Headed to your first show at the LA Opera? As an opera lover, I share my tips on how to dress for the occasion — plus a few things to expect if you're a newbie.

How to Dress for the LA Opera (And What to Expect)

Headed to your first show at the LA Opera? As an opera lover, I share my tips on how to dress for the occasion — plus a few things to expect if you're a newbie.
August 07, 2019
article by Mari Alexander/

photography by Mari Alexander

A little over a month ago, I had the pleasure of spending an evening at the Los Angeles Opera. It was the closing night of a Verdi classic—La Traviata.

Still slightly buzzed from a pink gin cocktail I sipped on earlier, I was feeling everything a little extra that evening. (I had the drink at Le Petit Paris, an elegant French brasserie a mere 15-minute walk away from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion). The music swelled, and so did something in the pit of my stomach—in that very same place where hunger typically stirs and writhes uncomfortably. And then Violetta opened her mouth to sing her first notes.

Hailing from Romania, soprano Adela Zaharia settled into the role of Violetta flawlessly. It was incredible: the pureness of her voice, the emotion she imbued it with, and the textural richness she brought to the stage. Whenever she finished singing, the crowd went crazy, roaring like the sea. I joined them in their heated applause. That was it for us. We were hooked, and it didn’t take us long after that to sign up for a full season package. (Oh, I just can’t wait for The Magic Flute in November).

Here’s the thing about the opera. It’s not a particularly low-key kind of leisure. Whether you’re an opera buff or someone doesn’t give a hoot about that kind of musical theatre but try to keep to yourself, you can still agree with me on this: going to the opera is a special event. You dress for the ritual the same way you dress for church: with purpose. If you’ve seen Pretty Woman, you must remember the scene where Julia Roberts dons a totally swoon-worthy red dress and gets whisked away to the opera. So here’s the question I get asked every once in a while: Are you supposed to wear something fancy to the opera? And if so, how fancy are we talking? Here’s what you need to know before you go, especially if it’s your first rodeo.

1. Plan Ahead

This is obviously a no-brainer, and chances are, you’re already checking that box by reading this article, anyway. Going to the opera is by no means an elitist thing. It can be really fun for everyone. You just need to know what to expect. I highly suggest planning your outfit over a week in advance. (Two is ideal!) That way, if you absolutely detest all the options in your wardrobe, you’ll have enough time to order something online and have it arrive on time.

2. Wear quiet clothes

Who am I to talk? I wore the loudest pair of heels ever created. My Jacquemus’ shoes’ gold-tone ring heel logo jingled with every step I took. Whenever I wanted switch crossed legs, I made the transition in slow-mo, with the speed of a sloth. (The 30-ish compliments I got, however, was worth it). All to say, don’t be me. Avoid wearing loud jewelry or fabrics that crinkle and rustle when you move even a finger. Remember that opera singers rely on the acoustics and carrying power of their voices, rather than microphones, during their performances. It’s always respectful to be quiet as a mouse.

3. You can dress up

…but you don’t have to. At the LA Opera, I see opera-goers wear everything from chino pants, a nice blouse and flats to ball gowns and sky-high heels. Obviously, if you’re a fashion enthusiast like I am, then by all means, whip out your fanciest garb, and feel free to take aesthetic cues from the opera itself. The opera is a great excuse to show off your styling chops, especially if you’re going to a weekend night/evening event. (You’ll likely see more casually dressed folks during matinee performances).

4. Inquire about “themed nights”

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, the LA Opera hosts themed nights. Back in 2015, for example, people were encouraged to dress up in costume for the opening night of Moby Dick on Halloween. According to the institution’s website, ticket holders who attended “the performance dressed as a sailor, pirate or whale,” were upgraded to better seats. (What an opportunity!) Point is, don’t forget to check the opera’s website to determine if there’s a theme.

5. Be comfortable

Whether you go for an ankle-grazing gown or a cocktail dress, make sure you are comfortable. Remember that the night lasts for about three hours, usually including at least one intermission. This means you will be sitting for a significantly long period of time. Also worth noting: the intermission dash to the restrooms is a real struggle. There’s always a long, long line. Be courteous. Make sure that your chic one-piece is easy to get in and out of.