What to Wear to a Broadway Show - A Style Guide

New York, New York! So, you have planned out your visit to the Big Apple, booked your accommodation, bought plane tickets and, to top it all off, decided to buy tickets for a Broadway show. Whether it is your first time visiting New York or you just can’t get enough of this marvelous, exciting metropolis, you must have, at the least, considered going to a Broadway show. 

what to wear to a broadway show
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Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway productions are so coveted and appreciated for a good reason. They are not only a perfect cherry on the cake of your stroll around the possibly most famous neighborhood in the world. In addition to that, the thespian talents that you will have the opportunity to see in person will mostly soothe you after a day that might only be described as a hectic, sightsee-for-your-life experience.

what to wear to a broadway show

But what should you wear? That may seem like a silly question, but the theatre dress codes may be different from country to country. In some theatres and opera houses of the world, like the Bolshoi Theatre or the Vienna State Opera, you are implicitly expected to put in dutiful attention to your appearance. So much so, that white tie dress code clothing like evening gowns and tuxedos are nothing unusual to spot at such venues. 

When it comes to Broadway, there is no strict rulebook to follow. And yes, this is not a drill. There is no strict dress code delineated for Broadway shows. This is definitely good news for people who are not fond of paying overweight fees at airports or shelling out massive amounts of money to satisfy an established dress code. So, let’s take a look at just what it is that you should wear to a Broadway show.

How to decide what to wear to a Broadway show

So, you’ve been anxious as to how to wear a tie, how to wear a vest, or any other formal garment to your chosen Broadway show. If you already have decided which musical you want to see, you might have seen detailed advice, explanation, and guidelines related to theatre policies on ticket-selling websites. If you haven’t seen anything about dress codes, here it is - the no dress code policy is customary to the majority of productions, regardless of their reputation, theme, and the like. The only performances that may be an exception to this rule are opening and closing performances. More on that later. 

Therefore, whether you’re seeing a longstanding, household musical like the sultry and jazzy Chicago, or the contemporary and hilarious Mean Girls, either way, they are treated equally, and you do not have a fixed dress code to follow.

what to wear to broadway show

Theoretically, you could even wear something like this, ho ho ho! 

But - there is always a but - if you take a look at instruction given next to the description of the play and the venue, you might notice a note recommending you to wear smart casual. So, in theory, you will not be refused entry if you are in your pajamas, but, let’s face it, it’s better to leave those kinds of… quirky fashion choices to Newyorkers.

what to wear to broadway show
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What degree of formality is acceptable for theatergoers is, however, a subject of debate. Some freely embrace the lax rules of dress and, thus, wear what they would usually wear in their day-to-day activities. In contrast, some consider this disrespectful to the artists and a violation of proper theater decorum. Ours is to give you a few tips and tricks, but ultimately, the choice is yours. 

What to wear to a Broadway show in any weather

First of all, the most basic line of thought that comes to mind is the weather and the time of the year you are going to visit New York. Take a look at the following tips that will help you pinpoint what you need to wear in regards to the weather. Once you tick off all the necessary ‘temperature precautions,’ you can add your own touch and create the perfect Broadway show look.

what to wear to broadway
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What to wear to a Broadway show if you are visiting in fall or winter

Problem

Solution

New York winters can be quite cold, snowy, and harsh. This goes for fall, as well.

Also, add traffic congestion, a constituent part of New York landscape, to that, and you’ve got yourself a case of freezing feet, fingers, and general unease.

Prepare for this weather and wear a coat or a presentable down jacket and appropriate footwear. Since there is a coat check, you don’t have to worry about the safety of your possessions. 


Note: Furs (and strollers) are forbidden in Broadway theatres.

Queuing

As you probably already know, New York is a crowded city, so expect to spend a lot of time in the street, queuing to enter the theatre or to buy the tickets for the show. 

Be sure to bring all the necessary winter accessories such as gloves, caps, scarves, and the like. Find out how to wear a scarf stylishly and incorporate it into your look. 

Transport

If your budget does not allow you to come to the theatre by taxi or Uber, then you may possibly spend a significant amount of time standing in the subway.

This is where appropriate footwear comes in. From quality socks to shoes, choose comfortable but stylish men’s shoes and socks to keep your feet warm both throughout the day and during the show. More on that later.


