How to dress to attend a classical music concert

Classical Music Concerts, and how to dress to attend one;

Concerto, the musical form that named the social event;

Also, a famous vest.

How to dress to go to a concert of classical music? You will read this answer from the subtitle Say ¡Holla! to fellow attendees, subscribers, and sponsors onwards, down near the end of the post; but to know your whys, let’s continue, please.

Whoever thinks that attending a classical music concert is a special occasion may have contrasting expectations when thinking about dressing to go to such event: on one hand, it is the joy of those who like to dress up; on the other, it enervates who wants to get ready but does not know how. There are also those people who do not bother with the subject and simply go to the concert – which is great and is in line with the recommendations of orchestras and concert halls.


Concerto, the music

The social concert rite inherited its name from the musical form concerto, a word whose origin seems to refer to the conjunction of the Latin terms conserere (reunion, to participate, to join) and contest (literally, contest, competition, dispute). In this type of musical composition, two characters dialogue: the instrument or instrumental solo group and the accompanying orchestra.

In the beginning, the concerto was the music that had instrumental parts and independent vocals among them (as opposed to those songs in which the instruments played the same lines sung by the singers) – Saul, Saul, was verfolgt du mich? (Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?) by Heinrich Schutz is an example of this type the sacred concert.

The concerto form gained autonomy from the vocal music and became what is called Concerto Grosso, a style in which some instruments play solos accompanied by a small orchestra. An example of a heavy concert is the Concerto Opus 6, n. 2 by Arcangelo Corelli.

Freed from voices, the concert became a type of music played by an instrument and orchestra, and sometimes by more than one instrument and orchestra; but generally, it was and is music played by an instrument and orchestra.. Examples of this type of concert, which is the most popular and archetypal one, are: Flute Concerto (Wq. 22) by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (yes, son of that Bach); Piano Concerto, Opus 54, by Robert Schumann; and Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (“to the memory of an angel”).

In the twentieth century, let us say that, in a way, retaking the Baroque conception of Concerto Grosso, a concert in which the soloist was and emerged from within the group, concerts for orchestra and instrumental groups were born. Béla Bartók composed the masterful Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and the Orchestra Concert.

The music from the centuries here covered is therefore classic although there has been popular music in those same centuries in question, for example, in villages, public fairs, houses, parties, etc. The point here is simply that classical music does not descend from popular music as it descends from other social practices, so popular music will not be approached in depth.

The etiquette of classical music concerts

“At a certain moment there arose in European society a habit of organized listening and – as a byproduct of this habit – the establishment of public and private concerts. In other words there was a point in history when audiences fell silent. Thereafter music took on a new meaning, as an act of solemn communication, occurring in another space from the space of everyday life. Instead of being a background, something that was never more prominent than when being danced to or sung, music became an object of attention for its own sake, a ‘real presence’ before its own hushed congregation.” (Roger Scruton in Understanding Music)

The collective situation known as a classical music concert, as we might predict would happen, has been considerably modified over the centuries and accompanies the history of clothing – a history that can be literally seen in the rich collection of Wikipedia images.

The following is a brief overview of the types of musical etiquette and ceremonials and how they have changed over the great periods of Western music history.

From Middle Ages to Renaissance: mainly in the Churches

The music that we know today as the classical one descends mainly of cultured religious music, especially of the Christian. For many centuries the Church, especially the Catholic Church, was the greatest guardian and producer of classical music.

In Catholic rites, to praise God was (and is) the ceremonial focus. It was expected (and still is expected) from those present an attentive reserve, a reverential silence, modesty, and temperance. This is why the garments had (and have) the obliteration of individuality as their main objective.

It was the music and not the musicians who exalted the Divine; just as the church itself exalted it, with its materiality and architectural majesty, pictorial.

Classical concert music has inherited this tradition, so the color of the costume most common to musicians is black.

In short, we can say that in the first centuries of Western music, from the tenth to the thirteenth century, the faithful and musicians (who were themselves faithful) dressed to commune and submit to Providence. To imagine all this, it is important to keep in mind that this musical production was aimed at enlightenment, not entertainment.

