Monday, June 16, 2014

Dress to impress – choosing suitable outfits for your choir

As many regular readers will know, I hate a choir in uniform.

However, it is a good idea to have some kind of unifying dress code and also to show your audience that you’ve made an effort. Here are some ideas to consider.

There are two extremes when it comes to what choirs wear when performing:

  1. the “we’ve just walked in off the street” casual, everyday clothes look, and
  2. the identical, tightly policed, perfectly rendered uniform.

Neither extreme is a good idea.

Whatever you choose, singers need to feel special and comfortable and that they’ve made an effort.

You need to have some kind of style or theme that shows that all singers in the choir are on the same team but which also has scope for individual expression.

my solutions

For my first choir, WorldSong, I decided to have a choir colour: red. The instructions were to wear a black bottom half (skirt or trousers), black shoes and a single coloured, plain (i.e. no pattern) red top. That left enough leeway for individual expression whilst showing that we were all in it together.

WorldSong on tour!
WorldSong dress code later relaxed to include red bottom half

I inherited the dress code for my next choir, Woven Chords. It was the same idea as WorldSong only the colour was blue. I did adapt the policy after a while and allowed people to wear all black if they preferred but they had to include a blue accessory: tie, brooch, scarf, etc.

Woven Chords
Woven Chords in concert

With my most recent choir, The OK Chorale, I decided to experiment. I soon found out that, although blue and red work well, green doesn’t! There are so many different shades and types of green that it simply doesn’t hang together.

Next I tried involving two colours. I chose blue and yellow and randomly assigned a colour to each choir member. There was a lot of swapping between people who didn’t like the colour they’d been given! In the end it didn’t work as the colours tended to end up in clumps rather than being spread evenly throughout the choir.

My latest scheme is one I’ve used with several projects: black bottom half and single colour top which should be bright, joyful and comfortable. The result is always colourful and uplifting and tends to change slightly with the seasons.

Big Night Out Community Choir 4 Nov 12
Choir for Children in Need

ideas for choir dress codes

Here’s what I’ve learnt from years of experimenting. You might find some handy hints here.

  • not everyone has black in their wardrobe – surprising, but true! Before you choose a colour make sure that it’s relatively common in people’s wardrobes.
  • cost is an issue – whether you’re asking someone to go out and buy a new white top from a charity shop or invest in an official choir t-shirt, make sure that everyone can afford it.
  • emphasise comfort – whatever you decide, singers must feel comfortable in what they’re wearing. Not only should it be easy to move (and breathe!) in, but it shouldn’t make people feel awkward or embarrassed. Ideally what a singer wears for a concert should make them feel special and that they’ve dressed up for the occasion. It’s all relative though.
  • don’t be too prescriptive – leave a little room for singers’ imaginations and individuality. If they feel that they’ve put thought into what they wear they’ll feel proud of it.
  • what you wear is what you do – does your choir outfit reflect well on the ethos and repertoire of your choir? If you sing formal, classical repertoire you might want formal, classical clothes. If you sing extensively African traditional songs or pop, you might want to be a bit more informal.
  • fit your outfit to the context – don’t fix on just one choir ‘uniform’. It looks a bit daft seeing tuxedos and bow ties in the park on a hot summer’s day. On the other hand, jeans and t-shirts don’t go down well in a posh concert hall. Vary your theme to suit the occasion whilst retaining the ‘flavour’ of your choir.
  • remember you’re here to sing! – don’t get so hung up on what you wear that you lose sight of the fact that you’re supposed to be making beautiful music together.
  • you can’t please everyone – singers in your choir have signed up to the vision of the musical director. That may well include the overall look and feel of the choir. If you’re the choir leader you can’t please everyone. For every singer who wants the choir to perform in identical t-shirts there will be another who thinks black bottom half is too restrictive.

I hope you find these observations useful. I’d love to hear about the decisions that your choir has made, maybe even your own horror stories of when it all went wrong! Do drop by and leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you.

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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