Vienna has a new dress code. Are we bothered?

Vienna has a new dress code. Are we bothered?


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2016

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has commissioned new tails from Vivienne Westwood.

A free encore for those who stay awake through the whole (short) video.



  • Nick says:

    Well, I did stay through to the end! Whoever would have thought that Vivienne Westwood – of all fashion designers – would end up with a look, for the men at least, that seems to be a step back in time? How many in the audience I wonder are really going to notice those changes? And why dress the women in the same sort of style as the men? I still remember when the lades of the excellent Scottish Chamber Orchestra would come on stage wearing long silk dresses in very restrained, muted colours. It was far more pleasing on the eye than a wash of pure black and white under stark white concert hall lighting.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    I found the new dress code remarkable, elegant and tasteful. Top notch. Would love to own one of those men suits myself.

  • MissPrinteditions says:

    I had wild, high hopes at the beginning of this but saw them dashed when it became apparent that no thought had been given to the discomfort suffered by male violinists and violists. Throughout my own orchestra life, I’ve continuously commiserated with those poor fellows obliged to wear constricting fastenings and accessories at precisely the spot where their instruments are held. The collar and tie in these designs appear lower and less protuding than the foregoing versions, but still — an opportunity has been missed, I feel, and I have countless colleagues who, no doubt, would agree, judging by the sizeable catalogue of complaints that only I am familiar with, let alone the rest of the orchestra/chamber music community. Stylish, yes; practical solution for a very old problem, not really. Leider.

  • Maura says:

    Tasteful, yes, if you discount the fact that she had to put the women into black suits…. *snore*. Plus ça change..

  • BillG says:

    Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony commissioned a design school (can’t recall the name at the moment, I believe it was in NYC) to come up with a more practical concert “uniform” for the BSO. It would be interesting to compare/contrast the two results by someone knowledgeable of both.

    • Brian says:

      Yes, Alsop and Baltimore partnered with the Parsons School of Design to remake their concert dress a couple years ago. They came out with somewhat more modern looks, although the emphasis was on facilitating greater comfort for the musicians when they play (with stretchable, athletic fabrics, etc.).

      I’ll give Vienna credit – whatever you think of the new outfits, they show that they’re trying to modernize (somewhat), unlike the many orchestras that stick to the Victorian-era uniforms that place them in a different century.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Beautiful, but the suit looks too tight. I hope the current ‘slim fit’ mode will be outdated soon. The musicians deserve to feel comfortable.

  • Very classy and elegant.
    Everything this unique orchestra deserve!!

    • Sue says:

      Totally agree!!!

      • BillG says:

        In the most recent Mission Impossible movie with the scene in the concert hall, real musicians were hired to sit in the pit, not play but get paid the going rate for extras.

        One of these musicians had found a tax at a second hand shop when he started his career. It was rather shopworn. The benefit he found from this movie gig was the costume mistress. She had done all the costumes on the Harry Potter movies. She picked up his tux and give it the going over in needed to return it to its original glory. That was probably worth move that what he was paid.

  • herrera says:

    1) Classical music people have always be a little schizophrenic: even as composers push to break the boundaries of their own times, performers on the other hand continue to bind themselves to the most conservative of dress and habits to the extent of even going backwards in time.

    2) What do classical musicians wear when there is a real wedding to go to?

    3) Loosen up. Even the Queen puts on a quilted farmer’s jacket on weekends.

    • Sue says:

      …and has animals living under her feet. Dangerous, especially for a person in her 90s.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Real progress would be: from something not so good, to something better. If orchestral players would dress like soccer fans, that would not be progress. In general, in the West, people were dressed much better before 1914. Aesthetically-pleasing dress codes that hark back to aesthetically-better times, is progress. Advice to loosen-up, to let yourself go a bit, unbutton your self-discipline, take it more easily, etc. etc. may be the edge of a slippery slope that ends in places like Syria. There are moments to forget dress code (like when taking a bath) and there are moments and situations where aesthetics in appearance are meaningful (like a concert in the Musikverein). The architect of that place did not make all that effort to give the hall a dignified character to invite players and audiences who prefer jeans and dirty T-shirts.

      In terms of taste we are so much poorer now.

  • Observer says:

    The suits look good, although no one wears Westwood with the panache of Thibaudet, who she also dresses.

    Slightly more concerned about not seeing either of VPO’s celebrated new female wind players – Karin Bonelli, flute or Sophie Dartigalongue, bassoon, in the NYear’s Concert rehearsal pics.This is a situation so new, so unprecedented, that it behooves us, the public, to keep a close eye on things.

    True, Ms. Bonelli now has tenure and Ms. Dartigalongue is featured as spokeswoman in VPO’s New Year’s Concert ads. But I sincerely hope that VPO plans to actually continue using these 2 talented women in the orch., and not just keep them on the roster as decorative tokens rather than well integrated members of the orch.

