The late winter months can be difficult for the sporting gentleman. The sun sinks terribly early in the afternoon, making after-work recreations difficult and dreary. A short pedal upon a bicycle may leave a gentleman battered and buffeted by blustery winter winds. A jaunty jog around the block may be cut short by a suddenly slippery sidewalk, sending a gentleman into frightful fall. Birding may be boring because many birds have blown south for the season.
A sporting gentleman may, then, need to take occasional refuge with indoor leisures. Thankfully, a modern gentleman has the theatre and symphony seasons to help him bridge the winter abyss until spring. I can think of no better way to spend an evening than with the symphony orchestra…
— Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto
Or with the ballet…
Or with the opera…
— Les Miserables
But, a night out enjoying the arts is about more than hearing music and seeing the dancing. There is something thrilling about the pageantry of the entire affair—the extravagant lights of a downtown theatre district, the baroque interior of a concert hall, and of course the beautiful outfits of the attendees. I have heard men remark on the lack of choice and possibility for expression with evening outfits. This is not the case. A modern gentleman has many options concerning formal black tie attire — and top hats, tails, cummerbunds, waistcoats, and watch fobs are just the beginning.
Unfortunately, a discussion about black tie options seems increasingly moot. My most recent visits with the arts have shown white tennis shoes are more common than tasseled loafers, blue jeans and fleece jackets are de rigueur. How unfortunate. This informality belittles the experience and is an insult to the performers. How should the audience feel if members of an orchestra cast aside the formality of French horns and timpanis for the more comfortable kazoo?
— Sprach Zarathustra
The devolution of eveningwear is not a matter of economy or access. Thrift stores, vintage haberdasheries, and online auctions have created such an accessibility to fine clothing that a bespoke woolen tuxedo is more economical than a pair of designer jeans. Instead, I am afraid this slouchy appearance is a matter of dwindling imagination in art’s patrons. In other words, our appearance is due not to financial impoverishment, but instead a cultural one. If the patrons have lost their creativity, can the artists be very far behind?