There’s been a mild stink on the intertubes of late regarding the dress code for orchestras. The argument is not so much about visual appearance as it is about the relative merit of ritual, a word that seems to have descended into that level of vocabularial purgatory just above curse words along with its cousins exclusivity and elitism.
The problem with doing away with ritual is that is goes against our natural inclination towards costume. Most of us don’t walk around with a sheet over our heads on a daily basis, but we do have particular outfits for particular tasks, no matter how informal. Gardening clothes are for gardening, smart jeans and a floaty top for going out, a fluorescent green unitard for aerobics. (Use does not equal appropriateness) The delineation is much finer than that on an individual level. THAT floaty top and moderately smart jeans for casual pub get togethers but THIS floaty top and THOSE jeans that make my ass look hot for going out on the pull. It is reasonable to assume that this matters more to women than men but Miss Mussel suspects that if we were completely honest with ourselves, there wouldn’t be much difference at all.
When we feel we look nice, we are more confident and therefore more likely to achieve what we are setting out to do whether that be to snag a handsome fella, deliver a fantastic speech, land a complicated tumbling routine or own that super top E in Sinfonia Domestica. In short, the outfit helps us focus our brain on the activity hand. It helps us eliminate other possibilities and gives us a huge advantage in the mind games we play with ourselves.
AC Douglas weighed in with a theory worthy of the Grassy Knoll, suggesting that it is newcomers to the classical music scene that cause this fierce clinging-to-past-traditions business.
…were concert hall audiences guaranteed to be made up strictly of informed classical music concertgoers, … [they wouldn’t] need the orchestra players dressed in white tie and tails to intimate to [them] semiotically that a well-executed concert of great classical music is a special event that promises to lift [them] above and beyond the quotidian cares and concerns of [their] ordinary existence but requires [their] full and focused attention in order to fulfill that promise. A musically informed concertgoer would know all that as a matter of course, and need no semiotic reminder.
While Miss Mussel can appreciate that tails are hot and difficult to play in (ever try stilettos?) there is one part of the argument that leaves her seriously perplexed, the jist of which is that tails intimidate people and therefore make them not want to go the concert. Because men in formal dress are apparently scary.
Who decided that exactly? A quick survey of any group of females will show that an ugly man can take Five Giant Steps forward on the path to becoming a handsome man just by putting on a well tailored suit and a nice tie. Wearing properly fitting tails earns a person two extra Giant Steps for effort.