In Praise Of Formality…Or At Least A Decent Tuxedo

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.

Case in point:

Of course, we could, as the Vienna Philharmonic has, just settle on a lovely suit and call it a day.


  1. Miss Mussel

    Douglas #1 Oh dear. This is a difficult hole to get out of! What if the SAME music is gloriously splendid?

    Douglas #2 Editor on holiday, term indefinite. Emergency meeting called and pronouns are now fixed.

  2. Douglas of the Grassy Knoll here. Would you mind terribly straightening out your pronouns in my quoted text, please. If you alter one to plural (your editorially inserted “they”), you then have to editorially alter the rest to match. While I’m slightly irritated at being compared with a Grassy Knoll conspiracy freak, I’m positively livid at being represented as one who would so brutishly mishandle his pronouns.


  3. I think the dark suit idea, with a uniform application across all members, is a good direction but in order for any change to be accepted among concertgoers, new and old alike, it will have to implemented gradually.

    I remember attending an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert last season and all of the men were dressed in the same black 2-piece suit with matching shirts and ties and I thought it looked much better than tails. The women, however, were still in traditional back and not matching from one to the next.

  4. I’m going to hand-stitch “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.” on my favourite gown and wear it at the opera next time I attend a performance, thank you. :)

  5. Miss Mussel

    Douglas #2 Editor sacked. Position now open. Interested?

    Drew: It is much more difficult to find a uniform that works well for all women such our bodies tend to vary much more than men’s seem to and players seem to have wildly different ideas regarding what level of formality is appropriate. (gown, dress, pants etc) Wearing suits to match the men just looks weird. Personally, Miss Mussel is happy if players wear clothes that fit them correctly, no matter the style. The Two Giant Steps forward given for wearing tails are revoked if they are the set bought twenty years ago when the wearer was still a size 30 waist.

    Georgia–> Send a photograph please!

  6. “Douglas #2 Editor sacked. Position now open. Interested?”

    No, but I can offer a small tip for future. When quoting another verbatim, be careful not to elide transitional passages where tense or number change. Saves having to insert all those square-bracketed editorial alterations to make the whole read coherently.

    My thanks for your response to my complaint.


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