From Baroque to Classicism: courtier houses

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, classical music left the churches and headed for the residences of the nobles. As a direct consequence of the great changes that Europe underwent, the rite of listening to classic concert songs changed, just as the costumes changed together. It also changed the main purpose of music, which became the entertainment of European courtiers.

The courtiers listened to music in their homes. In two ways: at dinners and the like, and in private concerts.

That is, they listened to a lot of music in the same way that so many people do even today: while they eat. Functional music, therefore.

Although they had good manners and protocols, they were, after all, in houses, not kneeling in an imposing church. Mozart and contemporaries knew that their musical performances could be interspersed with conversations, dishes, cutlery, bowls and everything else that makes up the soundscape of meals.

These people also listened to music in private recitals.

These were special events, even though they did not happen with the audience in absolute silence, nor in religiously reverential silence.

Adults and children wore clothing, makeup and accessories to match the glamor of the event and to project or reaffirm a social position with which they wished to be identified by their peers (similar to today’s events, by the way).

Romanticism: concert halls

In Romanticism classical music became the focus of the rites in which it was performed, keeping with the secularization in progress in the society that produced it. The music and the musician then became protagonists of this society.

This change led to the emergence of concert halls in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Liszt, besides being a genius of piano, composition and a performer like few, was adored and worshiped by the European public, that fiercely disputed place in his concerts, to which they went with clothes chosen judiciously. He is famous for the masculine and mysterious manner in which he would dresses and relates to his audience.

What remained for the history of music is that Liszt awakened a level of dazzle that in the twentieth century would be characteristic of pop stars like Elvis Presley. By the time of Liszt, the purpose of music was consolidated as entertainment.

But even in the nineteenth-century people would go out and attend operas in a stir that today we would recognise more in food sales fairs.

It is said that in 1882 the composer Richard Wagner scolded the audience of Bayreuth in a performance of the opera Parsifal. Hard to prove that this happened, however, it is highly feasible that it did, because the public music hierarchy was clearly changing.

According to the article The History of Concert Etiquette, Abridged by Crystal Chan, Gustav Mahler, with his Kindertotenlieder (Songs for the Death of Children) in 1905, was the first to specify in a score that the audience should not applaud the songs individually, noting that these were a unique set, and making it clear musicians should not be hindered – as we can see in the image highlighted below.

At this point in the history of European music and society, we can say that the public appreciation of music was changing. It was the musician, the individual musician, who was the object of worship.

The musician was no longer the medium, but the ultimate purpose, a purpose in itself.

These five songs were thought to be a whole, complete and indivisible, and their continuity must be preserved (also avoiding interruptions such as applause at the end of each song). [translated by composer Flávio Oliveira]

Twentieth century: concert halls become “churches”

In the twentieth century, there was the joining of the reverential posture that was once a religious thing, and which was now destined for music, with the level of worship of the musician that arose in Romanticism.

The audience and the classical musicians dressed and behaved willingly accepting that the music is the protagonist most of the time, leaving to the soloists the individual prominence emphasised precisely by their attire.

It was agreed that it was only applauded at the end of the songs and not at the end of their parts, with the exception of the operas, a situation that accepted well applause and effusive congratulations (“bravo”) after the soloist excerpts, the arias.

There was a progressive (if not a rampant) worship of the musician. Thus appeared the musician seen as demigods, the musician who influences national elections, the musician who speaks by international associations of countries. An example of this is the tenor Luciano Pavarotti (and figures such as Bono Vox). These musicians were listened to by billions of people (as when the Three Tenors sang at the closing ceremonies of the 1994 Football World Cup in the United States) and achieved economic and social power as never before.

In twentieth century  it appears the first professional musician who became a billionaire directly due to its musical production. And there was some more.

