From London To LA: What To Wear To The Theater

what to wear to the theater in Los Angeles

While style has certainly become more globalized over the years, there are still some regional “spins.” Earlier this year when I met up with Josephine (Chic At Any Age) in London, we talked about some of the ways that London style differs from that of Southern California. We thought it might be fun to do a series comparing how we’d dress for certain events or activities in each of our respective cities. For this installment, we’re going to the theater! (And in upcoming posts, we’ll cover an art gallery opening and dinner, as well as a cocktail party.)

People sometimes don’t think of Los Angeles as a “theater town.” While it’s true we don’t have New York’s Broadway or London’s West End, there actually are a lot of large and small theater companies scattered over the area, and theater lovers can always find something interesting. We also have several excellent orchestras and symphonies in the area, the LA Opera, and dozens of live concert venues.

Shown Above

Left: earrings | jacket | tee | bracelet | bracelet | bag | jeans | shoes
Right: earrings | jacket | dress | bracelet | bag | boots

Stage Presence

LA is known for being a “You Do You” kind of town, style-wise. I’ve seen people in jeans at the opera, and in cocktail attire at a grungy comedy improv. But even when we Angelenos are dressed up, there’s usually a certain ease to what we’re wearing; you’ll rarely see anything fussy or stiffly formal. Matchy-matchy is right out. As with Paris, looking as if you tried too hard is avoided. Black or dark wash jeans dressed up with a jacket and heels are right in our wheelhouse. And yes, we do tend to wear a lot of black here.

For going to the theater or any other live performances, I always keep the following in mind:

  • Bring a smallish bag…it will usually have to sit on your lap
  • Avoid bulky layers if you can; unless there’s a coat check (not always a given here in LA…) you’ll be holding your outerwear during the performance.
  • During warmer months some theaters or performance halls can be quite chilly as they tend to crank the a/c. I’ll often bring a scarf or wrap.
  • I’ll usually wear closed-toe shoes, to avoid having my toes stepped on as people navigate past in the row.

Pop over to Chic At Any Age to see Josephine’s take on London theater dressing.

Have you seen any good theater productions lately?

Theater Company…

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  1. I like to “dress” for the theatre. It makes it an “event” and I like to step it up. Love your outfits, Sue! I recently saw a high school production of “School of Rock”…even though it was at a school, I rallied and wore something I would wear to Broadway…dark clothing, a cape, make-up and some “pizazz”…the actors might not notice, but I feel better about myself when I’ve taken some extra steps.

    I’m disheartened when people just “show up” in what ever they were lying around the house in…seriously, jeans and a football jersey? C’mon, dad! Make an effort! Last time I was in NYC, some dude couldn’t wait for the people in front of him to clear the aisle, so he vaulted over the seats in front of him and made a mad dash for the concession stand…and then proceeded to unwrap and consume his stash for the first few minutes of the 2nd Act…so. annoying.

  2. I love this post! And since I have been in a blue funk lately, I hadn’t even remembered that I have tickets to a show next week. We have a wonderful Broadway Theater League which brings road shows to our upstate NY community. When I first started attending 20 years ago, people “dressed”. But everything has become quite casual and seeing someone decked out to the nines is unusual. Looking at your beautiful selections, however, gave me an idea. I have a lovely short, boxy jacket – black with a subtle brown swirl and natural jewels at the neck. How about a pair of black skinny jeans and heeled boots with it to glam up an otherwise casual look? And it gives me a chance to wear a jacket that always gets saved “for good.”

  3. I love both those outfits, perfect for bringing just enough glam without looking overdone. Our last theatre event was the ballet here in Bordeaux’s beautiful old Grand Théâtre — I’m pretty limited by my travel wardrobe, but had brought along a deep-blue “velvet” (heavy jersey velour) bracelet-sleeved, knee-length simple shift/sheath and wore it with my low-heeled black ankle boots. At home, I’d have done a bit better, but it was a good compromise and I fit in very well with the crowd here (ranged from jeans to party pants). Next up, when we get back home, is an outing to a puppet performance of the opera Hansel and Gretel with my two oldest granddaughters (4 and 8) — we’ll all dress up for that!

