The History of the Opera Dress Code

Let’s face it, we’re all living in loungewear and pyjamas at the moment. One day we’ll be able to get our glad rags on again for a night at the opera. But what do you wear to the opera? 

Today’s answer is whatever you like, however in previous centuries the dress requirement was a lot more formal. 

Opera has had a long history with fashion, with both previously being signifiers of wealth and status. Let’s take a look back at some of the most popular ‘opera’ accessories. 

Opera hat

In the nineteenth century a collapsible version of the top hat was invented by London hatter, Thomas Francis Dollman.

It came to be known as the ‘opera hat’ because it was frequently worn to opera houses as part of the white tie dress code. The ‘top’ itself would fold inwards to form a flat spherical shape that made it easy to store under the theater’s seats and in the cloakroom.

Due to being made with the finest black silk the opera hat became an indicator of social status, particularly associated with the middle class. Fortunately, just like the opera in modern society, the hat is more accessible, and although still associated with fancy attire, it has less of a class attachment.

Opera cloak

Commonly paired with a top hat was the ‘opera cloak’ who similarly got its name from being frequently worn to the opera.

The cloak was typically black, floor length and worn over the top of a black tie tuxedo. You’ve got to be a bold person to pull that look off today!

Also known as an ‘opera cape’ it is fastened with a unique clasp around the neck and would loosely drape around the tux to protect it from Britain’s turbulent weather. However, that doesn’t mean it was any less expensive than the tux. Quite the contrary, the cloak was lined with the finest materials from crushed velvet to silky satin. A look as dramatic as the opera itself. 

Opera Coat

The cloak slowly faded out of style in the late 1800’s with the ‘opera coat’ taking its place. Also made with luxurious fabrics such as trimmed fur and delicate silk meant it was a statement piece and visual representation of a person’s affluence. 

Just like we want to look our best on a night out these nineteenth century fashionistas did not go for the subtle look. The coats would range from floor length elegant gowns to fabulous robes with giant shoulder pads and big fur collars.

Nowadays opera oats can be found in vintage or luxury fashion stores as they still hold their commercial value, with many high end fashion designers having their own version of the opulent style. It could be your next unnecessary payday purchase!

Opera gloves

Opera gloves (also known as evening gloves) have been a must have fashion accessory throughout the centuries. The most famous example is the mousquetaire which is the long, over the elbow style glove, typically made with silk or kidskin leather. It has buttons at the wrist which allowed women to free their hands without completely taking off the glove for occasions such as eating. 

Wearing gloves was considered a mandatory form of etiquette in the Victorian times especially amongst the upper class. Although no longer a formal requirement, they are still commonly used today to accessorise special occasion dresses like a wedding dress or prom gown. 

Opera gloves are also frequently used in popular culture for glamorous female characters like Jessica Rabbit or Cinderella. So why not try a pair and feel like a princess for a day.

Opera glasses

One of the more practical accessories on our list are opera glasses. Designed specifically to be used in theatres, they allowed audience members to zoom in on small details and facial expressions of the performers usually missed by the human eye. But what makes them different from the binoculars found in theatres today?

Like the other opera fashion accessories they were a symbol of status. Made with exquisite designs and luxury materials some London opera glasses were a vision of opulence. They came in a range of styles including the lorgnette which was a pair of glasses with a long handle down one side, some with a solid gold chain attached and others small enough to fit into a ladies purse.

Although they were beautifully and delicately crafted it was their telescopic properties that made them an opera necessity in the past and in the present.

Of course we’re not as formal when it comes to an opera dress code! Once our doors open again we’ll look forward to seeing your interpretation of the perfect opera outfit. Keep your eyes peeled on our news page for any updates.