For Londoners, there are few more daunting places to dress for than the theatre. If you have finally plucked up the courage to book a ticket to your favourite West End show and you are at a loss with how to turn out for the performances, the good news is that there are absolutely no dress code rules!
You can arrive at a London Theatre in the same outfit you would rock up to a bar, restaurant, or pub. However, that isn’t to say that you won’t find plenty of attendees dressing like they are hitting the red carpet at the Baftas!
So while you won’t get turned away if you wear jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of trainers, you may still want to invest in formal or smart casual attire to make the most out of your trip to the West End! Even though a suit or a formal gown won’t be as physically comfortable as your favourite comfy sweater, you may feel more comfortable once you arrive.
What to Wear to the Theatre in London?
In this what to wear to the theatre in London guide, we will cover what to wear and what not to wear; even though fashion changes every season, the importance of the practical, comfortable and stylish fashion trifecta never goes out of style.
Before we let you know a few of the golden London Theatre Etiquette Rules, we would like to remind you that a trip to the theatre is a fun opportunity to immerse yourself in culture and engage in escapism from your daily lives. It isn’t a fashion show or competition where you must outdress your fellow theatre lovers to have a good time.
Unless you’re heading to a premiere, gala, or opening night, going to the theatre is hardly a red-carpet-style event! For special screenings where there will be a press attendance, smart-casual outfits are recommended. Other than that, wear what makes you feel comfortable! You don’t want to be sitting down for hours in an outfit that leaves you itching for the final curtain to come down.
The History of Theatre Fashion
Historically, theatre trips were only for the wealthier people in society; while some may argue that theatres are still a playground for the rich, some theatres now sell low-priced tickets at the cost of a cinema ticket!
Back when the theatre was a social place for the elite to peacock and flaunt their wealth and status, it comes as no surprise that ticket holders turned out as opulently as they could afford to. While a modicum of that remains in UK theatres, especially in London, times have changed. People from all backgrounds are welcome at the theatre. However, that doesn’t stop people from arriving looking like they belong in a tax bracket higher than their own.
While it is always nice to dress for the occasion to make it feel more special, if you can’t afford to splash out on a brand-new suit or dress, and you don’t already have one hanging in your wardrobe, it certainly won’t be the end of the world! Just enjoy the show; you paid for it!
Rules on Fancy Dress at the Theatre
If you want to dress up inspired by the show you are watching on the West End, the good news is that this is actively encouraged with some performances. Take the Rocky Horror Picture Shows for the perfect example! The majority of the theatre crowd will be wearing outfits inspired by Frank-N-Furter, Magenta, Riff Raff, Janet Weiss and Eddie, played by Meat Loaf. It is a similar story if you grab tickets to the Bat Out of Hell performances too! Plenty of the audience don leather outfits and embrace their inner rock n roll rogue!
Audience members also tend to emulate the characters in the Heathers West End Shows by wearing retro hair scrunchies or by going all out with a retro 80s outfit. Additionally, audiences dressing up in royal or archaic Victorian attire isn’t unheard of either – especially when viewing the show Six, inspired by the wives of Henry VIII.
You may also want to dress similarly to the characters in West End shows if it is an immersive experience.
Practical Advice to Follow for First-Time Theatre Goers
While you should feel free to choose your outfit for the most part, there are a few fashion considerations that you will want to make for your comfort.
If you know you’re not great in heels, don’t ruin your trip to the theatre by wearing a pair of 6” stilettoes. If you’re intent on wearing a pair, always pack a pair of flats in your bag. You don’t want to be hobbling around on the streets of London with bare feet afterwards!
Some of the theatres in London are of the open-air variety, and for these shows, always prioritise warmth and function over fashion! You can take your Instagram pictures before you head to the theatre!
Indoor theatres tend to get warm, especially in the summer months; keep this in mind when choosing your outfit, as not every theatre will have a cloakroom where you can check your coat. On the flip side, ensure your outfit isn’t too revealing; you are there to watch the show, not steal it with an inappropriately short dress or skirt.