Século XXI: classical shows

Even with orchestras and concert halls repeatedly saying that there are no (restrictive) dress codes and practically playing in a simple suit, often without the vest – the piece that would originally make up the trio that forms the complete ensemble that is the suit – there are people who, like Regent Baldur Brönnimann, credit faults of classical music as a whole to the way classical musicians dress. In his article, Ten things we should change in classical music concerts Brönnimann states: “I don’t think the perception of an orchestra changes by simply playing in colored shirts, but tail suits are definitely out. Too 19th century. There are classy and much-better looking suit options around”.

Fortunately, there are also people who argue that classical music can continue to be what it has been over the centuries we know. This is what the composer Aaron Gervais defended in his article Concerts of classical music are great – stop apologizing for them. “These days, everything is informal. Especially here in San Francisco, it’s not even safe to assume people will dress up for weddings. So when classical ensembles put on their penguin suits, it makes the concert stand out from everything else. And when it comes to entertainment choices, people go for things that stand out.” Gervais highlights in the same article the success of the camera group Elevate, which insists on a strict dress code for its musicians. Elevate has won a loyal audience “not by making things convenient, but by demanding that the audience rises to its standard”.

According to Gervais: “As I wrote some time ago, you will never hit a Netflix in terms of ease and accessibility. There is too much competition for people’s time. You have to compete in exclusivity”. With the Digital Concert Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic looks at this situation. The application has brought classical music to the world of video on demand and, in the Netflix way, to streaming. Televisions, computers, mobiles, and tablets are the likely best orchestra in the world. Still, what you have for DCH is the transfer of a digital file. There is no 4k that replaces the experience of listening to music with sound in its purest and real immateriality.

Speaking of digital files, it should be remembered, according to Gervais – but now quoting the article The classic is not dead, and stop comparing it with pop already: classical music is at risk too in the by itself malfunctioning CD market; it only sells more than jazz.

Another current demand for classical music concert halls is that they incorporate some technological novelties and entertainment habits common to other styles of music, such as the consumption of drinks during the show, extravagant lighting effects, video projection, etc.

I do not doubt that classical music concerts will benefit from some (not all of them, not none) technologies. Classical music also has the advantage of being able to choose when and what technology to adopt, as there are other styles of music and other types of musicians experimenting and testing it; and, in practice, being guinea pigs of the experiments they choose to do. This is the case of electronic pop music, which is at the forefront of the incorporation of non-musical technological elements, and continues to evolve in this direction, as shown by Vas Panagiotopoulos in The History (and Future) of Live Music.

It is very likely that even someone who has never been to a concert has heard at least a lot of music derived from classical music, whether in movies, TV series or in electronic games, etc. In fact, video game music is the soundtrack of a generation. This incipient contact can be harnessed to bring youngsters into concert halls, as have done orchestras that play music made for games or movies. In a considerable sum of these concerts, there is also traditional classical music.

Another doubt that pervades current reality comes from the omnipresence of devices with poor sound reproduction quality. Will this be bad for music that excels in musical and sound quality? Or, on the contrary, will it awaken an audience that would want the better quality?

On one hand, we can assume that music influences people and societies, on the other hand, we can admit that music is modified because people and societies change. So it is genuine to fear that if the classical concert experience loses all its identity, perhaps it not only does not win a new audience but also loses people used to the traditional concerts. The question that these changes will answer is: for a concert of classical music, how much does music matter in comparison to everything else?

Say ¡Holla! to fellow attendees, subscribers, and sponsors

Now let’s go to the main subject: how to dress for a classic concert today?

Comfortable; also respectful

There are three very simple limits you should consider to dress up for a classical music concert:

  • the boundaries laid out by the concert halls (usually on their websites);
  • what common sense recognizes as decent;
  • and legal limits.

Believe me, because that’s what Brazilian orchestras and orchestras from abroad, concert halls, and writers say (and they say it so similar to the way everyone else says it makes us think of the late-20th-century American poet, Copy McPasteson). They say something like this:

It is important that the audience feels comfortable. Most people consider that going to a classical music concert is a memorable event and tend to dress for the occasion. Some people come to the hall directly from work, dressed in professional business attire. Formal attire – evening gowns and tuxedos – is generally worn only to gala events and to fundraising days.

Some go further and even say there is no dress code.