    They kind of did that with the Bulgarian concertmaster, giving her tenure and then not using her much. It’s MUCH more noticeable in the case of winds if that happens.

    Hoping maybe the cameras just missed them in the rehearsal pics. Hiring females in the VPO is not necessarily a shoo-in, a done deal. They have to actually PLAY with the orch. Right now the NYear’s reh. pic look pretty much the same as the old VPO. All guys in winds, brass, perc. Have they really changed or is it just lip service?

    • NYMike says:

      Not holding breath waiting for concertmaster Albena Danailova to actually appear as concertmaster on a VPO New Year’s Day b’cast

      • Bviolinistic says:

        Although all four concertmasters in the orchestra work approximately the same amount, there is still a hierarchy within the group. The principal concertmaster is Rainer Honeck, followed by Steude, Danailova and Blumenschein. In some cases two concertmasters must be present (the New Year concert, for example) and it would always be a senior concertmaster on the first chair in such a case. That means that the likelihood that Albena could lead a New Year concert became a possibility this year, when she took the third position. Who plays which concerts is decided amongst the group in much the same way as any orchestral section decides who is going to play what.

  • Ciarán says:

    Dame Vivienne was the Professor Fashion at the Vienna Academy of Applied Arts, where she met her husband Andreas, who is Austrian. For such a reactionary country, I think it surprising that they even considered two designers that are still seen as radical.

    If the clothes are made for every singer individually, I think we can be safe that every artist can do what they need to do.

    And as for putting women in black suits, they won’t exactly need to make many of them.

    • Sue says:

      “A reactionary country”? Oh, is that what it takes to feel totally safe on the streets any hour of the day or night, on public transport or anywhere in Austria? Well, that’s how it was when I lived there in 2011 and when I visited for 3 months in 2015. Can’t say what it’s like now since events of the last 18 months.

      For the sake of public safety and civil behaviour we could all use a dose of “reactionary”.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The ladies look very smart but the men look ridiculous like head waiters or refugees from a wedding. So uncomfortable to sit under hot stage lights . No wonder young people are put off from such stiff and starched performers.

    • Sue says:

      These are sad comments indeed. Sad because the little snowflakes won’t put up with anything at all today that isn’t right at the bottom of the pile. They are free to ‘express their individuality’ in a T-shirt and jeans.

      Good: I won’t have to compete with them for seats!!

    • Holly Golightly says:

      Yes, those concerts are really only for very grown up people.

  • Peter says:

    When the AGM at choir is going on a bit, I always ask 7f we can discuss ladies’ concert dress again. It’s guaranteed to empty the rom of all the men, and quite a few women as well.

  • Elene Gusch says:

    Speaking as a musician who has done clothing design, I love these. I would be more than delighted to have a suit like this to wear myself. It’s not easy to come up with a jacket design that hangs this elegantly. Of course it would great to look like the two models they chose, too– most of the orchestra surely does not.

    I hope that the designer did take the need for freedom of movement into account adequately, and that the suits are made to measure for each player.

    Not sure why I was supposed to have trouble staying awake! I thought the video was inspiring.

  • Frankie says:

    It’s about time that orchestral players were allowed to abandon these ridiculous fancy dress costumes! Hardly a conductor under 70 wears tails these days and orchestras look much happier and more appropriately dressed in dark trousers and loose black shirts. Tails were from the days when every man wore them to go to a concert or opera in the evenings. Now you hardly ever even see a tie on men in the audience and so much better for it! I feel sorry for the musicians every time that I see them walk on stage.

    • Mario Denis says:

      Ahh… finally an opinion that makes sense.
      most comments sound like so much like snobbery, so passé….
      I thought the Tails were burnt along with the bras eons ago!!!!!!!!
      I would never wear a dirty t shirt anywhere anyway but would certainly like to see much more relaxed musicians…and as far as for the Neru jackets I was refused entry at Place des Arts here in Montreal because I was wearing one in 1967, how times have changed at least in the audience….now for the stage well its still pretty dusty.
      If they want to regulate outfits they should also regulate haircuts…..some of those men look freaky in Tails and pony tails….

      • John Borstlap says:

        Tails are ‘passé’ as much as classical music is ‘passé’. Why not throwing all of it in the dustbin?

        This is what you get in the era of the egalitarian society: let there not be anything a bit more classy than the lowest denominator.

        • Pianofortissimo says:

          Dear John, you are definitely right about the dress code, but you are not right enough – male musicians should not have pony tails, no beard, and absolutely no piercing and no tatoos.

          • Sue says:

            You won’t find that in the VPO anyway!! They are an elegant, classy and conservative orchestra – and I adore them; adore, I say!! It’s not about them – it’s about the MUSIC.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Agreed. I did not dare to think about such things. It is already bad enough that one of the 2nd violin ladies in the Chatanooga Symphony has a little heart tattoo on her behind.

