Once upon a time, people dressed up for the theater. Ladies wore their finest jewels and elegant satin gloves that extended above the elbow and men wore tailored suits and ties. Times have clearly changed.
I’m a fan of progress, but aspects of this new, “unbuttoned” world trouble me. The crisp suits that make Don Draper so subliminally powerful to contemporary audiences have become antiquated; Reebok EasyTone sneakers and shapeless tee shirts have taken over the office. While Charleston is known for its flip-flop-friendly attitude, and informal dress certainly has a place, that place is not at the theater.
Spoleto has officially begun and between the dance performances, comedy acts, musical theater, and art exhibits, there is an unofficial fashion show going on. Even if you are unconcerned with trends, your personal style undeniably sends a message. If you walk into Gaillard Auditorium in a pair of ratty shorts to see an evening performance of the National Ballet of Georgia’s Giselle, you’re being impolite. Conversely, if you showed to the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard in sky-high stilettos for an Ebony Hillbillies concert, you would look ridiculous.
Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I believe that proper dress shows respect and gratitude toward the cast and crew who have worked so hard to put the performance together. Plus, Spoleto is a great excuse purchase new outfits at Charleston’s fabulous local boutiques! To clarify, I have put together a few basic guidelines.
1. If the show is held indoors after 7 p.m., ditch the casual attire. For women, flowy summer dresses and ladylike skirts are a safe bet. Don’t forget an elegant shawl to stay warm in the air-conditioned theaters! Men should stick with a button-down and blazer paired with khakis. For a more contemporary look, switch out the khakis for tailored dark denim jeans.
2. Charleston is known for its traditions, and cocktail hour is one of the oldest among them. If you are attending an event that includes cocktails and socializing, it's a safe assumption that you are expected to dress up. Ladies, this means leave the sundress at home. My rule of thumb: if you would feel comfortable wearing the dress to church, it’s not spicy enough. Men, ditch the flip flops and step up the aforementioned after-7 attire with dress shoes, and maybe even — gasp — a tie.
3. Spoleto’s vast schedule includes many daytime performances, such as the Dance at Noon series, which are scheduled to accommodate audiences as they roam throughout the city. It is expected that you are in casual, outdoor clothing. To keep the look comfortable yet classy, avoid threadbare, torn, or stained garments. Look for linen clothing, which wears well in heat, and the always-classic cotton polo.
4. For romantic outdoor, evening concerts, such as the Spoleto Finale at Middleton Place, ladies should sport chic embellished sandals paired with a flirty sundress or fashionable beachy tunic top and slacks. Men, nothing says Charleston spring night like seersucker. I suggest limiting the seersucker to a single dose, such as a pant or blazer.
Please keep in mind that my suggestions are general, and the tone of the specific event should dictate your actual outfit. For example, moody events, such as Die Roten Punkte, allow for more progressive attire, while ballets and operas, such as Flora, are traditionally formal affairs. Stylish theater going!