Many people want to know what to wear to the theatre. And you will find a lot of content, much of it overly repetitive and clickbaity, telling you two contradictory things. The first is that there is no dress code for the theatre. This may be true, depending on the theatre. The second thing you read is that there IS a dress code, and it’s smart-casual or business casual.
These articles are often written by people who have absolutely NO firsthand experience with the theatre, and especially Chicago theatre, which really is a bit different than other theater communities. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on what to wear to Chicago theatres, and with good reason.
Every theater community is different. When you go to the theater in Bismarck, North Dakota, seeing shows put on by Dakota Stage or Capitol Shakespeare, your “dress code” is basically whatever you show up wearing.
For the Muni in Springfield, Illinois, your dress code there is also whatever feels most comfortable to wear in an outdoor venue at events like Broadway Under The Stars.
In Chicago, what to wear to the theatre has a lot more to do with what theatre you are going to. There are many community theatres and local theatre options where the dress code is completely nonexistent, you can bring your own booze, and the theatre itself is often a very short distance from public transportation.
Half the time, what to wear has more to do with what makes the trip comfortable on the El or the city bus system than it does impressing your fellow theater-goers.
But other venues can be a bit more dress casual; attending shows put on by the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company has some dressing up not so much to attend the show but to make the evening a date night at a nearby restaurant. The Remy Bumpo, much like the Chicago Theatre, does not have a formal dress code.
That said, some feel a bit out of place seeing shows at the Chicago Theatre in their casual clothes, more because other attendees are dressing up for the big-name shows and there’s likely a bit of fashion peer pressure at work.
But if you attended a show when Chicago’s Wildclaw Theatre Company was active, and you came dressed like you were there to see Hamilton, you might experience the inverse of that since Wildclaw specialized in horror productions, some of which got a little bit gooey.
If you aren’t sure what to wear to the theatre of your choice, the smartest thing to do is to look at the type of production you want to attend and make the best guess about what other people might be wearing. Yes, people will probably dress up a bit more for The Book Of Mormon than they might for the long-running Chicago favorite, Late Nite Catechism.
If you attend a show downtown, you’re likely to feel a bit more out of place going dead casual, but if you want to see a show at a local community theatre such as the Mercury Theatre in Chicago’s Southport neighborhood, you’ll feel more at home wearing casual clothes.