Exploring Music's Complexities

Music Industry Dress Codes

Dress for Success?


Over the years dress codes for musicians have provided an endless source of discussions between musicians and management.  These dress codes also are important determinants with regard to audience reaction to the musicians.

 Symphony Dress Codes

 Dress codes for symphony musicians have been in evidence for over two hundred years.  It has been suggested that this president began with Hyden, who was the court musician at the palace of the Esterhazy family and required his musicians to wear the uniform of the Esterhazy family (1).

In the 19th century, the orchestra musicians were mostly men and dressed pretty much like the men in the audience.  That meant wearing “full formal dress”: white tie and tails for men and long black gowns or pant suits for women.  Since that time concert attendees have been conditioned to expect formal attire at when attending such events.

The continued requirement for “full formal dress” has been attributed to a conductor’s desire to have the musicians not only present a uniform appearance that is elegant and professional but also to ensure that the musicians’ clothing does not distract the listener (1).  The details of each orchestra’s dress codes are usually outlined in the work contract ( 1).

Today there is a movement underway to include a comfort factor as part of the review of dress code policies and to reserve the formal look for special occasions.  Theses changes might also facilitate the women’s dress requirement.  From the musicians’ perspective, these suggestions are quite welcome.  Not only could string players feel less restricted, they would be relieved of the need to wear heavy woolen garments under the hot lights on the stage (2).

As the attire of concertgoers has given way to a much more casual look, many argue that the symphony dress code should also be relaxed.  This change would not only reduce the difference between musician and concertgoer but also provide an environment for a more enjoyable event.

Clothes Make the Rocker

Clothing is also a part of rock performances.  In the nineties, the hip-hop look was preppy and was meant to portray a Waspish archetypical look (3).  Suits created a uniformed look that encouraged audiences to focus on the performers actions and personalities rather than happenings (4).

As time went by, there were other changes.  T-shirts and skinny black jeans replaced the suits.  The new outfits were representative of the changes taking place in our social environments (3).  The comfort of the performers was a consideration for many performers.  As competition among the musical groups increased so did need to develop an image and to separate themselves for the generation that preceded it (5).  Extreme trends became commonplace with stars constantly reinventing themselves.  To this end, fashion became an important part of many rock’n’roll musicians such as Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Despite the many extreme trends, denim has remained a constant.   For many artists such as Bob Dylan , Kurt Cobain, and the Grateful Dead, Jeans continue provide a youth-oriented quality (5). For today’s performers almost anything goes. Clothing ads emphasize the need for girls to balance out an outfit with “girly” items.

Don’t be fooled by the faded T-shirts and ripped fabrics.  These looks come at a high price.  High price personal stylists also design the looks.


  • Caruthers, Yvonne.  What Are You Wearing?  Dress Codes Considered. http://www.polyphonic.org/article/what-are-you-wearing-dress-codes-considered/, Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  • Internet Cello society Forums, Cello Chat, orchestra dress.                      http://www.cello.org/heaven/mbarchs/aug29/dresscod.htm.  Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  • Byrne, David.  “My Life in Performance”, How Music Works.  McSweeney’s San Francisco, p40.
  • Motto, David.  Costumes, Clothing, and Concert Dress:  Creating Your Stage Presence.  February 13,2010 in Performing Music.  Retrieved July10, 2013.
  • Makofsky, Nina.  Rock Fashion History.  eHow .  Retrieved July 10, 2013.

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Categorised in: History, Performers

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