Friday, December 17, 2010

What Not to Wear, Sacred Music Division

Men are lucky in many ways, but one way in which they're especially lucky is that they have few formal sartorial options. Yes, this is a good thing, because it saves us men from our own bad taste. The tuxedo and its variants are the results of a long, slowly-developed historical consensus on what looks good on a guy. As a result, if you wear a tux, you will look good - often just about as good as you're ever going to look.

The ongoing reign of the tux in the concert hall has likewise been a good thing. We don't have to worry about James Levine taking the stage in a sequined cape and toreador pants (much as he might like to) because such things simply are not done.

Women, however, are not so lucky. They have options on the classical stage - lots of them. And many of them are bad - particularly when the singer in question is singing sacred music.

Recent performances of Messiah reminded me of this sad fact - although actually, nobody this season made nearly the ghastly impression as that sizable diva a few years ago who waltzed on in what looked like a see-through muu-muu.

Trust me, that's not how you want to be remembered.

Of course if you're singing Salome, it's okay to dress like Cher. But if you're singing about mangers, angels, shepherds, flocks, etc., it's best to dress accordingly.

Which leads me to the first rule of What Not to Wear, Sacred Music Division: anything see-through, except a stole or a wrap.  With those, the gauzier the better.   But no real lady shows up to meet the Virgin in anything peek-a-boo, okay?  Shiny satin, flowing silk - whatever, as long as it's solid; remember - keep that figure figurative!

Now I know how tempting self-revelation can be; if you've got it, you want to flaunt it. And maybe you've been working out especially hard at the gym, and you want the baby Jesus to know. Only trust me, Baby Jesus already knows. (That's why he's Jesus.) And for the rest of us, the corporeal you, attractive as it may be, is inevitably a distraction, either welcome or unwelcome as the case may be.

So to help guide you back from the edge of distraction, here are several choral corallaries to Rule #1, among them:

2) No fishtails. They're either ridiculously hot or just plain ridiculous, and neither effect is a spiritual one. Ask yourself: would you wear a veil to the prom? Then why are you wearing a prom dress to Messiah?

3) Deep-six the plunging d√©colletage. I mean, do you really have to ask? Yes, it will strike the straight guys as "uplifting" - but you're dressing for the gay guys (who are the only ones who go to sacred music anyway).  Bare shoulders are always glamorous, but that plunging "v" looks so much like an arrow, know what I'm saying?  And your dress is not a road map to hidden treasure.

4) The peek-a-boo "rise" in the hem up front. Ooo, I wonder what's under there - could it be your legs??? Spare us.  Likewise, in back - no exposure lower than the upper lumbars, please!  Thank you.

5) Costume jewelry is fine, if used sparingly (and don't kid yourself that we think they're real diamonds). Always remember nobody ever looked bad in a single strand of pearls. Also: chokers - no; you're trying to sing, remember? And no earrings that could be mistaken for trapezes, much less gongs. Leave those to Cirque du Soleil. And yes, your shoes should match your dress, not "set it off," and the heels should not push you too close to heaven.

6) Subtle pastels, earth tones, even aubergines - yes, yes, and yes; and strong hues can work if they're deep and rich. But colors you might see on a juice box, a traffic cone or Carmen Miranda - no, no and NO.

7) When in doubt, ask yourself: could I wear this to the Oscars? If so, think again! Another good gauge of taste: could I have worn this in the 70's? If so, fuhgeddaboudit! And if you could have worn it to the Oscars in the 70's, honey, save it for Salome.

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