules.

First and foremost: find something that flatters your figure. If you’re short, stockings and heals should be part dressy enough to make a strong first impression (at least until you go past the main entrance). On the other hand, if you like to wear leggings and tights, they will be in desperate need of updating before your performance. Your color palette must also match your outfit’s color scheme—a dark red dress with an all-black ensemble would be a disaster on stage. Be sure that any accessories have been chosen accordingly (and are appropriate for when you sing).

Bring neutral tones along with bold ones—it’s always better to err on the side of safe than risk making a poor first impression with mismatched colors or too much contrast between accessories and clothing. Putting together an entire wardrobe from scratch can seem overwhelming at first, but don’t worry: we’ve done all the work for you! We’ve gathered our favorite pieces from high-end designers (Lanvin, Chanel), classic labels (Ermenegildo Zegna) and even one-hit wonders like Marc Jacobs that deserve more fame (the suit). We’ve also included options from our favorite boutiques like J Crew, Theory and Forever 21 in case we ever have an “I’m bored” shopping spree.

Think black tie.

The opera is a world of its own, and it’s one that can be intimidating to enter—but you don’t have to look like a deer in headlights. Make sure you know the difference between black tie and white tie before you go, and don’t stress about what kind of attire will be expected on a given night as long as you follow these tips:

  • Wear black (duh). This is basic knowledge in any formal situation, but even if the event isn’t explicitly labeled “black tie” (as many galas aren’t), it’s always best to err on the side of formality.
  • Dress up! Opera gloves are not required. Tuxedos are not required. Top hat is not required. But if you want to dress up, do it! Don’t let anyone stop you from being your dapper self inside this fanciful world.
  • Get there early! The lobby pre-show is just as good as the show itself—a rare thing at most other concerts/events—so spend some time hanging out there before going in for prime seats at the performance itself! It might take some time getting used to all the pageantry of an opera house, but eventually it’ll become second nature.

But feel free to wear a dress/skirt.

  • I’ve always been too concerned with what my outfit will be like after work and on weekends, so I haven’t worn a dress in years. But when the Opera is coming up, I feel that it’s time to put this behind me. After all, isn’t it nice to see a girl wearing something other than jeans and a hoodie?
  • Dresses are appropriate for the opera. Wearing one is perfectly acceptable for an evening at the opera, especially if you’re just watching the show or attending with friends or family. You don’t need to wear anything too formal or ultra-feminine: nothing ruffles more than a low-cut top with cleavage spilling out of your dress like fruit from an overripe coconut! Dress in long sleeves and flat shoes; you don’t want to look constraining by comparison. It’s also ok to wear a shirt with a collar and pants. Honestly, there’s no one out there who cares what you’re wearing as long as they can hear you sing anyway!

Feel free to accessorize–a little bit.

The opera is a formal event, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own personal style to it. You don’t need to be a fashion expert—just use these 7 simple steps to help you make sure your attire works for the venue.

  • Accessorize with a clutch or purse, a headpiece, and/or jewelry. A fun piece like an oversized necklace or headband can really add some flair and excitement to an outfit—but keep in mind that you don’t want too much going on at once. Pick one or two accessories that work well together and will complement your clothes without drawing too much attention away from the stage. Make sure the accessories match the clothes you are wearing. If your top or skirt has a fur collar, for example, avoid pairing it with a leopard-print headband (unless it is just subtle enough). Don’t wear too many accessories at once! It’s okay if your makeup is quite loud; less is more when it comes to accessories like earrings and necklaces.  Don’t wear too big of a headpiece . Oversized hats are usually not appropriate for formal events because they draw way too much attention away from what’s happening on stage (and sometimes even cover up some of the performers’ faces!). If you want something on your head, there are plenty of great options available that won’t detract from the performance. Don’t wear too many rings . It looks like you’re trying waaaaayyyy too hard to show off how dainty your hands are if you have more than 3 rings on each hand… plus it just becomes distracting during the performance!

