Getting dressed up for the opera can either be a pain or a pleasure depending on the person and the specific event. Who hasn’t shown up to a performance overdressed or underdressed? Here’s a guide to dressing for the opera, based on responses from various opera companies around the country, so you can look perfectly in place as an opera attendee.
Opening night or gala
Let’s start with the most formal: opening nights and galas. According to the Met, attendees tend to get the most dressed up for these events. You will probably see black tie attire, though it is not required. LA Opera suggests more formal dresses and spiffy suits with bowties for these nights. Sometimes opera goers attend post-performance events where black tie is required, but more than likely, not everybody will be in black tie.
I would recommend a gown with subtle details or a fancy cocktail dress. Here are some chic options for an opening night or gala that will help you feel perfectly chic:
Weekend evening performance
A weekend evening performance that is not opening night is a slight step down from the last section. Formal cocktail dresses, embellished jumpsuits, or slacks are great choices for ladies and slacks, shirt, and tie are good for men – suit coat optional. A male audience member mentioned in Houston Grand Opera's “What to wear to the opera” video that he typically dresses no less formal than business casual, but not black tie. The Met recommends audience members wear comfortable clothing appropriate for a professional setting.
Here are some examples of outfits appropriate for weekend, evening performances:
Weekday and matinee performances
Weekday and matinee performance dress is similar to business casual. Cocktail dresses are still a great option, but you don’t need to break out the sparkly or shiny dresses. Think more along the lines of what you might wear to an interview or a less formal audition. Arizona Opera recommends dressing as if you're attending church. Pants are totally acceptable; you’ll probably see jeans, but slacks are probably a better choice. Men can wear nice jeans or slacks with a dress shirt.
Here are some stylish and comfortable options that would be great to wear to one of these performances:
Lower level company performance
When you’re attending an opera performance at a lower level house, dress will be most similar to the weekday and matinee performance dress. You don’t need to wear anything too fancy, but showing a little bit of effort is a nice gesture.
What not to wear
When asked what is inappropriate to wear at the opera, most companies state that they have no dress code. LA Opera asks attendees to refrain from wearing any headpiece that might obstruct the view of other audience members. Houston Grand Opera welcomes their audience members to dress comfortably, but warn that you might feel out of place wearing shorts or flip flops. Arizona Opera is open to all styles as long as the dress is tasteful. Each company stressed that it’s important to dress comfortably. Remember you’re going to sit for 2-4 hours, so you may want to reconsider if you’re wearing something uncomfortably tight or something that needs adjusting every few minutes.
Arizona Opera stated that you can never be overdressed for the opera. That's part of the fun! If you're in the mood to break out a fur or ballgown, go for it. Additionally, you'll occasionally see attendees dress in the style of the opera. Both Arizona Opera and LA Opera mentioned they've had patrons dress in costume. For example: this past season, LA Opera set The Abduction from the Seraglio in the 1920s. Guests were encouraged to join in the fun and dress in costume, and it was a big hit.
More style ideas
For more ideas, the Met has a website dedicated to the audience’s fashion: lastnightatthemet.com. The fashions featured tend to be more formal on this site, and you can peruse it simply for the celebrity spotting. But seriously, check this site out! It is amazing and truly exemplifies that there is no dress code when attending the opera.
LA Opera has a Pinterest board filled with appropriate outfit ideas: What to Wear. The pins posted are a bit more casual- probably as a reflection of the laid-back style of LA.
Dressing up for the opera can be a fun way to enjoy the show, but it's most important you wear what suits your style and makes you feel comfortable.