What does one wear to the opera?

What does one wear to the opera?
I bought my Pretty Woman inspired go-to red evening gown at Lord & Taylor my first year out of college. I’ve worn it ever since.

The only thing I knew about opera was what I saw 20+ years ago in the movies Pretty Woman and Moonstruck. Their black tie formal attire is nothing less than elegant. Today, opera is an eclectic mix of the young and old, hipsters, dressy casual and formal.

Mr. Lipstick & Lollipops invited me to the Lyric Opera in Chicago for our first date. I was smitten and giddy for our reunion since we met through mutual friends, but obsessed over the opera dress code.  My girlfriends reminded me of Julia Roberts' famous opera outfit.

I've played dress-up my whole life so already had the perfect red dress. My floor length red gown didn't show cleavage or sex it up, but some women do.

Long gloves would've been fun and dramatic, but it didn't happen...

I got my hair done, obviously wore red lipstick, my best costume jewelry (lots of ladies wear statement jewelry) and awaited my black tie prince...

I had never seen an opera before and knew it would be different than my top-4o B96 music choice. My husband's Italian American family cultivated the arts. He was quick to educate me. Although I usually bring my own water and popcorn to the movies (that embarsses my husband), I didn't pull that stunt at the Lyric Opera and never would...

Unofficial opera dress code:

  • Students and those who are more casual and/or go to the theater from work fit in with jeans or black pants and dressy tops. Matinees are more casual.
  • Many bow to the arts as they wear black tie attire, such as tuxedos and long ball gowns. Men also wear suits,  sport coats with a tie or just a dressy shirt. A lot of women wear fashionable cocktail dresses.
  • I usually spot at least one man wearing a kilt, which adds to the colorful people watching.
  • This is the place to wear your faux or real fur. Men (not my husband) even wear floor length furs.
  • Depending on the weather, the Lyric Opera in Chicago is quite cold so a cape, shawl or wrap is helpful for women to stay warm.
  • Even if there's snow, wear dressy boots. A few fashion misfits wore Uggs, but that's a fashion no-no.

Chicago's Lyric Opera (and most opera houses around the world) are jewel boxes with dramatic performances. They're an opportunity to turn off outside distractions and immerse yourself in the story. And, enjoy the people watching before the opera and during intermission. I noticed many stylish young women escaped the reality of freezing cold temperatures outside with no stockings and open toe shoes. I was cold looking at them, but to each their own… What do you think?

From the archive: How to dress for the red carpet,  My 99-year-old Grandma and former French model's beauty tips  and How to dress for Opening Night at the Lyric Opera


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