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In the Arts, You Are What You Wear

February 19, 2019

At a recent gala for a prestigious arts organization, I showed up in black-tie attire. Because this arts organization has so many high-end donors and I knew there would be a lot of movers and shakers there, I assumed that wearing a tuxedo was the proper dress.


However, when I arrived at the gala, I found that a lot of the men were dressed in business casual attire - shirts with no tie, blazers and casual slacks. I felt like I stood out, and not in a good way. So I took off my tie, stuffed it in my pocket and immediately felt a lot more comfortable.


Working in the arts, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out how to dress in certain situations. By their very nature, artists are offbeat and quirky and defy convention.


So the situation in which I found myself at the prestigious arts institution’s big gala, it’s interesting that I was the one – literally the only one - who showed up in black tie, but felt out of place.


In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris said he has a uniform that he wears when pitching ideas for television shows to studio executives. He wears jeans, a colorful shirt and a baseball cap turned to the side. This is his look. Apparently having distinctive style is something that is not only respected but expected in Hollywood and the arts, in general.


However, this expectation creates a dilemma for artists who are not yet established. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.


If you’re an artist and you’re attending a professional meeting, do you go as “yourself” and wear something funky and outrageous? Or do you follow traditional standards of how to dress for a business meeting and play it conservative?


My best guess is to find a middle ground. If you’re having a business meeting that is not an actual job interview, you may want to wear a dress shirt, a blazer and nice slacks or dressy jeans. If you’re able to scope out the scene before the meeting starts and discover that everyone else is dressed less formally, you can always take off the blazer.


Once you get more established, it will be more acceptable for you to dress however you feel inspired to - like a true artist. 

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