What's your opera dress code?

What's your opera dress code?

Jenna Simeonov

We came upon this article via The Telegraph, about Grange Park Opera’s new venue at West Horsley Place, Surrey, and its revamped dress code. In the name of appealing to younger audiences, and perhaps to people who may consider opera-going to be an activity for the wealthy, the dress codes has been relaxed, with allowances made for things like jeans and trainers.

Under the “What to wear” section of Grange Park’s website, it currently reads, “Most guests prefer to wear evening dress (black tie/long or short dress). Men who do not wish to wear black tie may opt for any stylish alternative. A shawl or wrap is useful for the cooler evenings.”

Perhaps it was taken slightly out of context, but Wasfi Kani of Grange Park Opera defended the allowance of more casual outfits by saying to The Telegraph, “Sometimes trainers are more expensive than my shoes. So we mustn’t judge trainers.”

That’s the funny thing about opera dress codes: there’s an insinuation of wealth that comes with dressing up. Of course, savvy shoppers know how to pull themselves together for a cocktail or black tie party without entirely blowing their savings accounts (up-top for Top Shop!). And there’s irony in the fact that young artists in the opera world are true experts of the outfit-that-looks-like-it-broke-the-bank.

It’s one of the biggest expenses that many young opera singers face in the early stages of their careers. The opera world is often full of luxurious theatres, expensive concessions, and wealthy patrons; but in truth, the vast majority of the artists making it all happen are not in the wealthy camp.

They spend staggering proportions of their income on a great pair of shoes, a well-tailored suit, and a few great dresses that they hope will carry them through seasons of donor dinners, after-show cocktail parties, and other events where the starving artists need to look anything but broke. (Even better are the young artists who are hired by patrons to perform at their private home parties, where they catch a whiff of hors d’oeuvres platters that cost more than their paycheques.)

A dress code that is, at its core, based on perception of wealth, is something that can leave a bad taste in the mouth, especially at events like the Glyndebourne Festival or a Metropolitan Opera opening night, where part of the experience is showing off your fancy digs. If jeans and trainers are alright because one could spotentially pend more on them than H&M dress pants, or those cheap, leather-esque pumps you can find at Primark, that’s sort of icky.

Dressing up for anything is totally fun, and if it adds to your operatic experience, have at it. We’ll admit to going the extra mile on opening night, or if we plan to have cocktails before or afterwards. But frankly, our vote always goes to outfits which are clean and flattering, with basically zero interest in how much it cost.

What do you think? Does a dress code lend respect for the art form? Is it archaic and classist? Let us know in the comments below!

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