What to Wear: Let’s Get Practical

One choral leader described setting a concert attire policy as “somewhere near getting a root canal.” Ouch! We asked choruses—and the choral apparel companies that clothe them—to give us their best advice for making the process as pain-free as possible. 

Remember your mission.

What your chorus is about will influence the choral outfits you choose. Groups singing music of a certain genre or tradition may reflect that in their choral wear. Or if you’re championing new music in new and unusual venues, formal “concert black” may not be the ticket.

Look at choral garb from the audience point of view.

Choral wear is a costume worn to project a certain look to the audience. That polyester black dress may not be the outfit you’d wear to a dinner party, says Slusher of Rivar’s, “but from a distance, it can look elegant.” Remember that in smaller ensembles variation in fashion may not be as distracting as it would be in a larger group. Looking at outfits from the audience point of view also helps avoid missteps. “We’ve made some mistakes, not realizing until it was too late that a fabric was either too dull or too transparent,” says Cion of Kitka. “It really takes somebody who has an eye and understands how things look on stage.”

Get members’ feedback, but task a small committee with making the final decision.

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the choral wear decision-making process, a number of choruses reported. Strawbridge said the Master Chorale of South Florida named a three-

Dressing Your Chorus

For a wider range of attire examples and a more nuanced discussion of matching your apparel to your chorus' programming and/or mission, read our companion article, "Dressing Your Chorus."

person group to choose the women’s outfits—“two women in their 50s and one younger women” in order to represent the various ages of sizes of singers. “Having the whole chorus have to reach a consensus is setting yourself up for torment,” says Anderson of Concert Black. “If you have a hundred singers in your choir, you will have a hundred different opinions.” Having a small committee in place also gives garment companies a point of contact within a chorus. “It’s always a challenge from the company’s standpoint of who to reach out to,” says Slusher of Rivars.

Beware of sizing.

Choral wear sizing does not match fashion industry sizing, says Slusher of Rivars. “You might take a 12 or 14 in costume company dress, when you buy an 8 in stores.” Choral wear companies often send sample outfits in all sizes, so that singers can try them on.

Make sure to have a plan in place for quality control.

When Seattle Pro Music made the change in its choral wear policies, artistic director Karen Thomas appointed herself to have the final word. “We ask people to put on their outfit at home and take a picture and send it to us,” she says. “If we have a question about the fabric, we ask them to bring it in and wear it. Certain kinds of fabrics look fine alone, but when you put them with the rest of the choir, they pop out because of the texture.” MPLS sends out photos of the kinds of outfits it has in mind for a particular venue or concert and then asks singers to come early to check out their choices. The Master Chorale of South Florida has a small committee that posts pictures of the choral version of Glamour magazine’s “do’s and don’ts.” Whoever is appointed as the “choral wear police” has to have a thick skin. “You can’t be afraid to take a stand,” says Strawbridge.   Click here for a slideshow of chorus attire photos.

Kelsey Menehan is a writer, psychotherapist, and longtime choral singer based in San Francisco. 

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