Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

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.

7 thoughts on “An Afternoon With the Arts

  1. The easiest “go to” for me is the simplest: Charcoal or dark blue suit, white shirt, a black or dark blue grenadine tie and black cap toe shoes, polished up. You can’t go wrong and short of really formal will look at place.

    For the afternoon affair you describe, I would go with exactly your suggested option. Smart and sharp!

  2. I am finding some great go to pieces from Eileen Fisher that have a “zen” quality that can be perfectly dressed up or down and are age appropriate. I love belting a cardigan with a simple skirt and boots since we still have snow and puddles.
    I also love a pretty white shirt and pearls for the ladies and for the gentlemen, a blue blazer, grey flannels and a nice tie or a chic navy suit.

  3. The truth is, if you’re under 80 and wearing a coat and tie, you’ll safely and easily be of the best dressed. For those wanting to think it out a bit, daytime should be seasonal materials and colors in jacket/trousers or suit, and evening should be dark social suit or jacket/trouser combination with non-business flourishes like pink pocket squares, etc. The single most important element for a man’s wardrobe at a function like the one mentioned, is a mobile phone in the OFF position. Note: in winter, ALWAYS bring a thick scarf that (once the lights are out) will double as a neck pillow should you be unfortunate enough to be comped tickets to Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Yikes.

  4. The sweater dress with knee boot described above sounds beautiful and comfortable for sitting through a performance. Knits are perfect for sitting, cozy, and polished with a glove and a lovely handbag. Since coats are bulky in theatre seats, I often just carry a pashmina or wear a lightweight puffy jacket or a short little mohair number. I would love to hear other coat suggestions.

  5. I occasionally have the opportunity to attend a Saturday afternoon performance with my wife and a few friends. While I would personally feel right at home in the outfit that you have illustrated for us, I know that I would receive numerous groans from my companions if I showed up with a necktie of any description. Instead, I usually make do with grey flannels, cashmere (or wool knit) turtleneck, and check or tweed sportcoat. This is the least “formal” outfit in which I would feel comfortable for such an occasion and the most that I can get away with in certain company. . . . I suppose that I need to find some different individuals with whom to attend the theater. Thanks again, Mr. E!

  6. For theater, a simple, dark outfit is always correct and appropriate. Suit, white shirt, and dark tie are elegant. Nowadays some consider tie and jacket being overdressed, but I refuse to give in and stick to this traditional outfit for a man appearing in public, especially at a place that deserves decorum.

    For a woman, pearl necklace and ear studs are the most elegant accessories she can wear, and will make a dark dress, blouse, or sweater look great.

  7. Chris,

    Love Patricia’s suggestion. I also like a chic pair of black slacks with a super white blouse and wrap or loose long sweater. Accessories make the look!

    Come and enter my amazing Giveaway from Splenderosa!

    Art by Karena

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