Forget Dress Codes On Stage, What About The Office?

Sometimes your memory plays tricks on you but sometimes it delivers a misplaced treat. I was the fortunate recipient of the latter this week when an article from NewMusicBox.com c. 2004 (which is ancient history in Internet years) popped into my head. Written by Joseph Dalton shortly after NPAC 2004, the author relates his time at the conference and how he could tell which conventioneer belonged to which group by how they dressed and their demeanor. Dalton’s clever observations and sharp wit make the article a joy to read and his observations of orchestra managers are spot on…

The symphony managers were the most business-like. You could usually tell the size and financial health of a fellow’s orchestra by the quality of his suit. Whether men or women, they carried lots of papers in their hands and numbers in their heads.

After reading Dalton’s article again this week, it made me think more about office attire and since the responses to the audio clip topic have been so useful I’m going to toss out another feedback oriented topic: office dress codes. What do you think about office dress codes?

Is it business suits for all or something less prescribed to reflect the field’s nonprofit status? At the same time, we are in an artistic business so should organizations adopt dress codes slanted more toward something urban chic?

How about regional fare? I didn’t notice a single manager at NPAC 2008 that projected any sort of regional image and I think that’s a shame (plus I know Nashville Symphony CEO Alan Valentine has a nice set of formal cowboy boots). For years, critics, musicians, and listeners have lamented a trend toward American orchestras losing a sense of a distinct ensemble sound and for the most part, I think the same is true for clothing. Nearly
every book on fashion and business attire I’ve read examines the differences in business attire at major cities and regions across the country but I have yet to encounter an orchestra that projects any of those distinctions in the way their administrators dress.

Are you (or do you know) an administer who breaks the mold? If so, share.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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