Puttin' on the Ritz

By Lauren Ball

It's a question that crops up every now and then on theatre blogs across the web - and now this one, too: what should one wear to the theatre? It's true that etiquette regarding theatre attire has gone the same way as The Dandy, but traditionalists would argue that while there is no formal code, making an effort is simply good manners. In November last year, fashion designer Valentino Garavani spoke of being "disturbed" by the sight of a man wearing a T-shirt at a Broadway show. Does he have a point?

You may have questions. Perhaps these ones...

  • Can I wear shorts to the theatre?
  • Can I wear flip flops to the theatre?
  • Can I wear jeans to the theatre?
  • Can I wear my most expensive and elaborate ballgown to the theatre?

There was a time when a visit to the theatre was a formal occasion; a scan of the audience would reveal dapper gents in suits next to well turned-out ladies, all refined, with arms clothed in satin from finger to elbow. But that time is not now, when theatre is more accessible to a much broader range of society and, as Cole Porter taught us, Anything Goes. If you want to rock that look, knock yourself out - it's a good look. But if you're coming straight from the office, or just feel more comfortable in a pair of trainers, that's fine too. Very few theatres operate a dress policy, and though traditionally evening performances are more formal than matinees, nobody will lambast you for wearing denim after 7pm. The last thing we want to do is discourage anybody from attending for fear of being underdressed; at its very best, theatre is an inclusive social experience. So you can say that it's nice to look nice (true) or that dressing up is fun (also true) but really, the play's the thing. And anyway, for the most part you'll be sitting in the dark.


There are certain aspects of any outfit that need to be considered in advance, usually based on weather. It's worth remembering that many of Britain's theatres are old buildings with rich and colourful histories, but also a bit of a draught. In colder weather you might want to wrap up - coats can usually be left in the cloakroom; although if you're going to Shakespeare's Globe or the Regents Park Open Air Theatre, chances are you'll want to keep it on. But if it's an indoor performance, don't keep your coat on throughout or you'll never feel the benefit. *stern mam face*

Of course, this goes the other way too - a theatre with air conditioning is a rare beast, so maybe leave the faux fur at home on a balmy evening.

What Not To Wear

While there are no bouncers to head you off at the door, there are definitely a few no-goes when it comes to theatre-attending fashion. I don't recommend taking in the latest Noel Coward revival wearing any of these ensembles:

Bjork-at-the -Oscars Chic


This is a great look, and who could blame you for wanting to emulate everyone's favourite experimental pop pixie? But I wouldn't wear it to the theatre and here's why: tulle. Have you ever tried sitting down in a skirt made entirely of tulle? It's a nightmare. It will poof out all over the place and leave uncomfortable imprints on the backs of your thighs. Plus, if you wear a dress of purest white you're just asking for someone to spill red wine on you. Avoid.

Regency Wear


Imagine being sat behind that wig while Elphaba is belting out Defying Gravity. Annoying, isn't it? As a considerate theatre-goer, it's best not to wear anything on your head that isn't your own hair, and those Regency folk were all too fond of it (if it wasn't a wig, it was a bonnet). Don't be a blocker.

Outfits Made from Flesh


Your fellow audience members will not thank you for the smell of raw meat pervading the auditorium. Come the interval, absolutely no one will be willing to buy you a drink. A poor night out. Reconsider.

The Final Word

If it ain't uncomfortable, smelly or inconsiderate, you can probably wear it to the theatre and offend absolutely no one. If you really want to grind someone's gears, try checking your phone in the middle of a performance - now THAT'S a faux pas.