Sunday, July 31, 2011

What’s the Dress Code, Girlfriend?

Three nights ago, my husband and I went to see “Catch Me If You Can” on Broadway. We thoroughly enjoyed the show and not just because the tickets were free (more on that later). Just before the lights went down, the woman next to me said to the man she was with, “I don’t know how to dress for the theater anymore!” The woman, in her mid-40s, was dressed stylishly in all white: a white blazer, white brocade skirt, patent leather heels with cut-out toes, and a leather purse. I sensed she was annoyed by the other female theater-goers’ casual attire. With the exception of a few women still in their office dresses and suits, the overwhelming majority of women, all ages, were in jersey tops and either a pair of pants, Capris or shorts. “I think dressing up for the theater shows respect,” she added. Really? I’m not so sure.

I appreciate a woman’s desire to dress up any time, but especially for a Broadway show. If my husband and I had paid for our tickets, they would have cost $128 per ticket. At those prices, I can understand the woman next to me wanting to wear something dressier than she might to, say, a summer blockbuster at the local multiplex. Still, in terms of showing respect, I think there are more important ways to show the cast and crew respect, such as: turning off your cell phone, being quiet and attentive, laughing and applauding when appropriate and so forth. In generations past, I know the theater dress code was more formal, but it just isn’t anymore. If the woman next to me wants to be surrounded by other women dressed up, she should go to the opera at Lincoln Center. Women (and men!) still dress up for the opera.

As a fashion follower, I find dress codes an interesting phenomenon. I’m sure most women over 50 have had the experience of traveling to different regions around the country and witnessing the different dress codes for say, weddings and fancy parties, upscale restaurants and houses of worship (ie, churches and temples). For example, while the code for most weddings may be formal in different regions, what constitutes “formal wear” may not be the same from region to region. Then, too, there’s been a general relaxing of dress codes across the country in the last few decades. Sometimes, I think our generation is determined to eliminate dress codes, especially ones that call for formal dressing, altogether. Many people I know have spent their lives rebelling against the suit and tie, and the nylon stockings and high heels.

Interestingly, there are signs that our children’s generation is starting to embrace dressing up (at least in New York City). In the Style section of the New York Times this week, there was an article entitled, “Will This Get Me In?” about dress codes for city night clubs. It seems our children will have to conform to dress codes to get into clubs. Are they rebelling against our generation’s aversion to formal dressing? Frankly, the whole idea that different clubs have different dress codes is a little too over-the-top for me.

I believe some occasions do desire a dress code that is formal, or at least, a notch above everyday wear. Personal milestones—weddings, retirement parties and funerals—come quickly to mind. Unless, the hosts inform guests that the wedding or retirement party is going to be a casual affair, I think people should wear their best clothes. Funerals are always a momentous occasion, deserving your best clothes. I went to a funeral three years ago and saw people in the congregation in shorts. Unbelievable.

But getting back to Broadway, I haven’t dressed up for Broadway in 30 years. I could even give you the date, since it was the opening night for a show my sister was in. That doesn’t mean, however, that I wear shorts to the theater. Or that I get exasperated with women who do. If I’m not scrubbing floors or running errands, my dress code is usually the same for most activities: I try to look as stylish as I can on my budget. I often wear slacks and a sweater to the theater. But they’re not the sweater and slacks I use to rack leaves. Last night, which was hot and sticky in the city, I wore a light cotton sundress, a short hot-pink sweater, and flat leather sandals. I’m sure the woman next to me didn’t approve.

Meanwhile, I do recommend “Catch Me If You Can” if you like musicals and are near Broadway. As my husband said, “It was very good light entertainment.” Personally, I was awed by the cast, the singing and dancing, and impressed by all the creativity elements—the set design, costumes and choreograph, to name a few. Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz (2011 Tony Award for Best Actor) are standouts. But Norbert singing and dancing in “Don’t Break the Rules” steals the show. As I mentioned, we went to the show for free. The week before, over dinner at a Soho restaurant, my husband and I were talking about Broadway. A woman at the table next to us said, “Excuse me, I’m afraid I overheard your conversation about Broadway. I have two tickets to a show next week that I can’t use. Would you like them?” Without hesitation, we said, “yes!” Sometimes, New York City feels so small town friendly. I love it!

Well, this was a long rant. Sorry. The reason I wrote about dress codes is I would love to hear other women’s points of view. What do you think of dress codes? Do you find dress codes annoying or helpful? Do you think they should be abolished altogether? Let me know.