Now that we have covered what you might expect from New York weather let’s discuss what to wear underneath your coat. Here are several possible approaches, and since there is no strict dress code, we will discuss all possible dress code ‘categories’ and what works best for each of them:

  1. Formal look perfect for a Broadway show
  2. Smart Casual look perfect for a Broadway show
  3. Casual menswear fit for a Broadway show

Think in layers

Before we discuss specific articles of clothing that you can mix and match depending on your preference and what degree of formality you would like to assume, it is beneficial to clear this up from the outset. It would be best for you to wear more than a single layer of clothing so that you can quickly get rid or put on a layer if you notice you need one. This piece of advice rings true for any season or any dress code you opted for. 

what to wear to broadway
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Although you may appreciate the warmth once you enter the building, if you are visiting New York during or around the Christmas holidays, you may be surprised to find out that these theatres are really old, and thus, seats can be very narrow and close to each other. So, if you wanted to wear a woolen sweater, perhaps it would be best if you wore a cardigan or any such garment that you can easily button and unbutton without shoving the people sitting next to you and obstructing the view of those who are behind.

The next worst thing from blocking someone’s view (or scrolling through your Instagram feed) during a show is violating the people sitting close to you with awkward sweating. Piece of advice—make sure you wear clothing you can easily take off and that you are clean and well-groomed. (We don’t mean soaked in perfume, of course!)

Also, this is a viable strategy not only during the colder months but year-round. Broadway theatres are almost notoriously air-conditioned, so much so that it can get quite chilly inside. All in all, you know what to do - ‘layer up’!

Wearing formal to a Broadway show in winter or fall

Most fashion experts who believe that the perfect Broadway look should be spruced up and elegant agree that you do not have to wear a tuxedo or a made-to-measure suit. Sure, no one will look at you awkwardly if you do don a suit, and many people do so, especially if they are locals who are attending a musical after work.

what to wear to broadway
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Also, keep in mind that if you are one of the lucky few that were invited to an opening or a closing Broadway show, then you must wear a formal, maybe even a white tie dress code look. The dress code will be specified on the invitation. As these events are high publicity, red carpet events, use this opportunity to shine with your best formal wear!

Outside of opening and closing shows, our perspective on this is that wearing an ensemble that is one step down from business casual would work perfectly, particularly for a wintertime or fall visit to a Broadway musical for the following three reasons: 

  1. A case for wearing a suit is the fact that suits are made of worsted wool, which makes them perfect for keeping warm. Suits can also be adjusted to the temperature inside the theatre building by merely taking off your suit jacket. In this way, you are prepared for any temperature that comes your way!
  2. Also, a look that is on the formal side would perhaps be a good choice if you intend to go to dinner at a nice restaurant after the show. In this way, you can kill two birds with one stone. 
  3. Of course, if you would like to skip the perhaps too stuffy suit-and-tie look, you may want to inform yourself on how to wear suspenders without the tie. They make up an equally stylish look without the inherent corporate vibe wearing a tie with your suit might exude. 

An excellent approach to achieving a great Broadway look that is formal but not excessively formal is to wear a suit and shoes in non-traditional colors, for instance:

Let’s face it, you could even wear all-red to a Broadway show if you wanted to! Since nobody cares about traditional color combos on Broadway, this is the perfect occasion to let your artistic, dramatic side have a say in the matter! 

what do you wear to a broadway show
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So, wearing an eclectic red or purple suit with, for example, these fierce The Bold Society loafers will surely be a show-stopping fall or spring look fit for the best Broadway show out there.

what do you wear to a broadway show

Smart Casual look perfect for a Broadway show

Of course, Smart Casual is also a way to go when you go to a Broadway show if you can’t bother with the logistics of packing a suit and everything else that goes with it. 

So, wearing a blazer or a sports jacket will work well with a button-down shirt or its slightly more casual alternative, a polo shirt. Any color combination will do, but the usual practice is to wear darker colors and hues in fall and winter. Think black, navy, charcoal, grey, dark brown for blazers and sports jackets. In contrast, these garments in lighter and brighter colors are best worn in summer and spring.

When it comes to pants, there is no need to wear trousers if they are too stuffy for you since you can make these garments work just as well:

  • Slacks, 
  • Khakis, 
  • Chinos
  • Jeans 

Of course, feel free to adjust them according to your preferences. Also, wear clothes that you know are comfortable enough for three acts and one to two intermissions. 

what to wear to a broadway show in winter
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Also, note that light, ripped, or bleached jeans may be an eyesore, particularly if you are going for a smart-casual look. Stick with jeans with a darker wash and a classic cut, leave your skinny or baggy jeans at home/hotel room!

Smart Casual Broadway outfits

Upper part 

Lower part

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what to wear to a broadway show in winter

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what to wear to a broadway musical

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what to wear to a broadway musical

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what to wear to a broadway play

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what to wear to a broadway play

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what to wear to a broadway play

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what to wear to a broadway show

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If this is too much investment for you, or you simply forgot to bring your smart clothes, don’t fret! As you may already be aware, even if your clothes are not that elegant, you can always dress your way up with slick accessories:

  • A wool scarf can add a highbrow, academia air to your smart-casual look. 
  • Although hats, golf caps, and berets may seem like a smart idea, leave them at the coat check. You do not want to obstruct the view of the person sitting behind you.
  • Learn how to wear watches as the strength of a look more often than not lies in the details. Also, having a wristwatch will keep you from reaching for your smartphone.

