Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reader Questions: The Symphony

Lexus Liberal wrote:

"Would you kindly do a piece on the suitable attire for attending a Boston Ballet or Symphony event? Preferably differentiating between opening night, Fri/Sat night and Matinee? It seems that the average Bostonian is either over dressed or in Walmart clothes. Is there a middle ground that regulars know about?"

My friend Plum (who is far smarter than I am, especially on these matters) came to my rescue and responded.  Plum wrote:

Back when the attendees of the ballet and symphony were all part of the same small society, a single unspoken code of dress and behavior held sway, at least over the good seats. The institution's role as a social arena was as important as its artistic function. Now the audience is fragmented, actually there to see the show, and the social role of the place is vestigial since the groups present have no interest in each other. 

So, it seems to me that one's attire must either be about engaging one's own subgroup (trying to raise the standard, for instance) or engaging a feeling that transcend the sub-groups (dressing the way people used to dress for the symphony even if nobody else there will). In both cases, in the absence of a single society, I think the crux is to set the tone of your own experience of the outing, and only secondarily to reach out to the other people in attendance. In more practical terms, either split the difference between what you find to be overdressed and wal-mart (and look like a music student or an academic), or pick a vibe you find appealing given the current senselessness of the milieu and go for it.


Well said, Plum.  When I go to symphony hall (or any theater) I wear a jacket and tie, or a suit, regardless of what I will see or hear.  Most importantly, I am grateful that people are attending at all, so I give them some slack on looking bad.  Slow and steady encouragement by example is the best approach.

Now it's over.


  1. Hear hear.

    I love that people are there in the first place. Music is my first love, and I'm always delighted to see the variety of people that are drawn to see our symphony (Des Moines). There are a number of people who dress for the occasion, though there are just as many who look like they stopped in on the way to a ball game. Still, glad that the would-be sports fans are there too.


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