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Registered User
(8/28/00 3:47:18 am)
orchestra dress codes
Can't believe what I read in The Times Newspaper a couple of days ago:Two articles.

August 23 2000
Cover up, conductor tells fat fiddlers BY DALYA ALBERGE, ARTS CORRESPONDENT
WEIGHTY women musicians should not bare flabby arms in sleeveless outfits when appearing on the concert platform. Nor should they show unsightly posteriors in unflattering trousers, a leading conductor said yesterday.
The American Leonard Slatkin, principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, said: "I tend to favour covered arms, especially among the violinists. You don't want to see too much flapping about." He added: "Then there's the problem of women in trousers. If you're slightly heavy in the rear end department, it does not look too good. Of course, not everyone acknowledges that and no one's going to tell them, which is why we need an across-the-board rule."
Women were not his only target. Turning his attention to the men, Slatkin said: "If . . . you're slightly overweight, the cummerbund will make you look even heavier. Actually, the only really important thing is that no one stands out and detracts from the music."
He voiced his concerns at a time when orchestras, and even soloists, are discarding black tails and gowns, recognising the allure of fashion in wooing younger audiences. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is allowing its female players to wear a politically correct trousered tuxedo; the Scottish Chamber Orchestra has them appearing in multicoloured "jewelled" jackets over black trousers or dresses. Slatkin, however, suggests that instrumentalists go back to a "relatively uniform look". His views found support from the cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber, who said: "If you've got 80 to 100 musicians on stage, they have to wear some kind of uniform. Otherwise it's distracting. You find yourself focusing on how many dots someone has got on a dress."
However, this month's Classic FM magazine warns the traditionalists: "There is a danger that the orchestra in its tail coats and starched white shirt fronts may come to be seen as nothing more than a fancy dress anachronism."
Yesterday, the women vigorously defended their "dress rights". Jane Glover, who is conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra in Gilbert and Sullivan at the BBC Proms on Saturday, said: "Women look great in trousers . . . Some frocks people wear also make people look frightful. You can't say 'trousers bad, dresses good' in a 1984 George Orwell way." She dismissed the concept of a regimented visual look: "That's a horrible idea. Most players would agree." She added: "The most important thing is the music. The second thing is that the players should be comfortable. Both men and women have been rather bound at the neck - the wretched bow tie and stiff collars. Musicians are athletes, not tailors' dummies. They sweat a lot. They work hard. It is terribly important that they should be comfortable."
While accepting that black was more appropriate for a requiem, she said: "If it's a jolly programme, let's have fun with it." Cowen Margaret, a rank and file violinist with the English Chamber Orchestra, said that trousers looked "nice, as long as they are not tight jeans". She agreed, however, that arms should be covered up: "I think women in bare arms don't look good, especially the bowing arm, as you see the muscles wobbling."
A spokesman for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra said that jewelled jackets were worn in summer, as they were perceived as "festive". The rest of the year, the players were in black. She took issue with Slatkin's views. "I don't see why women should look worse in trousers than men," she said.
This is not the first time that orchestral dress has sparked debate. Last year, musicians from the English National Opera were in revolt after a violinist was told that she had to wear trousers to perform at the Millennium Eve performance in the Dome. Orchestras, keen to avoid visual distraction from the purity of their playing, have always been more conservative than solo stars such as the violinist Vanessa-Mae, once photographed in a wet T-shirt. The violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the world's greats, is promoted as the first of the sexy fiddle-players, appearing in strapless Dior gowns. She has always denied that she trades on her image. "Why not wear strapless gowns? I like the violin to be next to my skin. The music is the most important thing."
One of Britain's foremost violinists, Tasmin Little, spoke of the importance of a concert's visual presentation, from the lighting to dress. But she lamented society's emphasis on how someone looked "spilling over into classical music". A violinist such as Ida Haendel, 72, might not get as many concerts as she should because people were more interested in seeing young talent, "particularly if they happen to be pretty".
The organist Jennifer Bate said that repertoire and a concert hall influenced her choice of outfit. If performing in a church, she was careful not to offend anyone, whereas at the Wigmore Hall she recently wore "something really revealing, a décolléte back and front" to challenge the instrument's "dusty, musty loft image". She warned those exposing audiences to bare arms: "The older you get, the better you have to dress."
Some orchestras now offer guidelines. The BBC Philharmonic, which is about to return its women players to dressing in black after three years in aquamarine dresses, is asking them to avoid bare shoulders because they draw attention to a single musician.
Nothing, however, can compete with an orchestra director who recently insisted that his female players did not wear underwear because it "spoilt the line of the dresses". A friend of one of the musicians said: "He even wanted to inspect everyone to ensure that they weren't."
August 23 2000
So what is the bottom line, Mr Blobby? BY RICHARD MORRISON
DOES it matter to music lovers how orchestras look? I vividly recall a Festival Hall concert played by the Berlin Philharmonic in the mid-Eighties. The players' suitcases had not arrived and they were forced to go on stage in ordinary clothes. Since the average German musician's idea of casual dress is a dark suit, polished shoes and sombre tie, the audience did not notice a tremendous difference. The Berliners, however, were clearly furious at this public humiliation. They laid into Brahms' Fourth Symphony with a fury that defied description. It was one of the finest concerts I have heard.
Some may feel that Mr Slatkin is unwise to pass comment on the appearance of others. The cruel wits of the British orchestral world have nicknamed him "Mr Blobby". Nevertheless he has reignited an old debate. In the early days of the Soviet Union, Russian orchestras advertised their solidarity with the proletariat by wearing overalls. They dispensed with conductors and decided each tempo by vote. Both innovations were short-lived.
Early in his career with the London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn started a trend for wearing polo-necked sweaters under his dinner jacket. In the mid-Sixties, this was considered rather chic and dangerous. In reality the only danger was that he would expire from hyperventilation.
Then several British orchestras went through a hilarious "May Ball" phase, forcing the women players to wear puffy, gaudily-coloured ballroom gowns. Nigel Kennedy introduced the distressed-punk look to classical concerts, about ten years after it had been abandoned elsewhere.
Anne-Sophie Mutter, the gorgeous German violinist, has worn a series of gravity defying strapless, backless gowns. She maintains that these help her bowing-arm technique.
The only posterior that the audience can usually see is the conductor's. Back to you, maestro.

