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Performance Anxiety – when that outfit just shouldn’t be on stage

March 21, 2013 by rosie

Some things just shouldn't be witnessed!

Some things just shouldn’t be witnessed!

Something happened to me recently just after my last post:  it was just such a timely reminder and such a reinforcement of my ‘top five rules‘, that I just have to write about it.

At the risk of sounding like a constant whinger, and turning my blog into an outlet for all my gripes, I would like to briefly touch upon the subject of performance outfits.  I attend (and occasionally partake in) numerous concerts and performances, and more and more often, I find myself disappointed and distracted by what performers choose to wear.

While I realise that the outfits should be, and are, secondary to the music, or whatever other talent the performer is sharing with the audience, I find it impossible to completely separate what I am visually experiencing from what I am hearing. And yes, I suppose I could shut my eyes, but often I want to see the facial expressions, the instrumental technique, the interaction between performers etc. And, if they have chosen a horrendous outfit, for me, it’s like watching a disaster unfurl; like a car crash. It is upsetting to see, but at the same time, I can’t take my eyes off it.

The level of  enjoyment gained from my latest two concert-going experiences was severely reduced by the soloists’ choice of attire. In performance number one, the soloist (a fantastic singer) decided to wear something that looked like it had been purchased from Supre back in the late 90’s. And for those of you who don’t know exactly what I mean here, Supre = STRETCH fabric. Of the worst kind.

This lady had a very attractive face, even for a woman in her 50’s, but that fact that she was wearing a  super-stretchy, faded black dress that showed up every bulge and curve, with a split that was far too high, and with fabric that was entirely see-through when under the spotlight, and with  cleavage that was far too low and revealed half her bra, completely cheapened her entire look. The fact that she decided to wear knee high boots under her dress (when her fellow male soloists where in full tails getup) deleted any last vestige of class that remained. No matter how hard I tried to focus on her singing, I just couldn’t wrench myself away from the horror of this ghastly (clothing) ensemble.

Her fellow lady soloist wasn’t much better. While her dress, thankfully, was slightly more opaque, saving the audience from knowing EXACTLY what lay beneath, she had committed the irredeemable sin of wearing a bra which wasn’t low enough for the cut of the dress in the back.  So for the entire first half when she wore this outfit, her underwar featured.  Again, not a classy look.

The second half of the concert, where a costume change occurred, offered some relief. Singer number one came out in a less tacky outfit, which offered far better scaffolding for optimal bodily containment. However, the chunky knee high boots remained. Here’s my advice. Chunky knee-high boots NEVER look good underneath a ballgown. It might seem that ‘no one will notice’, but we do! We DO! Shoes are noticeable!!  Particularly if they look completely ridiculous and don’t match the rest of your wardrobe!

Again, the other soloist appeared in the second half in what I’m pretty sure was her wedding dress. This I can accept (actually it’s quite clever, really, if you can get multiple wears out of your wedding gown). However – and this is just one of several examples where I have seen this – it also looked as though the dress had been crumpled up in the back of the cupboard for several years.  Again, here’s my advice – if you are on stage, in the spotlight, please take the time to make sure that your gown, or suit, is crease-free. There is nothing worse than being in the audience and knowing that the soloist hasn’t even bothered to make an effort to look their best. And it’s distracting.

Another concert I attended recently also featured several soloists. The two women were both wonderful singers in their own right. But their choice of attire bothered me for the entirety of the concert. For one thing, it was obvious that they hand’t discussed their wardrobe choices with each other prior to performance (if they did, then this is even more disturbing). They couldn’t have been more at the end of polar extremes if they tried. One looked like she was trying to channel a sexy, evil serpentine stepmother at a mirrorball disco; the other looked like she belonged in a 17th century Italian portrait of the madonna. Unfortunately, neither of the singers were representing characters, and, equally unfortunate, the extremeties of their ‘look’ caused the other to appear even more ridiculous. As  the piece being performed did  have an historic religious context and theme, the Virgin Mary look (however distinctly 1990’s in its vibe) was probably slightly more appropriate than the other soloist’s choice of attire. I think, if one is performing something that has a sacred/religious context, then it’s probably best to steer away from super-sexy, giltzy outfits.

Similarly, other soloists have appeared on stage looking fabulous in knock-out frocks, until the embarassing and awkward moment when both they, and the audience, realise that this fabulous-ness came at the cost of functionality. If your dress is so tight and fitted that you struggle to walk in it, this is going to be emphasised a hundred-fold when you make the trek from the wings to centre stage in spotlight. If your strapless dress doesn’t seem to stay put during your performance, your audience may be on the edge of their seats for the entire concert, and not becuase they are enraptured by your outstanding performance. If your shoes are so ridiculously high that you are forced to teeter and totter in a completely stilted fashion, you will end up looking ridiculous.

However, it’s not just soloists. I am repeatedly disappointed by attire of tutti musicians in ensembles and orchestras. Inevitably, it’s the women that let the team down. The gentlemen usually have the safeguard of having to wear tails, white bow tie etc – they don’t have to think about what to wear.  But very rarely do the ladies match the level of formality and ‘specialness’ of the occasion that the gents’ tails – and the concert hall –  invoke.  I don’t mean that the women need to be in full-blown ball gowns (and I personally feel that strapless items should be avoided at all costs – particularly if you are frantically bowing a string instrument), but I do think that ladies performing in daggy stretch t-shirt fabric tops, and synthetic supre-like quality pants is offensive to the audience.  I’ve seen skivvies on stage that look they’ve been purchased from target; faded black t-shirts; layered outfits that resemble something you’d wear to the grocery store; crumpled up garments that you just know have been sitting in a muso’s emergency “blacks stash” in their instrument case or locker. Few of these are becoming in general, let alone under stage lights.

Musicians’ hairstyles also annoy me  too. You’re sitting on stage, amongst gentlemen in tails, and it looks like you haven’t done your hair since you shoved it in a ponytail for that run this morning. I just don’t think its good enough. And while garments on stage do need to be functional  to a degree – you need to be able to move in them, play your instrument etc – part of their function is also to present each musician at their best, and to lend the sense of occasion,  beauty, elegance and pizazz to the whole concert experience. You are not just lost in the sea of musicians – you are important, you are noticed and you impact the overall image and integrity of the company you represent.

So, after all that, here are my top five fashion tips for performers:

1. If it’s even vaguely see-through in normal conditions, it will be see-through on stage.
If you’re worried that it’s too tight or clingy, it probably is. (Maybe it’s time to invest in that petticoat?)

2. If you are appearing with other soloists, take the time to coordinate outfits to some extent.

3. Whatever you’re wearing, make sure it’s pressed and presentable.

4. Whilst I acknowledge it’s more effort, chances are if it doesn’t need to be dry-cleaned, it’s probably not suitable for wearing on stage.
Tasteful use of sequins and beading can be excused, but tread carefully!

5. Dress for the occasion – if your male counterparts are in tails, make the effort to be in sync with the visual aethetic.

And in case you missed them earlier, my five general shopping tips also apply.

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