How to Dress for the Theater

By Bethany Williams

An evening out at the theater is a special occasion and an opportunity to dress up. While a night at the theater is no longer the formal affair it used to be, keeping your clothes and hair clean, tidy and presentable is important. Dressing for the conditions -- indoors and outdoors -- is key to having a comfortable and fun night out.

Couple in theatre box, smiling, low angle view
credit: Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images
The little black dress is a simple but elegant choice for women for the theater.

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Smart Casual and Dress Codes

If there is no dress code specified for the theater, then keep your clothing dressy, but on the casual side. For women, this may mean a pair of slacks, heels and a blouse, while for men, a set of trousers and a dress shirt works — the sports jacket and tie are optional. However, if there is a dress code recommended, it is important to follow it, because if you are too dressed down, you may not be allowed into the theater.

Opening and Closing Nights

On opening or closing nights there may be a fancier dress code enforced. This may also be the case for media previews -- by-invitation-only performances that take place before the show officially opens. In these cases, cocktail wear is recommended. Black tie is expected only if specified on an invitation. For women, this means a dress — long or short — heels, makeup and jewelry. For men, black tie means a tuxedo; cocktail wear can range from a fashionably cut suit to a pair of fitted slacks with a vest and a dress shirt.

Watch the Accessories

Seating in theaters is limited, so avoid bringing large bags with you. While a small handbag or purse can be easily fitted in your seat, larger handbags need to be checked in the cloakroom. If you aren't comfortable doing so, leave the large tote at home. Similarly, check your bulky outerwear in the cloakroom beforehand, especially if it includes rain gear, such as an umbrella or a raincoat, which can make the floor and seats wet.

Dress for Comfort

Plays are generally long — often an hour or more. Because of this, what you wear needs to be comfortable. Do not choose an outfit that makes it difficult to sit still for an extended period, and avoid clothes that make a noise when you move, such as blouses with beaded bangles or fabric that rustles when it moves. Because theaters can be drafty or may have strong air conditioning to keep the temperature inside tolerable, bring along a shawl or sweater in case it gets chilly.