What NOT to wear

With the NATS auditions coming up, I thought I’d address a couple of things about appropriate attire for performing.

The studio gave a recital last week for a couple of new singers and the kids who are singing on November 5 at UWM. No one dressed horribly but there were a couple of missteps in choice of shoes, dress length, etc. While they didn’t bother me all that much, they bothered my father-in-law, who had come from Maryland to visit that weekend.

Now, my father-in-law is rather conservative in every aspect of his opinions. He has a very strong sense of propriety. Some might call him an old fart. I would never say such a thing. Aloud. Or in print. He went on for the rest of the day about the things that bothered him about the performers’ attire. He could not get past them, even though he liked the individual performances.

Perhaps his reaction was excessive. (The discussion of it certainly was.) But… if he reacted that way, perhaps someone else will as well. Someone who might be your judge. Or deciding on whether you are coming to their school. Or casting people for an upcoming opera or musical.

So you might as well play it safe. Two articles just came out in the September and November issues of Classical Singer magazine:

“Judged by your appearance: What university professors really think about your audition attire” (September 2010);

and

“Judged by your appearance: What artistic directors and hiring agents really think about your audition attire” (November 2010).

In both articles, both the directors and the university professors were horrified by the number of people dressing overly provocatively in audition settings – clothes too short, too tight, too low, too high (heels). Obviously this applies to females more than males. For men, wear a tie and a jacket. (You can take the jacket off if it works for the piece you’re singing, but wearing it at the beginning of the audition makes you look more professional!)

Musical theater gives you a bit more leeway than classical singing. You can be bolder in color, and perhaps a bit more casual in terms of length, but never too short, especially if you are singing on a level higher than the audience.

Dress in a way that works with the material you are singing and what you are auditioning for. I went to the Lyric Opera of Chicago to audition for the chorus and someone came to the audition in a formal gown. That’s as bad as showing up in a track suit (which a former Washington Opera chorister did – and I emphasize “former” – she had already ticked off the chorusmaster by being unprofessional in rehearsals in terms of preparation and to show up underdressed just confirmed the level of her cluelessness).

I, on the other hand, dressed around the fact that there was snow on the ground and I was going to wear boots. I needed to pick out something that would hold look good with my boots and would hold up in the car after a 90 minute drive. (I have planned clothing choices around shoes way more often than I really should.) I don’t remember what it was, but I got hired!

One time I judged NATS lower college musical theater women and a young woman wore a horizontally striped top that was very tight across her abdomen, and this was not a part of her body that should have been highlighted. Particularly when she inhaled, because there was a great deal of expansion and not only did she expand, so did the stripes! It was very distracting. I had to figure out a way to tell her, “Never wear that again, it makes you look fat,” without actually saying, “Never wear that again, it makes you look fat.” So I chose to write:

You may want to consider wearing a pattern that does not draw attention to your breathing mechanism and away from your very expressive face.

I hope that got the point across. Which was, of course, “Never wear that again, it makes you look fat.”

Summarize:

  • If your skirt is short, you have to wear tights or leggings. The latter is more appropriate if you’re doing musical theater.
  • The little black dress has been deemed practical but forgettable. Find something distinguishing to set you apart.
  • If you’re going to wear a shawl, be able to work with it so it’s not awkwardly sliding about your shoulders or constraining you. Better yet, don’t wear a shawl.
  • I don’t have a problem with open-toed shoes but some of the respondents in the articles did. Everyone has a problem with flip-flops. Don’t wear them!
  • If it’s tight enough that you have to wear Spanx or the equivalent under it to look good (and you’ve never sung wearing Spanx or the equivalent), it’s too tight. If you don’t wear them, you’ll look like a sausage bursting out of its casing. If you do and you can’t get a good low breath, then it doesn’t matter how good you look. (Although Marianna said she liked singing in a corset because it gave her something to work against, I want freedom!)

75% of directors admitted that a singer’s poor clothing choices might have an effect on his/her being hired. You have to be really good to get away with not looking good (and I’m not talking about physical attractiveness, only clothing).

However, only 42% admitted the opposite – that a well-dressed singer had an advantage. While the first impression is made when you walk on stage, what comes out of your mouth is the deciding factor.

In business, people are told to dress for the position they want rather than the one they have. Your job right now is student. The position you want is performer. Dress authentically and professionally – convey your personality and tell the truth about yourself.

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