How to Dress for the Opera

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How to Dress for the Opera
How to Dress for the Opera

Attending the opera is a fun experience and an excuse to get all dressed up. What you wear depends on the opera house’s dress code and the show itself. For a more formal opera, opt for an elegant gown or tuxedo. If the opera house is more casual, go for a classy, professional vibe instead. Now let the show begin!

EditPlanning Your Outfit

Check out what other guests have worn to determine the dress code. Dress codes are less and less common these days at opera houses. However, some still do require a certain level of formality, whether it’s business casual or even black tie. Look on the opera house’s website or browse social media to see what past guests have worn to that particular venue.

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For example, the Met has an Instagram account called “Last Night at the Met” (@lastnightatthemet) that showcases styles worn by attendees.

You can also call the front desk to ask what their rules are.

If you aren’t sure of the dress code, always err on the side of more formal.

Dress more extravagantly if the opera is on a weekend night. The day and time of the show will affect how formal the opera is. Weekend and evening shows tend to be dressier whereas weekday or matinee shows are more casual. For example, you likely wouldn’t wear a floor-length gown to an 11 a.m. showing on a Tuesday.[1]

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Depending on the theater, a weekday matinee show could be as informal as a business casual dress code. You might see women in pantsuits or blouses and pencil skirts, for example.

The location and show itself can also affect the dress code. For instance, a fancy opera house in Vienna will be more formal than an opera being put on at the local college.

Pick out a creative costume if there’s a theme night for your show. While dressing up in costume is not typical, some opera houses will host special theme nights. For example, if you’re attending “Pirates of Penzance,” you might wear a full pirate costume or sea wench dress. Call the box office ahead of time or check the opera house’s website to determine if there’s a theme.[2]

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Even if there’s no theme, you can still get outfit inspiration from the show. For instance, wear a Japanese-inspired gown with floral embellishments or drape a kimono over your outfit to a showing of “The Mikado.”

EditChoosing Formal Attire

Wear a well-tailored suit or even a tuxedo to look sharp and put-together. Formal suits are always appropriate for the opera, no matter the dress code. Go the traditional route with a black, single-breasted jacket or choose something more contemporary like a midnight blue jacket with a shawl lapel. Regardless of the style, make sure both the jacket and pants fit properly.[3]

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If you want to stand out, opt for a velvet smoking jacket in a pretty pastel hue or jewel tone.

Women can wear pantsuits or tuxedos, too, for an edgier, modern look.

Consider renting a tuxedo as a cheaper option if you don’t plan to wear it again.

Rock a little black dress if you’re unsure of the dress code. You can’t go wrong with a classic LBD. For a more formal option, look for a sleek, figure-hugging maxi dress. Or channel your inner Audrey Hepburn with a boat-neck black sheath.

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Add visual interest by picking a black dress that has different textures like lace or velvet or fun accents like a pearl-studded collar.

Slip into an evening gown for a super formal affair. The color, fit, and style are all up to you and your personal style. Go daring with a plunging neckline or cutouts, add a playful touch with embellishments like bead work or gold stitching.[4]

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If you’re a woman who prefers pants, a satin jumpsuit is a pretty pick.

Avoid too many sequins or rhinestones, neon colors, or cheaper fabrics like tulle or polyester.

Put on a cocktail dress for an elegant vibe that’s a little more casual. If your venue doesn’t call for black tie, a flirty cocktail dress might be more appropriate. Choose a slinky one-shoulder frock that hits at the knee or a jewel-toned skater dress that cinches your waist, for example.

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Shorter dresses should be long enough that you can sit comfortably in them without tugging at them. After all, you’ll be seated for hours.

Pick 1 statement-making accessory to be the focal point of your outfit. If there was ever a time to break out that chunky collar necklace or glitzy chandelier earrings, it’s at the opera. Keep it classy by limiting yourself to one bold piece, though.[5]

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For men, sport a top hat or snazzy bowtie. Just remember to take your hat off inside the opera house if you wear one.

Elbow-length satin gloves are also a traditional opera accessory. Match them to the color of your dress or choose a complementary color. For example, pearly white gloves looks pretty with a forest green gown.

Go all out with flashy yet formal footwear for an eye-catching accent. Since you’ll be sitting down for most of the night, you don’t have to worry about wearing shoes that are practical. Instead, pick sky-high stilettos if you’re a woman or patent leather Oxfords if you’re a man.[6]

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Polish leather shoes before wearing them so they shine and don’t look scuffed.

