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What should I wear as the conductor? (Tux vest/tie)

I'm looking to purchase a new tux...I like the look of a white tie and vest, but I am unsure of what style to buy.  Any suggestions?  I'm thinking of the "pique" style, but....
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on June 12, 2009 10:28am
Personally, I use a standard white tux shirt, black bow tie, and a black vest. I don't use a tux jacket - I find the vest gives me much more freedom and my "white" arms show up better to the chorus. I do, however, wear pants.
on June 12, 2009 11:35am
Hi, Arie. I'm just a little confused, but it depends on whether you take a "traditional" or a "creative" approach to performance dress. Traditionally a tux is used with black tie and pleated shirt, and if a vest is added it is black. White tie and vest are used with cutaway tailcoat.
 
Depending on your body build, a tailcoat is often much better for a conductor because it can move with your arms, while a short tux jacket will rise with your arms and show your white shirt in the back--not the end of the world, but a possible distraction.
 
I'm not sure what "pique" style is, but the most important factor for a conductor (and I assume that you are a conductor, although you didn't mention it) is to have freedom in the arm holes so that raising your arms does not pull the coat up unnecessarily. And many rental tuxes or tailcoats are NOT acceptable, so you may need to buy from a shop with tailors on the premises rather than from a mail order company.
 
Whatever you buy should qualify as "work clothing" under IRS rules, so the expense should be deductible. A tux is just as much "work clothes" for a classical musician as "Oshkosh-b'-Gosh" overalls are for a pig farmer! And a tailcoat for a conductor.
 
A very long time ago, I was taught that a performer should be dressed one level above that of the audience: Coat and tie if your audience is casual, tux if your audience is coat and tie, white tie & tails if your audience is in dinner clothes. Women, of course, have a lot more freedom, along with a lot more restrictions, to balance in picking performance clothing, but tight arm holes are not usually one of the problems.
 
John
 
 
on June 12, 2009 6:35pm
One small correction: Traditionally, white bow tie and white vest are worn with a tailcoat ("evening dress") while long striped tie, grey vest and striped trousers are worn with a longish cutaway coat ("morning dress").  (If you've seen pictures of Toscanini leading the NBC Symphony that's what he's wearing.)  For daytime concerts it would be inappropriate to wear either tails or tuxedo/dinner/smoking jacket ("semi-formal"); a black business/lounge suit with long tie is standard during the day.   A white dinner jacket, in North America at least, is by tradition worn only during the summer (between Memorial Day and Labor Day).
 
But today there are many alternatives.  Many conductors now wear jackets built on the tux model, but which button all the way up and have a mandarin collar.  This eliminates the need for a tie.  (A mandarin collar white shirt works well under those.)
 
Those who want to stick with tradition but modernize it a bit might wear a cummerbund (white or black) instead of a vest, and some conductors dress up traditional tails with colorful bow ties and matching cummerbunds.
 
And then there are those who wear something completely different...
 
But whatever you wear, make sure that the sleeves are cut high so the jacket doesn't ride up on your shoulders when you lift your arms.
on June 12, 2009 8:23pm
Jerome wrote:
"One small correction: Traditionally, white bow tie and white vest are worn with a tailcoat ("evening dress") while long striped tie, grey vest and striped trousers are worn with a longish cutaway coat ("morning dress"). (If you've seen pictures of Toscanini leading the NBC Symphony that's what he's wearing.) For daytime concerts it would be inappropriate to wear either tails or tuxedo/dinner/smoking jacket ("semi-formal"); a black business/lounge suit with long tie is standard during the day. A white dinner jacket, in North America at least, is by tradition worn only during the summer (between Memorial Day and Labor Day)."
 
All very correct, and thanks for the correction. I never even thought of "morning dress," since I've actually never seen it worn outside of a period movie.
 
And perhaps that's the key to all this. We're talking about Victorian and pre-World War II times, when the very rich demonstrated their wealth--among other ways--by following such convoluted dress codes. (For reference see any well-designed Agatha Christy movie, especially those featuring Hercule Poirot!)
 
"Evening clothes" were exactly that, what the wealthy wore in the evening; it was called "dressing for dinner," and for the theater, or for dancing. And yes, ladies, "evening dresses" were not trotted out a couple of times a year for special occasions (or for proms for the younger ladies), but were worn daily in the evening. (See also the Ascot Gavotte in "My Fair Lady"!)
 
Thank goodness we're beyond all that as a culture. Are there still restaurants in New York City who deny admittance to gentlemen who are not wearing a coat and tie? And does anyone besides me remember when some TV personality was denied entrance to such a club back in the '60s because she was wearing a mini (or probably micro) skirt? Or the one who was refused admittance because she was wearing pants, so she simply took them off!!!
 
And I do remember, as I think Jerome mentioned, being told that it was improper to wear formal dinner clothes on the Sabath, but I doubt that any orchestra that wears tuxes as standard wardrobe observe that "rule" any more either.
 
Just avoid the blue denim, and you can get away with almost anything else these days!
 
John
 
 
on June 14, 2009 12:52pm
It wasn't the very rich demonstrating their wealth. Quite the contrary. The dress codes allowed the modestly affluent to buy one wardrobe of clothes and then participate in all kinds of social function without being embarrassed by the rich flaunting their wealth in extravagant dress.
 
What has this to do with what conductors should wear nowadays? Well, the idea THEN was that the conductor's dress expressed authority over the players (by being just a bit more formal) and respect for the audience (by observing the same code that the audience used).
 
JW
Edinburgh, Scotland
on June 13, 2009 1:07pm
In my experience, white "pique" style shirt and vest are considered dressier than pleated shirt and plain vest. I agree with others that a white vest and tie should be worn with a tailcoat. In many college ensembles I've been in and observed recently, the male singers wear black tie and vest or cummerbund with traditional tuxedo coat, while the conductor wears white tie and vest with tailcoat. By doing this, the conductor is one level more dressed up than the choir.
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