An Afternoon With the Arts

I had a call over the weekend asking my opinion on what is proper attire for a matinée performance of the National Symphony. The man is a retired Marine and likes to be squared away, but is used to having a uniform of the day on which to rely.

What a great question, especially in light of our discussions about proper dress requirements in restaurants. Wonderful timing, Major.

The days are behind us when white tie and tails were called for at performances of the opera, symphony or an evening at the theatre. Of course, during those days, men wore coat and tie to Vaudeville shows and the Jack Buchanans and Fred Astaires of the world were style leaders. Cary Grant was said to have based his style on a combination of Buchanan, Noël Coward and Rex Harrison.

(Image Source: Baird Color Television)

With the demise of the dress code, you’re apt to see just about anything at a performance these days, from suits to shorts, stiletto heels to flip-flops. So what’s appropriate, easy and elegant?

I think men have it easier here. When in doubt, a blue blazer, grey trousers, a tie and collared shirt are always correct. Toss on the highly polished slip-on or suede shoe and you are ready for just about anything short of a black tie affair. I tend to like a double-breasted blue blazer during the cooler months. Burberry and Ralph Lauren make good off-the-rack options. Yours should be ventless or side-vented and I prefer six buttons to four.

(An old shot from the beginning days of Easy and Elegant Life. Keep clicking for close-ups.)

But what about the distaff members of the audience? Cocktail length dress? Pants suit? the possibilities are staggering. Mrs. E. has a belted sweater dress in heather grey with a roll-neck that she wears to great effect with a pair of brown tall boots and long strand of pearls. The bullet-proof, always correct option is the slim wool trouser and cashmere twin-set with short strand of pearls and moderate heels. Ann Taylor was known for this sort of look in the past. Ralph Lauren will sometimes show a wonderful pencil skirt with a white blouse, pearls and a cashmere cardigan. These days, the cardigan is likely to be belted.

(RL Marni Cable Cardigan)

What about you, dear readers? I know you’ve got your “go-to” never-fail staples. Feel free to share a thought or two.

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