In the last year, I've seen about 70 Broadway shows, which means I've seen thousands of "Broadway outfits." And I don't mean the costumes that actors are wearing on stage. I'm talking about the clothes that people wear when they're going to the theater.
Even in that short time, it seems like the unofficial dress code has changed, and I have questions about it. Since we're all theater lovers here at Show-Score, I'm curious to know... Have you been noticing trends in the "Broadway dress code"? Are there outfits that you especially love to wear to a show or would never think of wearing?
Let's discuss this in the comments and see if we can sort out the unwritten rules of audience attire. Better yet, please share some photos of your best Broadway threads. Alert us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and we’ll share them far and wide!
I'll kick it off with a few things I've observed and a few things I've learned from experience...
1. "Dressing Down" Is Catching Up
About a year ago, I noticed that many patrons wore some iteration of what I like to call “one step down from business casual.” To me, that seemed perfect. Recently, though, I have seen increasingly casual choices, like torn jeans, club t-shirts, and flip-flops. Were they always there and I just didn't notice, or has something happened in the last 12 months that makes a nice pair of slacks or a sundress out of style?
I think if you wear a nice pair of dark jeans with a blazer or simple dress with flats, then you can still look spruced up. But if you're wearing tattered shorts, are you really honoring the work that Broadway artists are putting into their craft? That's why I prefer the "one step down from business casual" look myself. I want my attire to tell the creative team, “I respect your craft and am ready to soak in all that you have for me.” Of course, if you prefer to pull out all of the stops during your next theater-going adventure, there are definitely shows where that works. For example, the immersive nature of "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" makes it the perfect show to dress up for.
Which leads me to one of the fashion lessons I learned firsthand this year...
2. Sometimes, You Need a Change of Clothes
In January I discovered that the cancellation line for “Dear Evan Hansen” was remarkably short for a weekday performance, so I took my place in line at 6:30pm. Within thirty minutes, a kind patron gave me an extra ticket. Yes, he quite seriously handed me a free ticket. As shocked and excited as I felt, I was a bit embarrassed. My unexpected friend was wearing a suit jacket and nice slacks; I had donned less-than-casual clothes, as I had just left a long day of writing and producing.
That violated my personal dress code for the theater. So in the future, I plan to keep a light sundress or classy button-up in my bag whenever I consider stopping by a cancellation line or trying my hand at a lottery. I want to be prepared for good luck.
Speaking of being prepared, here's another scenario I've learned to watch out for…
3. Comfortable Shoes Are a Must For Standing Room
Fashion-wise, this is the most important tip I can offer. In February, I made the mistake of wearing three-inch tall heels to attend a performance of "Kinky Boots", standing room only. While standing allowed me to dance a bit more, my feet were torn apart by the climax of “Soul of a Man" in Act Two. The takeaway: if you know you are getting standing room only tickets, wear sensible shoes. No matter how good the show is, you don't want a harrowing walk home.
This might seem like a lot to remember, but anytime I feel overwhelmed by the style demands of my theater habit, I remember the other rule I've adopted...
4. When in Doubt, Study Iain Armitage
Iain Armitage (also known as @IainLovesTheatre on social media) might be a younger kid, but he knows how to dress for success at a Broadway show. The bow ties. The jackets. The hats. Iain is an expert. For me, he has mastered the art of staying true to one’s own style in a Broadway house, and if he can do it, then I know I can.