Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
Let us set the scene.
Perhaps you’ve bought theatre tickets for a loved one and have no clue about theatre dress codes. Perhaps you’re a seasoned theatre-goer looking for new outfit inspiration. Either way – deciding what to wear to a theatre performance can prove to be quite the challenge.
Whether you’re looking to visit on a summer’s evening or wondering what to wear to the theatre in winter, there are a set of simple style rules you can follow to ensure your personal west end dress code is never out of place.
Check out our top three tips for theatre outfits on any occasion to make sure you’re never left in the lurch.
Do Theatres Have A Dress Code?
In short – not really. There are a lot of different things to consider when it comes to theatre dress code, but there is a general rule to wear whatever feels the most comfortable. That being said, it’s worth double checking before you head to see any theatre show – the Savoy Theatre dress code is going to be different from the National Theater dress code, for example.
Although audience members are invited to wear whatever they like, it’s worth taking into account exactly what type of event you’re going to. If it’s immersive theatre, flip flops aren’t necessarily the best choice. If it’s a special event, a t -shirt might not cut it. That being said, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to opt for formal dress.
Theatre legends themselves can be looked to for theatre outfit inspiration. Playwrights like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams had very distinctive personal styles, which could be transferred into a modern theatre dress sense. To strike the balance between classic and casual, wear a neural colour suit with a light patterned shirt to ensure all your bases are covered.
The Play: Smart-Luxe Streetwear
If you’re off to the west end to watch a Chekhov play that lasts for three hours with no breaks – you want to be comfortable. This is one circumstance where jeans may not work in your favour, with clothes needing to be loose and flexible to maintain maximum comfort levels. London theatre dress codes often state that theatre goers can wear whatever they might like to, but if you don’t want to appear too casual, you can easily marry the ideas in the middle.
To make ‘comfort casual’ seem more high-end, stick to a dark colour palette to make your clothes chic and sophisticated or opt for one colour to make your comfies seem like a seamless all-in-one look. Wear a shirt or firmer overcoat to break things up and don’t be afraid to play around with size and shape. Accessorise with statement sneakers and a beanie to give your theatre show look an extra edge.
The Musical: Classic Smart Casual
The musical theatre show is the classic way to spend a Saturday night, and just like New York, it’s a hit for people of all kinds. This is the perfect time to opt for a smart casual outfit, choosing something to wear that makes your show visit more of an occasion while still not going over the top.
Jeans are a key staple to be worked with for a smart casual outfit to wear to the theatre, easily able to be dressed up or down. Wear a blazer and polo neck with loafers for a smart summer look or wrap things up and wear your jeans with casual layers for a warmer winter outfit.
If you want to work away from jeans, try a pair of chinos with a casual top, or opt for relaxed black trousers to get the best of both worlds. Try to keep accessories and outerwear to a minimum – you don’t want to be the person who people are staring at during the show as your layers take over the adjoining seats.
The Opera: A Black Tie Affair
The ultimate style for theater experiences is a black tie outfit. This isn’t one to bust out for a showing of a long-running musical or something a bit more avant-garde, but formal dress is perfect for a once-in-a-lifetime experience or special event.
Once again it’s important to check the show guidelines for what people should wear, but black tie is particularly suitable for opera or one-off events. If black tie isn’t naturally your thing, play with a different colour palette to add a contemporary edge to a classic outfit.
Change a bow tie for a necktie or open shirt, or ditch a waistcoat to keep a more casual element to your formal look. For the full formal experience, wear a white, slightly pleated shirt with a single-breasted blazer and a cummerbund.
West End Theatre Wear: The Debrief
What to wear to the theater can be a tough call to make. Whether you’re planning to see La Traviata or The Lion King, what kind of show you see can subtly determine what might be the most suitable.
If in serious doubt – jeans it out. Jeans are the perfect item for almost any show, although if you’re going to see something that has a longer duration, you may want to make sure you’re comfortable first and foremost. It’s always good to double check, but for many productions the general advice is to wear what suits you – so let your creativity run wild!
If a show has stricter guidelines, it’s usually better to go a little smarter than casual. People love to make the effort to dress up for an evening show, and the more exclusive an event is, the more formal you may need to be.