Shoes that are perfect for Broadway shows

Whether it is a formal or smart casual look you are going for, let’s take a look at which types of shoes come into consideration for Broadway shows:

  1. Boots
  2. Dress Shoes
  3. Moccasins, Boat Shoes, Loafers (Penny Loafers, Driving Loafers)...
  4. Sneakers

Boots

Basically, you can wear any shoes that you would normally wear and that you can combine with other clothes that you intend to bring on on your trip. Use common sense, of course, so boots may be preferable if it is snowy outside. Don’t listen to sartorial purists - it is possible to wear boots (even with suits!) and still look dapper.

what to wear to a broadway show in winter
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Think Timberlands for winter and Dr. Martens for fall or otherwise, elegant Chelsea boots made of lighter leather or Chukka boots for springtime performances.

Dress Shoes

Especially if you opted for smart casual look, dress shoes can significantly boost up your dark washed jeans combined with a sweater or cardigan to look effortlessly stylish. Grab your Oxfords, Wingtips, Derbys, or Double Monk Straps, polish them before your trip, and you’re good to go to your evening or matinee Broadway musical looking like a million bucks.

what to wear to a broadway show in winter

In terms of color, you can go with any shoe color that is to your liking. However, there is no reason why you shouldn’t add a splash of color to your look by incorporating shoes that have a colored sole and laces like these splendid The Bold Society wingtip brown brogues.

Moccasins, Loafers, Boat shoes…

Of course, these types of shoes are reserved for warmer weather, and due to them perfectly balancing the casual and formal appearance, they are perfect for those patrons who prefer to leave a suave, cultured impression without appearing too stiff. Let’s face it, it is Broadway!

what to wear to broadway
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Pair them with tan pants and a blazer in a vibrant color to achieve that La Grande Belezza Italian elegance look. Or go with a variation on the theme and opt for a slightly toned-down version of this look by wearing pastel colors and brown chinos.

what do you wear to a broadway show
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Sneakers

Now, don’t get us wrong—running shoes or Converse All-Stars are perfectly fine for Broadway if you can’t find the time to go change before your show. Nobody will mind, but you do not need to go to these lengths or change your sightseeing itinerary for the day.

what to wear to broadway

By planning ahead for your Broadway musical, you may swap your comfortable trainers for simple, monochromatic men's leather sneakers for that day only. In terms of elegance, these sneakers are the MVP in the world of comfortable menswear. In this way, you won’t have to sacrifice your feet by wearing dress shoes, but will nevertheless show your appreciation to the respectable art institution that is Broadway.

what to wear to a broadway show

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Socks you should wear to a Broadway show

OK, so you’re probably thinking, ‘Who cares about which socks I wear? No one will see the lower half of my body, let alone which socks I put on?’ On face value, this is a sound argument. However...

Perhaps you have never given it a second thought, but your socks are a valuable article of clothing for several reasons. Besides their practical worth, like keeping your feet warm, they can also protect your feet from blisters that sometimes may occur when you’re not used to the leather shoes you are wearing. And we all know that, unfortunately, no marvel of New York architecture can undo the pain that a new leather shoe can inflict on your foot on your way to a Broadway show.

That’s why we recommend you always bring along a pair of quality Soxy socks. They are, indeed, an emblem of premium quality combined with either timeless patterns like these brown, geeky striped socks or, otherwise, quirky, crazy designs, like these dreamy blue gentleman’s mustache-patterned dress socks.

what to wear to broadway

If you intend to wear an outfit that consists of a few garments that are, say, green, you could accentuate that by wearing socks that have the same nuance of green on them. In this way, you will have a balanced and well-thought-out Broadway-ready ensemble that does not end at the belt.

what do you wear to a broadway show

What about wearing casual clothing to a Broadway show?

All this talk about which sweater to match with this or that might have departed too far from our initial statement. If you do not feel like it, you do not have to come all tidy and square to a musical. Some people feel good when they are all dressed up for the event, some simply don’t - and that is perfectly fine for a Broadway audience.

what to wear to a broadway show in winter
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In fact, there is something more important to keep in mind than what you should or shouldn’t wear (Yes, we cannot believe we are saying this!). It is of utmost importance to respect the show and the theatre, fellow theatergoers, the usherettes... One’s elegance, though expressed through their superior fashion sense, is best expressed through good manners and gentlemanly behavior. Ultimately, it is more than easy - eat beforehand, leave your bonbons at home, keep quiet, and enjoy the show, hopefully - dressed up to look like a million bucks!