Registered User
(8/28/00 6:49:25 am)
Re: orchestra dress codes
Interesting. Though I'm not sure why, if the article was about orchestral clothing, the paper kept citing the dress codes and opinions of soloists. I agree that flappy arms are a distraction and that a uniform dress code is important. But it's amusing to see people say "the music's what's important" to support diametrically opposite opinions. It's like the idiotic aphorism, "there are only two kinds of music; good and bad." As if there's any agreement on which genres go into which pile.

Liz Schneider
Registered User
(8/28/00 9:28:26 am)
one good solution?
I recently got hold of a catalogue intended for choruses, choirs, school performing groups etc (no, not band uniforms) . . . and I wondered if any orchestras had made the choice to have performers order from one source like this. I'm sure several such companies exist; this one is Tuxedo Wholesaler, Scottsdale, Arizona 1-800-828-2802. They have a range of formal attire for both sexes, including comfortable, tasteful and reasonably priced formals women can actually move in. Black, colors, black with some jewel tones or decorations, sheer jackets, etc.

We had a discussion about clothes last year and all agreed that some compromise is needed in individuality, if only to spare us extra worry, expense, arguments and mistakes. I'd love to be in a performing group which passed around a reasonably priced catalogue and said, "let's vote to select our top 3 or 4 choices from among these, and negotiate from there." Maybe you in orchestras can get your personnel manager on the mailing list for a wholesaler.

