What to Wear to the Symphony: Our Expert Tips

Classical music is having a resurgence in popularity. There’s no better way to appreciate this dynamic form of music than by attending a symphony. Live performance, after all, is always an exciting experience, whether it’s a Broadway show or a concert.

However, navigating all the unspoken wardrobe protocols of the event can feel overwhelming. This is especially true if this is your first symphony event. 

Fortunately, there are some basic guidelines you can follow to ensure you’ll look the part when you attend. Despite the musicians performing in gowns and tuxes, not every symphony requires the audience to wear formal attire, so you probably already have some pieces in your closet that will work. 

We’ll help you understand the ins and outs of what will be expected when you attend your first symphony.

Essential Info to Guide Your Wardrobe Choices

The first thing you should always do is collect the essential information about the symphony you’re attending. Many venues will have a good deal of information on their website, including any dress code information.

Your concert ticket will also provide information about the event, which can also help inform how you will dress.

The Venue

The environment you’ll be in can influence how formally you may want to dress. If you’re in a large, ornately decorated concert hall, it can feel a bit awkward to be dressed casually.

However, if the performance is being held in a less impressive space, it can be more appropriate to tone things down.

Performance Time

Traditionally in live performance, a matinee is more laid-back than an evening show. At a matinee, it may be more acceptable to wear jeans (though some venues don’t allow them) or a simple pair of trousers and a neat blouse. 

Be respectful by not wearing torn clothes, flip-flops, or clothing with strong language printed on it. These will almost always be forbidden by any dress codes the venue has in place. This is to show respect for the hard work of the musicians and to keep a dignified atmosphere.

Evening shows usually call for a more elevated look, but you typically don’t have to go overboard. A business or business casual look will work. Trousers, a tailored blouse, and a cardigan, or a knee-length dress and a blazer will usually work just fine.

Ticket Prices

As a rule of thumb, the more expensive the concert tickets, the more dressed-up you should be. Lower-priced events are often for the broader community to enjoy. Families, students, and community groups are more likely to attend, making for a more casual event.

Once ticket prices start climbing over $50 for even less desirable seats, that usually means it’s a special event. People will be more likely to dress up in semi-formal attire for their evening of music.

Type of Performance

The way you dress should also be informed by the kind of event you’re attending. A simple performance that’s part of the concert hall’s season requires less formality than a gala, for example.

Special events are often part of the symphony season to fundraise or show appreciation for donors who have already pledged sponsorship. Events such as these are almost always formal. This means a full suit and tie or tuxedo for male guests and a gown for women.

Choosing Your Outfit for the Symphony

Once you have an idea of how formally you should be dressing, there are a few other things to keep in mind so you can have an enjoyable evening.

Contending With Outerwear

If you’re attending a symphony in the winter, you may be wondering if you should skip wearing a coat. It’s true that you could overheat if you wear it all evening, and it would be bulky and awkward to lay it over your lap during the show.

Fortunately, most concert venues have a coat check. You can discreetly put your coat away during the performance and avoid freezing on your way to and from the symphony.

A puffer or hoodie will look a little odd at a formal event, so bear this in mind. A more appropriate option would be a wool coat, like a traditional peacoat, or a trenchcoat depending on the weather.

Choosing a Dress

For a matinee or a more casual evening performance, you may want to wear a simple knee-length cotton dress. This will look nicely put together with a sweater or blazer and be appropriate for a less formal event.

However, if you’re attending a gala or another formal symphony performance, that won’t be considered appropriate.

A formal gown is usually longer and has some unique details, like beading, or it will be made from a very fine fabric like silk. While formal gowns come in all colors and styles, for the symphony we recommend a more refined subtlety.

Most people opt to keep colors dark or more neutral (including soft pastles, like pink or lilac) at the symphony and avoid very bold jewelry and accessories. You don’t want to draw undue attention away from the performers by being distracting to other audience members during the show.

Similarly, most people opt to avoid showing a lot of skin for the same reasons. Besides, it can get chilly in a concert hall.

Jewelry Options

As mentioned above, less is more in this setting. Excess bling will be reflective and distracting during the show. Instead, choose one piece to feature, such as a favorite pair of earrings or a necklace with a unique pendant.

Picking Shoes

Some concert venues have multiple levels, and most are carpeted to help prevent the sound from echoing in the space. This means you might be climbing up the mezzanine on stairs with carpet that may have seen better days.

To avoid trips and falls, wear shoes that are comfortable and avoid very narrow heels. For less formal performances, flats are perfect. You may want to wear heels for a more formal evening, but we don’t recommend open-toed options. It is easy for someone to step on your feet in a dark theater, and it can also be cold.

Set the Tone for Your Evening

When you attend the symphony, it’s likely to get something out of the evening. Dressing up can be half the fun. Even if it’s not a gala, you can still wear a nice dress to make your first visit to the symphony feel extra special. Why not enjoy romanticizing your experiences, both big and small?

If you’re most comfortable in pants, try a jumpsuit with some edgy details like a v-neck, a cape back, or some sequins.

You can enjoy taking photos at the concert venue after the show with your friends, significant other, or on your own. You’ll look back more fondly at photos where you felt confident, and nothing boosts your confidence as quickly as a great outfit.

Make Sweet Music Getting Dressed for the Symphony

Nowadays, it can be harder to say exactly what you should or shouldn’t be wearing to different occasions. It varies a lot. While attending the symphony used to be a very formal affair, that’s not always the case now. A lot depends on the kind of performance you’re attending, the time of the concert, and several other factors.

Always check the concert hall’s website for dos and don’ts, as well as for more information about the symphony you’re attending. Otherwise, follow the simple tips in our guide and enjoy the powerful experience of live classical music.