Often concert halls and orchestras also ask for some decorum. For example, the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra (Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira – OSB), located in the sunny and beachy Rio de Janeiro, asks the public to avoid wearing shorts, flip-flops, and swimwear.

The Austin Symphony also asks the public to be moderate in the use of perfumes. They argue that too many smells can disrupt the delight of those close to the fragrant person, and may disrupt even the delight of this very perfumed person. Well, picturesque and funny that this request is, we can say that it would be worse if they had to ask the public to use (more) perfume.

We can conclude that regarding concerts to concerts and operas – which is the context we are considering – you should dress comfortably, and you should try to prevent others from being disturbed by your presence.

As the canon male fashion reporter, Gay Talese put it: “I dress as a sign of respect for whom I will interview, whomever the interviewee is.” Following this good lesson, we can arrive at this synthesis: let us all dress to show respect for the people who will see us, whomever they may be.

And it really makes sense that we take care of our own comfort while respecting the comfort of other people: you go to a concert to enjoy the music. For this, here are some simple and practical choices.

Objects: Take and keep the minimum

I advise that you have where to store your personal objects, such as wallet, mobiles (and accessories), keys, etc. If your outfit does not have pockets, take a bag. There are also handbag options for men. If you choose to wear clothes with pockets, consider that many concert halls are old and have smaller seats than, for example, new movie halls. Hand-holding objects commonly cause noises. Once I saw a boy all confused trying to decide whether to hold his belongings or his girlfriend’s hands. It is almost never necessary to carry a large set of keys into the concert hall.

Fabrics: go suave

Noises can also come from the fabrics of clothing. Thick synthetic materials are noisy. Most concert halls have lockers in which you can leave raincoats, for example. Well, even Bruce Wayne leaves his cape when he goes to concerts. And it’s not just to avoid noise, it’s for you to feel comfortable. There are long concerts – two hours of hassle is too much hassle.

Fitting: minus is minus

Even the best fabric in the world is perceived as a hassle if the clothing is too tight.

To the one who lifts weights: the results of the hours at the gym can wait to be displayed. Take it easy, we understand your pride.

Too much skin is also upsetting. A short skirt can put intrusive looks at intimate things in a modest context.

Perhaps we can speculate that, in an ideal world, one could go to classical concerts wearing a pajama suit.

Context: only the prima donna should look like the prima donna

Professional venues and typical concert figures are few, typical, predictably dressed, and have specific functions in that context. It is very important to consider whom they are before choosing what to wear. A true story: I witnessed a poorly clad young man very much similar to the theater information staff. While he waited for the concert to start or someone to arrive (I did not know for sure), he was pestered several times by people asking about the location of their seats and things like that.

Other typical figures: maestro and his mighty suits; soloists and their bright clothes; musicians and their black suits with pre-Armani shoulder pads or black robes in general; organizers of external parking areas; internal area organizers.

Unless you deliberately want to be confused with these figures, it is wise to dress differently from them. I myself, oblivious to this aspect, was once led by a security guard to the entrance of the musicians when he was calming a little confusion in the entrance queue, and I ended up missing half of a concert that I had been longing to see.


Clothes cannot be an impediment for you to go to a concert. There is no digital experience that replaces the magnitude of true live music.

In fact, nothing should be an impediment for you to attend classical music concerts, because this song offers unique experiences!

Especially if you are young, going to classical concerts brings advantages to conversations and conviviality. It brings advantages even to love matters loving: knowledge and intelligence always help with flirting. In fact, they always help with everything. By going to these concerts, you will stand out among those who don’t, because these young people, for the moment, are the majority. Maybe that person (you know who) will even get more interested in you when you mention how fun it was to go to that beautiful concert hall to listen to such a cool repertoire.

If you have questions about how to dress, go to the halls anyway and see what kind of clothes people have been choosing. There are always viable options, whatever your style. For example, as Eleonore von Breuning knew, “one of the most admirable girls in Bonn”, Beethoven loved Turkish Angoras cats wool knitted vest.


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4 comentários sobre “How to dress to attend a classical music concert

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