What to Wear to Opera

By Kathryn Walsh

Putting together a stylish outfit for a night at the opera

What to Wear to Opera

For the average person, going to the opera presents a rare opportunity to go all out, fashion-wise. Always dreamed of wearing a white tux with tails? Wear it to the opera. Tempted to don a fully sequined floor-length gown? Opera. Dying to wear black leather elbow-length gloves and a studded belt? You get the picture.

But taking in Tosca doesn't require you to pull out all the stops. You can go straight from a walking tour of New York City into the Met without changing clothes if that's what you prefer. Here's how to approach dressing for a big trip to the opera.

Do: dress up

Most opera companies adhere to loose dress codes, so you won't be turned away at the door if your khakis are deemed too casual. (That said, the standards tend to be a little higher in places like Paris than in smaller American cities.) But most of your fellow audience members, especially season ticket holders, will be dressed to the nines, so follow suit if you want to fit in.

What might that look like? It's up to you. A good rule of thumb is to dress like you're going to a formal wedding: think dark suit and tie, flowy pant suit, short cocktail dress or floor-length gown. Opting for something a little more casual, like dress pants and a sports coat or a skirt and blouse ensemble, is totally acceptable, too.

But if you want to try something a little riskier, like a sequined asymmetrical jumpsuit or a plaid suit, the opera is the perfect place to test it out.

Tip

Most opera houses are kept cool, so bring a sweater or wrap to your seat. You can wear your coat into the building, but leave it at coat check.

Don't: spend a fortune

Opera has a reputation as an activity meant for the rich and famous, but it's just not true. You don't have to buy a $500 outfit to fit in. The crowd at most performances will include a mix of fashion-forward patrons, casual tourists and everyone in between. You can make do with what's in your closet already.

Do: try something daring

Even if you opt for a simple dark suit or dress, try taking a little fashion risk in your accessory choices. If you normally wear a long tie, try a bowtie with a bold pattern. Arrange a silk scarf around your neck or swap out your everyday watch for that antique pocket watch you never get to use. Ladies can wear fascinators or other bold headpieces, provided they're not obtrusive for other audience members.

Don't: wear jeans or shorts

Unless it's truly all you own, avoid wearing jeans or shorts to the opera. You might be comfortable, but you'll probably also feel self-conscious standing in line next to people dressed in suits.

Tip

Be mindful of the type of performance you're attending. Matinees, weeknight performances and operas aimed at children tend to be less dressy. Opening night of an opera, by contrast, tends to be a black- or white-tie affair.

Do: choose sleek shoes

Nothing ruins a stylish ensemble like scuffed shoes. Even if you decide to go with a casual look, aim to be polished and clean at the opera.

Traveling to the opera

In a place where people dress to impress, wrinkled and rumpled isn't a good look. Pack your opera wear in a garment bag if possible. If you're flying, count the garment bag as a carry-on. If packing the outfit in your checked bag is necessary, place it in a plastic dry cleaner bag to minimize wrinkles.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.