  4. I have to admit I haven’t been to theater much in France. Mostly NY and London. But I was a regular at the opera all over Europe. And people dress to the nines, in every city I went to (especially in Brussels!).
    I have been collecting photos of tourists in my town in the south of France. I’ll share them soon! I’ll just say, there are lots of chic tourists.

  5. I love this post and your outfit choices are superb. I like to think of “dressing for the theater” and it is wise to remember that that means different things in different cities.Thanks for pointing that out. Denver, CO is definitely a “You do You” town as well, and terribly casual. Sometimes I miss my east coast wardrobe. 🙂 Love the way that you write.

  6. I was recently in a hospital reception area in L.A. when a woman came up to me and kindly complimented me by telling me how chic I looked. I was particularly flattered as she was elegance personified. I glowed for hours after the compliment feeling pleased I had made an effort. Ladies, why wait for “special” occasions to dress up? Let’s make every day “special” and try to raise the standards. It will give pleasure to ourselves as well as others. What could be nicer?

  7. I regularly attend theater in the Bay Area, and occasionally in L.A. If I’m ever in New York, I attend theater there as well. I also have a subscription to National Theatre Live screenings, which are mostly broadcast from London and which feature long shots of the audience. I have never, even once, seen any woman dressed in anything remotely as fancy as what you depict — jeans and a sweater are the norm everywhere. (Even at the S.F. Opera, whose home base is the magnificent Beaux Arts-style War Memorial Opera House.) But I don’t deny it might be nice!

    1. Nancy, that’s interesting. We used to have a season pass to the Long Beach Symphony. And while some did show up in casual attire, many women dressed with similar levels of formality I’ve shown here. I’ve seen a full range at theater performances, from jeans to sequined jackets. I say, why not dress up a little? 🙂

  8. I agree with Nancy Friedman’s comments above. With the exception of opening night for perhaps opera or ballet, I have never seen anyone dressed as fancy as the outfits you have selected. I live in London & NY and am often in LA; we attend theatre quite often. For anyone traveling, please keep it simple. The most I would suggest is to maybe add an elegant scarf or wrap for evening. But even that is unnecessary. We go from the office straight to the theatre. We do it often. While I also like to make going out “an event”, if you dress like the images above, you will stand out as someone who does not attend theatre very often. In Europe, you will be tagged an American tourist.

    1. Sorry … I meant to say if you dress like the outfit on the right … you will be tagged an American tourist or someone who is a novice. I really like your selections, Susan; they are classic and elegant. I just mean to say it isn’t necessary to dress up for theatre. Dress simply, attend and enjoy … while packing lightly.

  9. I live in Northern Europe and can assure you that if you dress in any of the two outfits you have shown, no one here will think you are ‘an American tourist or a novice’. While you will see many people here who do not dress up for theatre, you will also see many who actually do. And from personal experience, I can tell you that those who dress up will often get admiring gazes, friendly smiles and appreciative comments from strangers.

  10. Any Chicago readers here with insight on dressing for Chicago theater? Going in the next few months; it will be winter so cold weather will also factor in…

  11. I live in London and I enjoy going to the theatre a few times a year and, although I like to look smart, I don’t think that I would dress up like that. Well, maybe if I had seats in the Royal box at the National Opera! My enjoyment of a show does not necessitate ‘dressing up’ and I don’t mind if the people sitting next to me are casually dressed. London is an expensive city; for many Londoners, going to the theatre is a treat. I am thinking about young people and students as well as pensioners, who may have queued for hours for last minute, reduced price tickets. If you were expected to dress up, a lot of people would not be able to go.Anyway, the people who flocked to the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time were not all dressed up to the nines, I am sure!
    The last show I saw was a musical, ‘Kinky Boots’, at the Adelphi. It was great fun, a real ‘feel good’ musical.
    The outfits are absolutely lovely, by the way, and I would wear them at a wedding or a formal dinner.

  12. I have been bemoaning the lack of “dressing up” for the theater for years. I have begun ushering at our cities largest concert hall where I also am a patron. I make it a point to compliment those dressed attractively and appropriately. Not so much the young lady seated next to me in Daisy Dukes and a tank top!