The days of formal evening attire in the dress circle may be over, and the theatre is certainly no longer the exclusive property of the rich upper class. Yet there is no doubt that a trip to the theatre is an event and some thought should go into dressing for the occasion.
Although the major Australian theatres do not provide dress codes for their patrons, some unspoken rules and conventions still exist. Of course rules are meant to be broken and many audience members ignore convention and wear what they like, naively believing no one will notice them anyway as they will be sitting in the dark.
This approach ignores two important points; firstly that social interaction with your fellow theatregoers cannot be avoided before and after the performance, or during interval. Secondly, depending on the size and scale of the performance, there is a chance that those on stage could see you, and no actor wants to be distracted by outlandish, Gaga-inspired, attire.
For those who are not regular theatre patrons here are some commonsense tips to ensure you dress appropriately for every theatrical occasion:
• If attending a gala performance or opening night dress codes are often specified and should be taken into account. These events usually require patrons to revert to the theatre dressing of old – for men this means a lounge suit, or at least shirt and slacks, and for women this means after-five wear such as a dress, or skirt and top ensemble.
• Dress respectably and dress for comfort; theatres are more respectable than nightclubs and as such unnecessary bearing of flesh is a no-no. Similarly, you should keep in mind that you will be seated for a reasonable (or unreasonable depending on your enjoyment of the performance) period of time and comfortable clothing is essential. Besides, other audience members will not appreciate it if you are constantly rustling and adjusting your clothing.
• Always keep in mind that climate control will be in use during the performance. While it may be warm outside, it is best to bring a jacket to avoid discomfort from the air-conditioning.
• Keep your hair sleek and simple and if you feel the need to wear any sort of head attire such as a hat it is best to remove it while seated. Often we forget that someone is sitting behind us and good theatre etiquette requires you do not obstruct your fellow patrons’ view, be it with a hat, Afro, or beehive-inspired hairdo.
Other than these commonsense pointers, it is fair to say that you are free to wear whatever you see fit, and as many regular theatre-goers will be aware there is always a variety of dress codes implemented at each performance. If you are unsure and are looking to blend in, keep in mind the venue and the time of the performance.
As a general rule matinee performances are quite casual, whereas evening performances are often used as an occasion to dress up, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays. Also, a performance at your local community theatre is a more casual affair than a performance at one of the big inner-city theatres.
So whether you choose to view the theatre as a night out or a non-event, you can rest assured that you won’t be denied entry for not adhering to strict dress codes. Just be mindful of your fellow patrons and dress respectably and for comfort. So long as you keep the elaborate and outlandish dressing to the performers, you should be right.