The answer is no, soloists do not have to wear black! Here we’re talking about professional soloists who are hired-in from other locations and come in for a special program or a concert on a series. (See my previous blog post “Why Do Musicians Always Wear Black” for ensemble wardrobe topics.)
Soloists determine their own wardrobe. For men, the hiring organization chooses tux or tails, cummerbund or not, maybe a vest, and no matter what they are dressed and ready to go in short order. ‘nuff said about the men. For women there are a few more choices.
As I wrote yesterday, black is black is black is black and it’s instantly dressier than a lot of other options. A black dress is an easy and elegant choice. But it’s not the only choice (see #3 below).
Here are a few rules of thumb to follow when choosing a dress or gown:
1. Choose a dress that suits your body type.
Nothing looks more professional and elegant than a fancy piece of clothing that suits you to a T! Plus, you may wear this gown dozens of times. Buy a gown you will want to wear concert after concert after concert.
2. Choose a color that flatters your skin, hair, and eyes.
You’re standing up front and all eyes are on you, so choose colors you know compliment you well. If you’re unsure, ask a professional in a reputable dress shop for a color recommendation. A professional will be able to give you great advice!
TIP: Take a fashionista friend with you. It’s more fun and you can spend some quality time together.
And yes, I frequently choose blue. Not only is it a great color for me, it brings out the blue in my eyes and represents my branding.
3. If you are singing for a more solemn occasion, it is not absolutely necessary to wear black.
Black is an excellent choice, and may be requested by the concert presenter, however dark gray, wine red, dark green, chocolate brown, and dark blue are all appropriate choices and look stunning on stage.
The rule of thumb I learned for solemn occasions is “black is perfectly suitable, and other than that, all other dark colors are also appropriate.” Since the orchestra behind you will most likely be in black, you’ll stand out where you’re supposed to…up front!
4.Make it interesting.
Get creative—people remember your (appropriate) creative choices.
5. Only ever purchase a second-hand dress if it is truly like new.
I have seen such dresses on fellow soloists and they look smashing! HOWEVER, don’t waste your money on a dress that looks, well, pretty good…but has a snag here or there…or has a small tear and you know you won’t take the time to go to a tailor. People notice and it doesn’t leave a good impression. A sub-par dress is the mark of a singer who is less-than-invested in her own career.
6. Have fun with it because let’s face it—it’s fun!
The days of Jane Lunchbox dressing up for dancing at galas or getting into the latest dress fashion for a Friday night dance are out. When else do we get to be glammed up and have hundreds if not thousands of people watching us shine?
The technical aspects of gowns are JUST AS IMPORTANT as the gown itself:
7. Find a tailor who does quality work.
TIP: Ask your friends and colleagues for a tailor. Customers of quality tailors are typically long-term, extremely loyal customers.
Soprano Kirsten Watson, to the left, needed a jacket for this (fantastic) dress. She found material that matched the accent fabric and her tailor turned it into a fantastic jacket. This is gown shopping at its best!
8. Buy appropriate undergarments.
Check for panty lines. Have a bra sewn into the dress. Buy a full-body slip and/or lined bra if you even think you might-possibly-maybe-someday need it for that dress.
Ladies, I have seen a light-colored dress on a woman with inappropriate undergarments. So did all 80 people in the audience. Unfortunately no one remembers what she sang.
9. Cover up the girls. Seriously.
There’s nothing worse than a woman with a heaving bosom singing a pious, reverent aria in the middle of an oratorio. It’s unprofessional and inappropriate. Buy a minimizer bra, a camisole, or have some extra material sewn in to the neckline. Find a complimentary scarf and pin it into your dress if you have no other option.
10. Have the dress shop steam your new gown before you take it home.
They should do this anyway if the dress is wrinkled, but if not, ask them. In my opinion, there should be no charge for this simple service.
11. Always use a reputable dry cleaners with staff who are experienced in cleaning quality gowns.
Yes, I know this through experience as well and my dress is in great shape!
12. Use your dry cleaner well!
When purchasing a like-new, used gown, have it cleaned as soon as you purchase it and it will be ready to go when you need it.
13. Two last words: dress bag.
Spend the extra couple of bucks to get a large, cloth dress bag. Dry cleaner bags tear easily anyway, and this way you can store multiple gowns at home worry- and dust-free.