Registered User
(8/28/00 10:51:35 am)
Re: orchestra dress codes
It is true what Slatkin said, though I can't believe he said it. The point of an orchestra is to show off the music, not the musicians, so even if you can wear that kind of stuff and look good, you probably shouldn't. I agree with the standards, all black or black and white, personally. Our orchestra wears white shirts and black pants or skirts. One sixth grader, who obviously hadn't been paying attention (or wanted some attention himself), wore a blue shirt and khakis. He looked RIDICULOUS (and he was all anyone saw, so we all looked ridiculous).
And comfort is a worthless arguing point. It takes time (I think it took me a couple years), but you can find clothes in dress code that are comfortable and affordable.

Registered User
(8/28/00 11:04:41 am)
Re: one good solution?
If these conductors have such a beef with the orchestra members' concert dress, let them persuade management to bargain re it the next time contracts are negotiated, eh? Wonder how far they'd get?!



Edited by MaryK  at: 8/28/00 11:04:41 am

G M Stucka
Registered User
(8/28/00 11:08:17 am)
Re: Dress Code
CSO management suggested changing our dress code away from the traditional tails, etc. Many of us voted against it, citing that such uniforms are the last vestige of dignity that we may have. I'd like to think of concerts as special occasions and I don't mind donning tails as my "work clothes". Besides, I really don't believe that our appearance is the most significant reason that ticket sales are down. I think classical music's commercial problems are of a much "loftier" nature.

Registered User
(8/28/00 11:08:20 am)
Re: one good solution?
I do like that "no underwear" policy, though . . .

Registered User
(8/28/00 6:59:49 pm)
Why didn't we see that coming??? *sigh*

Ellen G 
Registered User
(8/28/00 8:08:42 pm)
Dressing up
I remember when I was younger, people dressed up more. While comfort makes sense in many instances nowadays, I still have a special place in my heart for that "night at the symphony" or a nice dress-up dinner. I know the food tastes the same, the music sounds the same, but there is an appeal about it for me. There is just something about the black and white -- it's classic, distinguished, and quite elegant. I hope they don't do away with it. My favorite animals are pandas, penguins...

The other side of the coin, I can see where it is ridiculously confining, but I just know when I'm sitting in the audience, the look is part of the whole experience. I don't think I'd feel the same about it if I was looking at a sea of colors and styles. Again, I think it's what you grow up with, and this is an image that is "tradition" sort of burned into my brain. I am resistant to change, as you know. A character flaw.

Registered User
(8/28/00 10:33:31 pm)
Re: Dressing up
I'm with you. I like the special occasion feeling of dressing up. I always regret having no occasion in my life to REEEEALLY dress up. Even all in black, I always wear my sparkly bracelet and clean all my jewelry for a concert. And now that my hair is all cut off, I'll probably even wear a pretty pin or two in it, come concert time! I wouldn't even WANT to do anything that would actually stick out, though.

I think the uniformity of traditional orchestra attire makes the group seem stronger and more coherent. And, I think the dressed-up uniform is important because it offers class and elegance.

For the December concert of one of my orchestras last year, the women were allowed to wear jewel-colored solid tops - but that was supposed to be scattered throughout the orchestra, lending a uniform look of festivity, just like multi-colored christmas lights. I thought that made sense, too.

Corrina Connor
Registered User
(8/29/00 3:22:48 am)
Re: Dressing up
I don't see anything wrong with the formal look - as Mr Stucka says, a concert is an occasion.

I do agree that women (and men as well) should make sure that their clothes fit! Maybe they should leave the skin to the soloist. I don't think having a set "uniform" for women is a good idea. Most choirs and orchestras I've seen with that always have about 5% looking OK and 95% looking terrible.

As long as there is some sort of "code" for the ladies - i.e. no shorter than elbow length sleeves, ankle lenght skirts or dresses or trousers it is fine. And as for flappy arms and large posteriors? Well, it's about how you feel, isn't it! And black is a slimming colour.

