It’s Time To Change up The Conversation On Concert Attire

Over the weekend, I ran across a Facebook discussion about what patrons wear to the orchestra. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it followed all of the well-worn paths about what everyone thought was acceptable or not and it stuck me just how much those talking points are out of touch.

Artistic excellence is inconsequential if you aren’t selling tickets so to that end, the field desperately needs to throw all these old conversations out the window and replace them with something that focuses more on the ticket buyers.

Why waste time spinning your wheels over acceptable dress standards when you could be informing all the niche-based clothing enthusiast groups that your concert hall is a place where they can get their sartorial groove on while projecting their identity.

I remember attending a Milwaukee Symphony concert a decade ago and having dinner beforehand at a restaurant across the street when a small group of crossdressers came in for drinks. I overheard one saying they were going to the concert, so I struck up a conversation with them. Long story short, they had a routine of going to concerts a few times a year and went all-out when it came to their attire. They mentioned orchestra concerts were one of the places where they felt comfortable and when I asked how they made that connection, one of the group members mentioned they were already a subscriber and just invited their friends to make an evening out of it. It worked out so they wove it into their social routine.

The missing hook here is orchestras could spend more time identifying and reaching out to groups that identify and associate based on their clothing interests. Vintage clothing enthusiasts alone make it worth the effort. Do a Google search for your city’s name and “vintage clothing groups” and see what comes back.

Instead of projecting standards, orchestras need to invite ticket buyers to show them what they want to wear.

In the end, you’ll sell more tickets and develop a reputation as a destination where your community can go to do what Ruth Hartt characterizes as “signaling status and identity.”

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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