Photo credit: Clothes at the theatre (Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash)

How to dress for a West End show: A guide on what to wear to the theatre

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

You've booked your tickets for a West End show. You're meeting up with friends and family. You want to look smart for the theatre, but you're looking at your wardrobe in despair. What do you wear to see a show at the theatre?

Deciding on the perfect look for a theatre trip can seem daunting at first. If you're struggling to pick your upcoming theatre outfit, we've got tips on what (and what not) to wear to the theatre. Once you've read this guide, you can see a show in clothes that hit the fashion trifecta - comfortable, practical and stylish. This is only guidance though, if you feel great in whatever you're wearing, then go for it!

What can be worn to go to a West End show?

The simple answer here is anything. From a casual t-shirt, jeans and trainers to a tuxedo or formal dress, there are no dress codes. You could turn up to the theatre wearing anything and be permitted entry. For some theatrical events, such as a first preview, press nights, galas and opening nights, it may be worth donning a "smart-casual" outfit.

Although there's no particular clothes you have to wear, going to the theatre is a special occasion. You may choose to mark the moment by dressing up and donning an outfit typically saved for special events. It's best to be in an outfit you feel comfortable in — you don't want to spend a few hours sitting down with blistered feet. 

Why do people dress smart for the theatre?

In previous decades, the theatre was regarded as a social event for the wealthier people in society. As people wanted to impress, patrons would attend a performance wearing a gown or a suit, with etiquette guides advising all theatregoers to wear suitable evening attire.

As the West End has become accessible for a wider audience, so too has the dress code. There is no formal dress code for a West End theatre, but you don't have to dress up just because you are going to watch a show.

Are fancy dress outfits allowed at the theatre?

Yes! Wearing fancy dress to the theatre is acceptable, and some shows actively encourage it. In recent years, performances of Bat Out of Hell at the Dominion Theatre and The Rocky Horror Show have had numerous audience members turn up in recognisable outfits from the show.

Outfits worn by characters in West End muscials have gained notoriety too within the theatre world. If you're seeing Six, you may notice theatregoers decked out in "royal" attire to emulate Henry VIII's wives. Heathers audience members may wear scrunchies in their hair in a nod to the costume design.

Do certain shows require certain outfits?

Like we've said, you can wear anything you desire to a show. However it's worth mentioning that immersive theatre shows that require audience involvement may have an impact on the clothes you should wear. If you're seeing an immersive show in London, you could dress up similar to the characters in the production, or in clothes that you can move well in so you can participate to the best of your ability.

So you can wear what you want to the theatre?

Yes. You can wear anything that you want to the theatre. To make things a bit easier, we've put together a list of handy, foolproof tips.

Pack flat shoes

Stay away from heels if possible. You don't want to be hobbling to your seat and then walk around London with aching feet.

Dress for the weather, not for the Instagram photo

Not every London theatre has a rooftop. When attending a show at Shakespeare's Globe or Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, pack a coat and/or umbrella so you don't get caught out in the rain. London weather is temperamental.

Buy merchandise

Many productions sell official clothes and accessories in the foyer. Why not pick up some merchandise before the show and wear it in the auditorium? It's a great way to show your support for the show while staying cosy.

Wear clothes that are an appropriate length

If you are sitting in an auditorium that's in the round, consider the length of your shorts or skirt when you sit down so you're not revealing too much. You don't want people staring at your outfit instead of the show.

Keep the layers to a minimum

While you can dress how you wish to, there may be limited space under your seat for coats and jumpers. Not every theatre has a cloakroom for coats and bags, and if it does there's likely to be limited space. Consider the practicality of what you want to wear before going to the theatre.

Wear clothes that will keep you cool

Theatres get warm. Fast. Steer clear of clothes that will stick to the seat or make you sweat. It's best to avoid leather clothing, especially in the summer months.

Photo credit: Clothes at the theatre (Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash)

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