You men should just be greatful that you don't have to face such dilemmas ;)



Registered User
(8/29/00 6:18:38 am)
Re: Dressing up
I should clarify. When I say "uniform," I simply mean "code," as others may call it. Be it all black, white tops/ black bottoms with men in dark jackets, men in tuxes, whatever, I think it aids in the presentation.

Andrew Victor
Registered User
(8/29/00 8:01:57 am)
Re: Dressing up
I agree. When it's all black, nothing/ no one/ stands out and the music itself can be enjoyed more even by those who like to watch. I still, and always will, recall a concert I watched in which one of the violinists was a young woman, with slightly heavy legs, wearing a very mini skirt and playing with her legs crossed. (I was there as part of the auditoning process on the conductor - so I remember him - but the only other thing I remember is that mini skirt - and that the concert was good enough that we hired him for our community orchestra.)

It just feels special to play that way and draws the line I want between the presentation and the audience. (I even had a special set of studs and cuff links made up by an arisan in Toledo, Spain which shows a violin and bow done in the gold thread on black that is a typical craft of that town.)

And then, there is always the fact that if I had to, I could wear the tux as a waiter.


Registered User
(8/29/00 9:08:13 am)
Re: orchestra dress codes
Well, I was thinking about this as I drove in to work today. I think I've come up with the only fair and reasonable solution. Uniforms are a very good idea -- black jackets, white shirts, and black skirts and pants.

The descision on pants or skirts should be made by the instruments played, not depending on gender. I mean this is the year 2000, so the gender thing just doesn't work any more.

This is the way I would do it:
Conductor should wear pants, because a skirt could restrict the view of the musicians for the audience.

Cello players should wear pants since it is awkward to play a cello in a skirt.

Bass players should wear skirts so the fullness will hide as much of the ugly backstage stuff as possible.

First Violinists should wear skirts since it looks nice to have them sitting in the skirts at an angle, very proper.

Second Violinists will be in pants so we know who they are.

Viola players don't really need pants or skirts since they sit in the middle, and it would be a wast of money to buy them. We'll send them out in shirts only. Infact much of the orchestra is hidden and will only need tops.

Well, you can use your imagination on how the rest of the orchestra will be dressed.

Just a friendly proposal.


Laura Wichers
Registered User
(8/29/00 10:14:38 am)
Re: orchestra dress codes
"Bass players/First Violinists should wear skirts"
Not all of them would, but I'll bet many of the guys would object.

"much of the orchestra is hidden and will only need tops"
Sounds like a plan OyOy would approve of.


          New orchestra dress codes-emerald  -(14)-8/28/00 3:47:18 am  
               New Re: orchestra dress codes-jekerry 8/29/00 9:08:13 am  
                    New Re: orchestra dress codes-Laura Wichers 8/29/00 10:14:38 am  
               New Re: orchestra dress codes-ollec 8/28/00 10:51:35 am  
               New Re: orchestra dress codes-Bob 8/28/00 6:49:25 am  
                    New one good solution?-Liz Schneider 8/28/00 9:28:26 am  
                         New Re: one good solution?-MaryK  8/28/00 11:04:41 am  
                              New Re: one good solution?-OyOy 8/28/00 11:08:20 am  
                                   New Why didn't we see that coming??? *sigh*-MaryK  -NT 8/28/00 6:59:49 pm  
                              New Re: Dress Code-G M Stucka 8/28/00 11:08:17 am  
                                   New Dressing up-Ellen G  8/28/00 8:08:42 pm  
                                        New Re: Dressing up-lblake  8/28/00 10:33:31 pm  
                                             New Re: Dressing up-Corrina Connor 8/29/00 3:22:48 am  
                                                  New Re: Dressing up-lblake  8/29/00 6:18:38 am  
                                                       New Re: Dressing up-Andrew Victor 8/29/00 8:01:57 am  
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