What to Wear to a Broadway Show

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Photo credit: Luciano Mortula – LGM / Shutterstock

You’ve planned your epic trip to NYC and scored orchestra seats to one or more Broadway shows. Now you’re asking the question every lady wants answered…What do I wear??? I’m well prepared to address this issue. As a Brooklyn resident and Broadway regular, I’ve got the wardrobe advice you need so you arrive at the theater dressed to impress.

The most important thing to know is…

There is no Broadway dress code.

Some people dress up. Most don’t. Also, it depends on the show. If you are attending opening night, you might see people dressed up; they could be going to the cast party after the show.

Gone are the “Mad Men” days when you had to wear heels and a hat to see a Broadway show. Today, anything goes, from leggings to feather boas. Read on for more fashion advice.

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Business casual seems to be the rule at Broadway shows.

Men might be in tailored suits, no tie. Women look a bit more fashionable at “serious” theater performances, not touristy shows. After all, we New Yorkers have reputations to uphold.

Keep in mind that black is the preferred color for most New Yorkers, and white pants aren’t worn after Labor Day. But at Moulin Rouge, the new Broadway hit, many in the audience were colorfully dressed.

Celebrities in the Midst

I have sat in front of, behind and next to countless stars. They tend to dress down and try to blend in. Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange and Jane Alexander all looked like regular theater-going New Yorkers when I saw them at the theater at different shows. In fact, the female stars are usually not even wearing makeup, trying to draw less attention to themselves.

At American Utopia, David Byrne’s show, no one was in a concert t-shirt. But still, people were dressed to dance. For the most part, the audience remained seated. But at a certain point, Byrne announced, “Feel free to dance. Check in with your neighbors.” As one, the audience rose to its feet and grooved along to the Talking Heads songs.

Different Rules at Matinees

Kids and retirees rule at matinees. So you are likely to see women of a certain age in comfortable shoes and stretch pants. You can dress more casually for a matinee.

Wearing Your Hat

When men wore top hats, they knew to remove them indoors. But in our beanie world, hats remain on. I was at Jagged Little Pill, the musical set to Alanis Morrissette’s hit album, and everyone around me was 20 years old and wearing a beanie.

At a revival of The Music Man, I sat behind Harry Connick, Jr. and he was wearing a big cowboy hat. But as soon as we took our seats behind him, he removed his hat (and charmed my daughter by complimenting her outfit). Be a Harry. If you’re wearing a hat that might obstruct the view of those sitting behind, remove it.

Choose Your Coat Wisely

Most Broadway theaters are rather cramped. There isn’t a lot of room in those seats, and you don’t want to sit with your coat on your lap. Some, but not all, theaters have coat checks. Leave the big puffy coat or long fur at home.

If you DO choose to check a coat, be patient. There are often long lines at a coat check, both before and after the show. Have one person check all the coats while everyone else goes to the bathroom.

At American Utopia, the cast wore suits – and no shoes. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Bag Check

As a parent, you probably don’t leave the house without a giant bag filled with snacks, toys, books, spare outfits, water bottles, hand sanitizer, Band-Aids and more. If you can, ditch the bag and just stash a granola bar and water bottle in your pocket. Every Broadway show now requires a bag check, which can lead to long lines.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you don’t have a bag, you can skirt the line. Head straight for the restrooms and skip that line.

Speaking of Restrooms

We know. That jumpsuit is adorable. But have I mentioned the cramped and crowded theaters? This includes restrooms, some with the toilet just inches from the stall door. Don’t risk a bathroom mishap.

Staying Warm

I used to be one of those people wearing a scarf at a show because I was always chilly. And yes, the air conditioning can be cranked up. But, menopause. Now, I wear a blazer and a sleeveless top underneath. While people around me are bundled up, I am stripping down.

For the rest of the population, a scarf or a wrap can be a good idea. It does get chilly in theaters. This is important year-round. Summers are sticky in New York but you have to dress for both outdoor heat and indoor chill. Don’t wear shorts to the theater, and if you wear a sundress, bring a sweater.

In winter, the doors to the outside are often propped open to combat over-performing heating systems. And with aging theaters concerned about ventilation, they will likely keep doors open more than usual this season.

Kids Night on Broadway

Kids Night on Broadway is a once-a-year promotion that gives theatergoers a free child’s ticket for every full-price adult ticket you buy,. The free ticket applies to kids under the age of 18. To get a heads up when tickets go on sale for future events, join the Broadway Fan Club.

For Kids Night on Broadway, you see some kids dressed in little blazers or coats with velvet collars. Others are wearing sweaters and jeggings. Really, no one cares what your children wear to the theater. They just want to enjoy the show without hearing your kid talking. Choose your battles.

what to wear to a Broadway show
Although the cast at this show is barefoot, wear comfortable shoes when you go to a Broadway show. [Note: at the end of the show, we were allowed to use our cameras. It is normally forbidden. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Disney Show Tips

The Lion King and Aladdin are both on Broadway. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear your Disney costume. If you are a child.

Where People DO Dress Up

People wear their Sunday best to Lincoln Center, where the New York City Ballet and the Met Opera perform. 

Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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