An art opening is a special occasion that calls for you to carefully consider your outfit. While dressing nicely is central, you may need to tailor your clothing to suit the specifics of different openings. Gala events may call for a fancier dress code, while individual galleries may better accommodate different styles of dress ranging from conservative to avant-garde and edgy.
Follow the Dress Code
Many gallery opening invitations include a dress code for the event. If this is the case, it is important to follow the dress code set by the gallery. If there is no dress code stated, then dressy casual or cocktail wear is a safe bet. In all cases, avoid jeans, baggy shirts and dirty or torn clothing. While dress codes may not be strictly enforced by galleries, disregarding the dress code is considered disrespectful — to the artist and to the gallery. Openings are special occasions that celebrate the hard work of an artist, so consideration and respect need to be shown by dressing in an appropriate fashion.
Dress for the Gallery
For larger museum openings, classic cocktail wear or even black tie is considered standard. In this case, conservative or classic choices — such as the little black dress and a tuxedo — are your best bets. With smaller galleries, you may need to more carefully tailor your clothing choices to the type of opening. For example, Los Angeles-based personal stylist Lauren Messiah writes in her article “How to Dress for a Gallery Opening,” dress choices for an uptown versus downtown opening differ greatly. She suggests that a downtown gallery often features more contemporary-oriented art, so an edgier outfit — such as a jacket with an asymmetrical cut for ladies — is better suited. For an uptown gallery, where the art and the gallery may be more conventional, a sweater set for women — or khakis and a button-up shirt for men — may be more fitting.
Dress for the Occasion
The more exclusive the opening — if it is private or by invitation only — the more upscale the dress requirement may be. For men, this may mean wearing a suit and tie rather than just a dress shirt and slacks. For women, this is a chance to pull out the sparkly cocktail dress or the elegant silk slip dress in your closet. Events that require black tie, such as for an opening at a major museum, will have the dress code clearly stated on the invitation.
Shoes and Bags
Choosing the right footwear is important for an opening because you will likely be standing and walking in crowded conditions for an extended period. Because of this, comfortable footwear that will allow you to move around easily — without risk of slipping or tripping — is important. Because of this, no matter how stylish your heels may be, aim for lower heels unless you are sure you will be comfortable in stilettos for several hours. Last, realize that the opening will be crowded and there may be little space to move around. Therefore, keep the large handbag at home, and opt for a small clutch instead, making it easier for you to walk around the gallery without risk of hitting a piece of prized art.
References and ResourcesArtBusiness.com: Are You a Guest at a Gallery Opening?
Larry's List Blog: What to Wear to a Vernissage
The Guardian: Culture Chic -- How to Dress When Visiting the Latest Must-See Art Exhibitions
Fiona Lake: What Exactly Happens at an Art Opening Exhibition Night?
Lauren Messaiah -- Personal Stylist: How to Dress for a Gallery Opening