What to Wear to the Ballet—and What to Avoid

As someone who just last month went to her first true ballet, I can say from experience how tricky of an event it is to dress for. Part of that it is because of the allure and exclusivity of it. Often held at lavish theaters, like the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris and the Vienna State Opera in Austria, it’s easy to assume that attending a large-scale ballet immediately calls for an exquisite outfit that says, “Of course I’m at the ballet. Where else would I be?”

Adding to the pressure to show up sartorially are all the pop-culture moments that take place at or outside of one of the elegant performances, from Carrie Bradshaw in that pink, drop-waist minidress outside of Lincoln Center on Sex and the City (fun fact: Sarah Jessica Parker is the vice chair of the New York City Ballet) to Julia Fox wearing a metallic gown by Zac Posen at the city’s 2022 Fall Fashion Gala. Most often, when we see photos of people attending the ballet, it’s to celebrate a big moment for the company. A red carpet is rolled out, and the expectations for what attendees show up in are high.

But contrary to what you’ve seen in the society pages, experiencing the beauty of a ballet at one of the world’s top theaters isn’t always a glitzy event. Sometimes, say if the performance you’re going to see is taking place in the daytime, the dress code can be quite pared-back. Then again, no one’s going to say a word if you doll it up a little. Really, it’s all about your personal style preferences. According to the New York City Ballet, that and your comfort level are all that matters. Of course, if it’s a gala or other special event you’re attending, always refer to your invitation for dressing details. 

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