Finding clothing to perform in which is stylish, flattering, and, above all, comfortable and practical can be tricky and high street stores tend not to cater that well for performers. We need clothes which allow freedom of movement, which do not distract us when we play (there is nothing worse than a tickly label or zip), which look good when we stand to take a bow and when we are seated at the piano. The type of venue and time of day also dictate what to wear: one does not need a full-length evening gown for a lunchtime concert, for example.
It’s much easier for the men. Now that the very formal attire of white tie and tails has largely disappeared, men can choose to wear a dark suit or dark shirt and trousers. Some favour a dark tee-shirt under a dark jacket, others tend towards the Nehru jacket. .
Women, on the other hand, are still expected to turn out in full-length gowns which hark back to the age of Dame Moura Lympany. There are of course exceptions: the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang has made a name for herself almost as much through her daring dresses and vertiginous stiletto heels (how on earth does she pedal in them?) as through her playing. She has been criticised for her risky hemlines, but as she herself says “I can wear long skirts when I’m 40”; she is a young woman who clearly loves fashion and has an enviably svelte figure.
Sadly, I do not have the body and legs of Yuja wang, so I prefer concert clothes which cover my legs, draw attention away from the “lumpy, bumpy” parts of my middle-aged body, and which make me feel graceful and elegant and, importantly, comfortable when I perform. Tight bodices or restrictive sleeves are a no no, as are strapless dresses (and frankly I don’t have the gym-honed arms for such attire). The British women’s fashion chain PhaseEight creates elegant and affordable maxi dresses in a fluid silky jersey fabric which are flattering and comfortable to wear. They also offer more formal full-length gowns, embellished with sequins and beads, for special occasions. I have also worn long skirts by Ghost: their signature “bias cut” dresses and skirts suit most sizes and shapes, and their crepe fabric packs well for travelling – another consideration if you’re a musician who lives out of a suitcase.
Alert to the needs of musicians, a new clothing company called Black Dress Code has launched a collection especially for musicians. Those who play in orchestras or sing in choirs are well aware that a fairly plain black outfit is the dress code for such organisations and Black Dress Code has created stylish and practical clothes with this in mind. In addition to the very elegant full-length black ‘Kathleen’ dress, there are midi dresses, a jumpsuit and palazzo pants (especially useful for cellists and bass players), simple black tops with 3/4 sleeves and silky sashes to enhance skirts and trousers. The designers have clearly thought about what musicians do with their bodies when playing and how clothing “interacts” with gestures and movements. There is a small range of skirts for girls, and a men’s range is in preparation. My only criticism is that the largest size is a UK 16 (because, sadly, some of us do not have the slim proportions of Yuja Wang or Khatia Buniatishvilli). If you’re looking for something to wear for an audition or ensemble work, I would certainly recommend taking a look at Black Dress Code’s collection. When I posted a link to BDC’s site on Facebook, many of my female colleagues and friends reacted very positively and enthusiastically to the collection.