Don’t let these rules stop you from having fun with fashion while attending an opera—you just have to think about what kind of look works best for where you’re going.

Wear comfortable shoes (and pack a pair of flats in your purse).

When you’ve got to step out of a meeting (or teach a course!), it’s important to be prepared: dressed for the occasion. Unfortunately, wearing the same outfit for all events is not always practical, and your outfit should be considered carefully before heading out to the opera.

First things first: when you meet someone at an event, try to establish eye contact with them immediately in order and through your full body. This will help you communicate that you’d like to have a conversation—in person, not over email or text messaging. Once they begin talking, bow slightly in their direction as though you are greeting them.

Secondly, don’t wear sneakers; this is one instance where it’s okay to wear heels if they’re comfortable—and there are plenty of styles that look lovely with opera slippers. For example, I love these gorgeous ballet flats from Marco Beauty that would be appropriate for a job interview but also work nicely at an operatic performance. To add style points, pair them with a sexy little black dress, subtly accessorize, and tuck a clutch bag under your arm like mine below!

It’s hot in there so dress accordingly.

This is a ticket to your own personal opera. You deserve it.

Step 1: Buy a new opera cape. It’s not going to buy itself, so make sure you’re choosing wisely and don’t go for the cheapest option. A good opera cape should have enough room for comfortable movement and display your elegance, but not be so big that it looks like you’re trying too hard to look important. On the other hand, if you do wear a sparkly dress or sequined dress with a leotard underneath, then feel free to try on an even bigger cape because that’s what true divas do!

Step 2: As soon as possible, change into the new things you bought in stage 1. These are your new clothes and will be your main outfit for most of the night—it’s also likely people will be staring at you when they first see them anyway (and who doesn’t want more people staring at them?). Make sure you don’t wear anything heavy or bulky in this outfit—wear something light-weight that’s appropriate for the temperature in the opera house, such as a simple layer of blouse and skirt or just a fitted dress/shirt (while it may seem like overkill at first glance, wearing heavy fabrics can result in overheating).

Step 3: Put on more layers if necessary—you’ll be sweating by now! Make sure there is no tightness between layers so that air can circulate easily; loose clothing allows heat from your body to escape through its gaps. Also, avoid any areas where fabric bunches up behind each arm; these areas trap heat and become particularly uncomfortable due to cold drafts from outside seeping through as well as from friction from bumping into objects during walking .

Step 4: Avoid sleeves entirely if possible—that extra fabric adds weight and bulk around your arms which makes them even more prone to discomfort when moving about (especially when holding onto railings). If required, sleeves should come down only halfway past elbow joints.

You’ll be sitting for a long time, so wear comfortable clothes that you can move around in.

It’s not unheard of for an opera to last two or even three hours. The point is that you’ll be sitting for a long time, so you want to wear comfortable items of clothing that you can move around in comfortably.

Here are some rules for wearing the clothes listed in this section:

  • Don’t wear a skirt. In opera houses and other places where men usually wear suits, women usually have less formal dresses and skirts because they’re typically more comfortable to sit in and move around in. Skirts require more effort to sit down and move around in than dresses or simple pants when standing up, so they aren’t necessary at all if you’re just going to be sitting still. You might also consider wearing a jumpsuit or tights under your dress if it’s cold out or there’s been some rain recently.
  • Don’t wear a belt. Belts pull on tight across the stomach area and can restrict your breathing. Preferably avoid belts altogether by opting for the loose fitting turtleneck shirt instead (and make sure it fits over your torso like a glove).
  • Don’t wear tight clothing (like leggings). Loose fitting clothing is nice because it lets you breathe freely, but tight clothing can also restrict your movements as well since it contains your body from moving too much. Tight clothing restricts airflow even while doing nothing at all! For example, imagine you’re sitting there watching the opera; what happens if someone comes up behind you? Your waistband will constrict airflow right as they’re about to talk with you (which could make them feel uncomfortable), so tighten up any loose fitting clothes before stepping into an audience space where people will be trying their hardest not to talk with you awkwardly for two hours straight!

