No glamour at the Met

I went to the Metropolitan Opera season opening last night, and didn’t see much glamour, in the audience or on the stage. And since we’ve been talking about clothes here, let me stress something that hit me very strongly. A man in black tie doesn’t look dressy any more, at least not to my eye, and certainly doesn’t look fancy or glamorous. I saw a few men in tuxes, and the effect was blah, no more striking than a man in a business suit.

And why? Because fashion has moved beyond that. Fashion designers — along with plain old non-designer people — have come up with sharper, more interesting, more striking, more contemporary looks than black tie, and that’s now what you want to wear if you want to be festive or glamorous.

Which is yet another reason why formal dress — and even business suits — on classical musicians makes hardly any difference. It all just looks blah. I go back to the Northern Sinfonia, in Newcastle/Gateshead in England, all dressed in spiffy black. That made an impression. The musicians looked as if they were about to do something that mattered, something other people might enjoy. Other people, that is, oriented toward the world as it is now.

What did I wear to the Met? I have a Kenneth Cole outfit, jacket and pants, that I think looks sleek. I wouldn’t wear it with a tie. I normally wear it with a black Kenneth Cole shirt, with subtle stripes, a shirt that’s both dressy and casual, as I think the entire outfit is.

But this time — after an informal conversation at lunch the other day with someone who knows fashion really well — I decided to push things a bit. So I wore the jacket and pants with a black t-shirt, one with a striking white design on it. And it’s a t-shirt celebrating Meredith Monk, one of my favorite artists of any kind, so I was doubly happy to wear it.

I felt a little uneasy — would I look too dressed down? But when I saw how blah the crowd looked (and this was downstairs, in the pricey seats), I felt completely comfortable. The Met opening is supposed to be glamorous, and at least (without making any great claims about my success) I was trying. I wish I’d thought to have someone take a cell phone photo. Then I could show you all how, at least, I tried.

And as for the performance — utterly blah. Don’t get me started!

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  1. says

    I love that you are talking about fashion. Why is no one commenting on this? Anyway I agree, musicians can move beyond the tuxes. There is a way to be dressy without looking like you are about to get married.

  2. says

    Hi Greg

    I found your blog from my girlfriend who is a classical pianist (she’s actually the commentor above). I’m a fashion designer and complete newbie to classical music and I have to agree with this post. My girlfriend is spearheading a project that is essentially changing how people view classical music by changing the way they dress and perform.

    I actually just wrote a blog about it that I think you might find interesting, especially since I’m not of the classical music world.

    let me know what you think.

    Peter, thanks for commenting, and I love your blog post. As you might have guessed! I especially love the photo, which proves your point. Dramatically. Where’d you get it? What orchestra is that? People in the outside world would never guess that these people are performing for the public.

  3. Suzanne Derringer says

    Wow, Greg, interesting that you should have suddenly become fashion-conscious…I suppose the problem of what to wear to the Met, or what the orchestra should wear, is part of the larger question of the role of “classical” music in contemporary society. But – that Runway show? That’s hot??? Most of the time (and I haven’t watched it very often) the outfits they devise seem pretty weird – unrelated to anybody’s real life. For better or worse, most of us dress for comfort and informality and a kind of democratic sameness: class distinctions, as indicated by clothing, are much more subtle than ever before. Again, this is SO not the cultural context into which, say, La traviata was born.

    We can’t go back to hoopskirts and frock coats, or even Fred Astaire’s white tie and tails. Is La traviata really comprehensible in a bluejeans – or at least ready-to-wear – world?

  4. John Branch says

    I’m glad you came up with an alternative to the old-fashioned suit or tuxedo, and particularly glad that you described it. (I’d like to know about the shoes, though.) One of these days I’m going to work up my own new take on a dress-up outfit, and Kenneth Cole sounds like a good place to start.

    As you probably know (and may have mentioned in a post I haven’t gotten to yet), Alex Ross’s recent New Yorker article on modern-day seriousness in the concert hall observed, “The overarching problem of classical music is the tuxedo.” (The full article is at