            But seriously, why would people want the trendy barbarism like presenting yourself like a member of a prehistoric tribe be allowed in the context of classical music? The mind boggles. (Maybe they took Stravinsky’s Sacre too literally?)

  • Bruce says:

    As a professional musician of 25+ years, I have ALWAYS loathed our dress code. (I mean the male dress code. Women have always had much more leeway — as long as it’s black, formal-looking, and doesn’t show too much skin, it’s OK.) I’m familiar with the “oh, but it looks so handsome/ stylish/ classy/ distinguished” counterargument, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that the clothes are hot, heavy, and not designed for movement. They are designed to look good while you’re standing still, either in a wedding or at a cocktail party with a drink in your hand, not for <i<doing anything. Notice how violinists & violists have to yank their bow ties crooked to fit their instrument under the jaw; note the sleeves on the left arms of the bass players. I’m “only” a flute player, but I have to have a coat that is big and baggy on me so that I can bring my arms & shoulders around to the instrument (and it still gets bloody hot under all those lights).

    Back when I believed in such a possibility, it was always disappointing to read about some designer’s “revolutionary” new design for concert wear, only to find out that it looked EXACTLY THE SAME with some tweak to the shape of the lapels. I see no reason why a great orchestra could not look just as “distinguished” all dressed in black turtlenecks, and be a lot more comfortable.

    Incidentally, a concert that changed my life was the Concertgebouw playing Das Lied at Symphony Hall in Boston in October 1990. There had been a mixup with planes and luggage, and the orchestra had arrived late without their luggage; they had to perform in their street clothes (except a few who had apparently brought their concert wear as carry-on luggage). It was heart-breakingly beautiful, and of course superbly played and conducted by Riccardo Chailly (in slacks and a sweater).

    • Pedro says:

      It also happened in London in 1987. The concert clothes of the Berlin Phil were late so the musicians played Brahms 4 and 2 under Karajan in their usual clothes. The concert was superb.

    • John Borstlap says:

      On the première of Brahms’ first piano concerto in Leipzig in 1859 that the composer conducted, his trousers were merely fastened by a simple chord that got loose during the 1st movement, so that he had to continuously readjust the garment to prevent it from falling on the ground and revealing his underware, which meant that all attention of the anxious audience went to the trousers drama instead of the musical drama, with the result that the performance was a flop. Performers’ dress has to be aesthetically appropriate and especially: safe.

      • Bruce says:

        chord ≠ cord 🙂

      • Sue says:

        I’m reading Swafford’s Brahms biography right now. That Leipzig concert was a disaster – the people hated the D Minor Concerto, booed and hissed and walked out. It had nothing to do with Brahms’s wardrobe malfunction.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Maybe it was on another occasion, but it was one of those early performances of that concerto conducted by the composer.

          • Sue says:

            Actually, I do vaguely remember reading something like that in Swafford’s book, but not about that particular concert.

            On another note (cough), can you imagine anybody booing the D Minor Piano Concerto by Brahms??!!!

    • NYMike says:

      On the hot, heavy restrictive tails, I agree 100%! As a fiddle-player I had extra material cut under the arms for freedom of movement. The bow-tie was always a problem.

  • Rgiarola says:

    They should use that Venezuelan flag jacket and pants during tomorrow concert. If you going to die, die with your boots on.

    • Sue says:

      Let’s hope it doesn’t ever come to that. It certainly didn’t for The Dude last night.

      Oh those clothes – they are simply elegant and the orchestra looked stunning and played stunningly. The Dude wore them too, and he looked fine.

  • Graziano says:

    I remember James Levine and Munchner in Naples 2002 were playing in white shirt because of a very hot summer. It was an exception, otherwise no deviation from formal dress !. As to conductors, they should stop wearing those unsightly Mao Zedong style jackets (Gergiev, Nelsons….).

    • Sue says:

      And, please, let Gergeiv shave. He looks like an eremite from the streets of St. Petersburg.

      • Observer says:

        Naw. Kinda goes with his sexy bad-boy image. He’s like the Jack Nicholson of the conducting world, except Jack Nicholson probably rehearses.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        … and conducting with a toothpick instead of a baton does not make things better.

        • Sue says:

          My sentiments exactly; what IS that toothpick all about? Does he use it between movements to remove remnants of borscht from his teeth? Is this very question ‘too much information’?

          Stay tuned for these and other fabulous questions which have no answers!

  • Cyril Blair says:

    The women’s outfits are lovely, especially the blouses. The men’s could do without the stripey trousers…

    Ms. Westwood is quite beautiful herself. Those double eyebrows are….novel.

    • Sue says:

      I love the striped trousers, especially being so fitted and tailored! And the double-breasted vests. And the delectable Ernst Ottensamer on clarinet. Yummy.