You’ll be carrying a binoculars around all night, so take that into consideration.

Dressing for the opera is a careful process that requires significant preparation. A pair of binoculars will likely be necessary, so make sure to choose a pair that’s comfortable and easy to carry. The device itself should be neither too heavy nor bulky, lest you find yourself distracted by the weight on your chest or the hooks digging into your back. Additionally, all of this equipment could be tricky to keep hold of, especially during intermission or other dance sequences; pick a model with an adjustable strap or one that is intended for gripping rather than hooking.

There are a variety of models out there which perform equally well no matter which type of opera you’re attending—but if it’s not something you do often enough, take some time to review what makes each specific model type so special. After all, enjoying Carmen doesn’t require quite the same level of expertise as observing La Traviata does.

It’s fancy, but it’s not that fancy.

  • Don’t wear anything too flashy. You don’t want your outfit to distract from the show. You can choose to wear an equally fancy, but less attention-grabbing dress or suit.
  • Don’t wear anything that makes noise. If you’re worried about your clothes making a sound, there’s no need to worry—the orchestra will be playing and you’ll be sitting quietly anyway! However, it can still be hard not to fidget in the middle of a long opera. If you are concerned about being tempted by the urge to move around (or your children who might want to dance), try a pair of gloves so that you won’t feel compelled to play with your hands during the performance.
  • Don’t dress like you’re going to the beach. In wearing dressier clothes, it’s easy for people to forget that they are going somewhere special for an opera performance and instead think “Hey, this will look great on Instagram!”. Try not thinking about how cool it would be if someone took a picture of you in front of the Met or on stage at Lincoln Center! Remember: it’s just one night rather than an entire vacation; keep it classy!
  • Don’t wear clothes that are too revealing. The last thing anyone wants is for someone else’s shirt tail or bra strap to keep them distracted during Verdi’s Rigoletto! Regardless of gender or body type, make sure everything is appropriately covered up so as not distract others from getting into the story and music of the plays and operas they paid good money for.* Don’t wear a costume. Unless it is part of a school assignment, leave any costumes at home.* Don’t wear a hat. It may seem silly since hats aren’t even allowed inside many theaters nowadays, but many people still get caught off guard when they arrive at their seats and realize how much extra room there is above them.* Don’t wear jeans. Jeans are practically a staple in most wardrobes these days—they

Conclusion

In the same way that a high-school prom would be different from a wedding, attending an opera requires its own special etiquette. Whether you’re leaving your comfort zone to attend a production or you’re deciding how to dress for your own role in an opera, it’s important to keep the nuances of the extravaganza in mind. With just a few tips, you can successfully navigate this one-of-a-kind experience.

You may be nervous about going to see an opera for the first time—after all, it’s not like any other performance. A play has actors on stage and no orchestra; a concert is in a large hall with seats and no stage; and even rock shows have musicians on stage along with fans who aren’t performing. The opera combines these three elements into one production: the orchestra is onstage, as well as the singers who are performing their parts live instead of lip synching like at many concerts (although newer operas include singers who lip sync). Just try not to worry about what other people are wearing; chances are that if they’re comfortable, then so should you!

What makes or breaks an operatic experience is whether or not there’s enough space for everyone inside. Always try to get tickets early and avoid being too close to the front—the more space available for people standing in back of you, the more room there will be for those sitting down. Another bit of advice: if it gets chilly inside, bring something warm to throw over your shoulders during intermissions (it can sometimes get quite drafty).

The most challenging part is figuring out what exactly goes on at an opera (don’t worry—there isn’t much violence or sex), but once you do understand it all, go ahead and enjoy yourself! Since most operas last around three hours long with two intermissions (and sometimes three!), make sure you wear something comfortable that won’t inhibit your flexibility or movement as you enjoy this unique art form.

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