Dress Code: Does It Matter What You Wear To The Theatre?

By Liz Dyer
Tuesday 28 April 2015

Once upon a time, an evening at the theatre was a big deal, an excuse to get dressed up in all your finery and hobnob among the elite (bonus points if you caught the Les Mis reference there). These days, in contrast, most people turn up in casual clothes - myself included - and anyone who’s made a bit of an effort is seen as the odd one out.

The other day, I was talking to someone who wants to bring back smart dress codes for the theatre. And someone else, who replied that this would be a good way to ensure they never went to the theatre again.

Personally, I can see the argument from both sides, but I know which side I’d come down on if I were asked to choose. I do believe that the theatre’s worthy of respect, and I certainly agree that audience members should be properly dressed. I also think it could be fun to get glammed up once in a while, and turn up in a ballgown or something. Actually, I reckon there’s an idea there - who else thinks theatres should introduce a black tie performance once a month? (I totally want to do that now. Let’s make it happen, theatre fans.)

But, at the same time, as someone who lives in jeans on an everyday basis, I’d be pretty horrified if someone told me I couldn’t ever wear them to the theatre again. Not horrified enough to stop me going, obviously - but then I’m a theatre geek. I’d be prepared to go and buy myself a new theatre wardrobe if I had to, but I’m probably in the minority there. The fact is, in an age where shows already have to compete with so many other forms of entertainment to pull in audiences, can it really be a good idea to risk alienating those that are left by banning them from wearing trainers?

And if we’re talking about respect, there are so many other areas that need attention first. My dream audience is made up of people who are wearing whatever they like, but who remember to switch off their phones before the curtain goes up. And who wait till the interval to eat, or chat to their friends. These are the kind of problems that are most likely to put an actor off in the middle of a show, and they’re not going to be solved by wearing nice clothes. Forget the dress code - we need a behaviour code. And here’s one I prepared earlier, as a starting point: How To Behave In The Theatre Part 1 and Part 2

The theatre used to be a place to be seen by your social peers - but times change. Personally, I’d rather watch what’s happening on stage than look at my fellow audience members. And I believe the theatre should remain open to all; I’d hate for anyone to feel they couldn’t go and see a show because they happened to put on the wrong shoes that day. So I say let people wear what they want to the theatre - as long as they’re there, and enjoying themselves, surely that’s enough.

What do you think? Tweet #jeansyes or #jeansno to @theatre_direct.


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Liz Dyer

Liz is a lifelong theatre fan who gets very angry when people talk during the show. Her first West End show was Joseph with Phillip Schofield in the 90s. And yes, she still knows all the colours of his coat. In order.

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