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What to wear to a Broadway show

What to wear on Broadway: How to dress for the theatre

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

You've chosen a show to see, gotten your Broadway tickets, and marked the date on your calendar. Now comes the next tricky decision — what to wear. You want to make a good impression in front of friends and family (not to mention a crowd), but what's the perfect outfit for a Broadway show?

Deciding what to wear to the theatre can seem daunting — you want to strike a balance between sophisticated and practical. If you're struggling to pick out your upcoming theatre outfit from your wardrobe, we've got great advice on what (and what not) to wear to a show. Luckily, nowadays people wear all types of clothing to the theatre, so the cardinal rule is: If you feel great in whatever you're wearing, it's probably a perfect fit.

What can I wear to a Broadway show?

The simple answer is anything. Most theatres no longer have dress codes, so it doesn't matter what you wear. As long as you have a ticket for your performance, you'll be allowed into the venue. Both formal and informal clothing is accepted. 

From casual t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops to a cocktail dress or tuxedo, the spectrum of audience style is so broad that there is no specific dress code. However, for special performances, including first previews, opening nights and gala nights, it may be worth polishing your dress shoes and ironing a shirt for an effortless "smart-casual" outfit.

If going to the theatre is a special occasion rather than a regular occurrence, you may want to dress up in a formal outfit and shoes. Overall, it's best to be in an outfit you feel comfortable in, though — you don't want to spend a few hours sitting down with blistered feet. 

Do certain shows require certain outfits?

Again, you can wear anything you want to a show. There are some productions in which you may want to consider if your outfit could impede on the full experience. For example, if you're seeing an immersive show in New York, you may want to wear clothes that you can move in. Some immersive shows even encourage you to dress for a certain theme or time period to feel fully part of the atmosphere. That said, it can even be fun to wear a show-inspired outfit to a non-immersive show; for example, wearing a pink or black dress when seeing Wicked to emulate Glinda or Elphaba.

Certain venues also have specific, long-standing traditions for dress, even though there's no explicit dress code. At the Metropolitan Opera, for example, formalwear has always been the standard and continues to be. Conversely, if you're going to a small venue or especially an outdoor performance, a casual outfit is usually best. You don't want to get a fancy outfit muddy or wet! Use your judgment.

Are costumes allowed at the theatre?

Wearing a costume to the theatre is generally acceptable, and some shows are known for attracting fans that arrive in outfits inspired by Broadway characters. Six audiences have turned up to the Brooks Atkinson Theatrein "royal" clothing similar to Henry VIII's wives. Some shows have even run costume contests, including Beetlejuice and the most recent revival of Once On This Island, so it is encouraged.

That said, don't wear an extravagant outfit that looks like it should belong on the stage rather than in the audience. It's off-putting for theatregoers around you to peer over feathers, sequins, and a tall headdress — not to mention the actors that can likely see a loud outfit from the stage.

Do's and don'ts of dressing for the theatre

Even without a dress code, you want to make sure your theatre outfit is comfortable and sensible. Here are some tips for what to wear and what to avoid no matter what your style.

Do wear clothes that are an appopriate length 

Consider the length of your shirt, skirt, or shorts when you're sitting in your seat. If you're sitting in the front rows of the orchestra seating or in the round, you don't want the cast and fellow audiences to see more of you than the stage. Make sure you feel classy and comfortable at the same time.

Do pack flat shoes to wear or to change into after the show

Heels are fun, especially if you're dressing up for the theatre on a special occasion, but you don't want to be hobbling into your seat after a day of walking around New York. If you're going to wear heeled boots or shoes, make sure you've got a flat pair of shoes in your bag to change into. 

Do dress for the weather and not for social media

Even though the vast majority of New York theatres have a rooftop, there are a few open-air venues in the city. When attending an outdoor show, like at Shakespeare in the Park, make sure you pack a raincoat and/or umbrella so you don't get wet if it rains. And wear a sweater long-sleeved shirt if it's cold outside, even if the performance is inside — you don't want to show up shivering! (See below for additional tips about jackets.)

Do buy official show merchandise

Want to change up your wardrobe, but keep it Broadway themed? Many productions sell official clothes and accessories in the lobby, so you can buy some merchandise before the show and wear it in the auditorium. It's a great way to show your support for the show while keeping cozy. 

Do wear clothes that will keep you cool

Most theatres are air-conditioned, but since you may be sharing the auditorium with hundreds of fellow theatregoers, the venue can get warm very quickly. If you're seeing a Broadway show in the summer months, pick out an outfit that you can stay cool in. Steer clear of wearing clothes that will stick to the seat, or worse, yourself. 

Do keep the layers to a minimum

That being said, you may enter the theatre with layers on, especially if you've walked in from the streets on a cold winter's day. Consider the limited space for coats, sweaters, and other accessories that may limit how much you could store under your seat. Broadway theatres have coat rooms to store coats and bags, but some have been closed since the pandemic. As such, you have to take whatever you brought to your seat, and space is limited. If you're seeing a Broadway show on a chilly day, wear thicker but fewer layers so you can stay warm without leaving your entire wardrobe on the floor. 

Find out more about what's playing on Broadway and how to get theatre tickets in New York. 

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