For women, if you plan to wear high heels, try them on with your dress beforehand so you can hem the dress to the height of the shoes.

If you’re wearing a plain black dress or simple black tux, choose shoes with playful extras like a loafer with funky leather detailing or a heel with pom poms or glitter.

Bring a piece of outerwear that matches your outfit to stay warm. Opera houses can get cold, so come prepared with an extra layer you can put on if necessary. Choose an item that’s as formal as the rest of your look. Some options include a lace shawl, a wool peacoat, or a long cape.[7]

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A faux fur stole adds an extra chic touch to a dress.

Leave the puffer coats, worn cardigans, and denim jackets at home.

EditPicking a Casual Outfit

Pair pieces of high-quality clothing that are structured and sophisticated. Your goal is a business casual vibe. For women, tuck a ruffle-neck blouse into a pencil skirt or slip into a jersey shift dress. For men, opt for the classic combo of a button-down shirt with trousers or chinos.[8]

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Choose clothes made out of nicer fabrics like wool or cashmere. Check that the stitching is clean and there are no frays or pilling on sweaters in particular.

Women who want to wear pants should look for professional pieces, like pleated slacks or trendy ankle pants.

Toss on a fitted blazer in case it’s chilly inside the opera house. Even in the summer, bring an extra layer to stay warm during the show. To match your business casual outfit, you can’t go wrong with a navy or black blazer. For men, a tweed sports jacket also looks appropriate.[9]

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Get your jacket tailored to fit so it doesn’t look sloppy.

For women, a blazer in a fun pattern like leopard print or one with lace detailing adds visual interest to a plain black dress. above the top of your hand.

Body: The jacket lapels should lie flat when the jacket is buttoned and there shouldn’t be any wrinkles or strain.[10]}}

Wear conservative footwear that complements the rest of your outfit. Men can wear leather loafers or short dress boots. Women can wear ballet flats or classic pumps. Your shoes should match how formal or casual your clothes are. For example, if you’re wearing a sheath dress, black peep-toe heels are a better pick than sparkly stilettos.[11]

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If you’re wearing heels, stick to a pair that’s high. They’re the right blend of chic and traditional.

For men, basic doesn’t have to mean boring. Look for casual shoes that have fun accents like wingtips or detailed stitching.

Keep accessories minimal and understated for a classy look. Avoid the bold baubles and oversized earrings if you’re dressing more casually. Instead, opt for simple pieces like gold studs for women or a muted tied for men.[12]

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If you’re bringing a bag, choose something small like a leather wristlet or sleek clutch.

Other jewelry options for women include a pretty charm bracelet, a decorative brooch, or a dainty pendant necklace.

EditAdding the Final Touches

Apply 1 to 2 pumps of a light body spray if you want to smell nice. You’ll be sitting elbow-to-elbow in the opera house so be respectful of your fellow attendees and avoid strong fragrances. A light spritz of body spray, which isn’t as heavy as perfume or cologne, will keep you smelling fresh without overpowering your seat neighbors.[13]

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Spray the scent on your pulse points like your wrists, neck, or behind your knees. The heat in these areas will diffuse the fragrance better.

A good rule of thumb is that only people within an arm’s length of you should be able to smell your scent.

Wear your hair in a sleek, clean style. No matter how formal or casual your outfit is, your hair should be combed and styled. Men can slick back their hair with a little bit of gel or part it to the side. Women can sport a smooth blowout, an elegant updo like a French twist, or classic curls.

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Women should avoid any styles that add height like a topknot or high ponytail. The taller your hair is, the harder it is for the person seated behind you to see the stage.

Braids add a romantic vibe to any outfit. Try French braids or a chunky side braid, for example.

Play up your favorite feature with makeup if you choose to wear it. The trick to glamorous makeup is choosing one area to highlight and keeping the rest of your face neutral. For example, if you love your lips, accent them with a bold lipstick and just swipe some mascara on your eyelashes so your lips stand out.[14]

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If you want your eyes to shine, try a sultry smokey eye with heavy eyeliner, mascara, and shadow. Stick to a nude lip to avoid competing with your lids.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with glitter, bright colors, and fake eyelashes for extra drama.

EditSources and Citations

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How to Dress for the Opera