I think a lot of you have probably noticed by now that I’m a massive theater nerd.

I’ve easily seen over 400 Broadway shows while living in the city.

So you can probably imagine how many audience members’ “Broadway outfits” I’ve seen over the years.

I love checking out the audience’s fashion choices. It always makes for great people-watching before the show and at intermission.

Considering theater-going used to be a formal affair, some of the outfits people think are appropriate are shocking.

You can always spot the New York locals among the sea of tourists based on their outfits.

Here’s my advice on how to dress appropriately for a night at the theater.

What is the Broadway Dress Code?

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The Quick Answer 

Broadway doesn’t have a specific dress code (anymore). Some people go in jeans and others make a special night of it and dress up.

As long as you’ve got a ticket they’ll let you in the door. But that doesn’t mean you should show up looking like you’ve just rolled out of bed. 

Below are some things to consider when planning your outfit.

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Are You Seeing a Matinee or Evening Show?

Half the fun of going to a Broadway show is picking out the perfect outfit. Depending on what time of day you’re attending, the dress code shifts a bit.

If you’re catching a matinee (afternoon) performance, the audience is more casual. People still dress nicely for matinees, but it’s mostly families and people visiting the city on day trips. 

Evening performances attract a more upscale audience. Most people will either have dinner plans before or after the show, so they are more put together compared to the matinee crowd. 

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What Time of Year Are You Attending the Show?

Casual Broadway Dress Code 2

Always dress for the weather. It’s great to be fashionable, but your outfit also needs to be functional. 

I’ve made this mistake too many times and ended up watching shows with soaking wet shoes, or even freezing because I forgot that Broadway theaters are arctic cold even during the summer when the city is sweltering everywhere else. 

If the weather is terrible, it’s okay to dress down a bit in favor of being prepared for the weather.

How Dressed Up Should You Get?

ALLY BROADWAY 2 1

Use your judgment based on the performance time that you’ve selected. 

I think a safe general way of looking at a theater dress code is to dress business casual when in doubt. The last thing you want to do is look underdressed.

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Ladies’ Dress Code

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I love dressing up a bit, even if it’s a matinee. I treat going to the theater like a date—I want to feel good about my outfit.

My default ensemble always includes layers but varies depending on what time of year it is.

My biggest tip is always have a pashmina or jacket with you, even in the summer. I’ll say it again—Broadway houses are chilly.

If it’s summer, I always wear a dress (nothing too short—you aren’t going to the club).

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You can wear sandals, heels, chic flats, or even sneakers if they’re fashionable enough and you’re heading to a matinee. My main advice would be to make sure your shoes are comfortable. 

Just don’t wear filthy athletic shoes, and for the love of God, don’t wear leggings! It’s a big pet peeve of mine seeing girls show up to the theater in them. Leggings are not pants, ladies!

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If it’s cold out, I’ll typically wear some dark jeans and a turtleneck with booties to matinees. For evening performances I’m fond of wearing a dress with tights and high black boots or wide legged trousers with booties like the ones linked below. 

Also, if you know you’ll need to keep an eye on the time, please wear a watch! Nobody likes seeing someone’s screen light up (or god forbid phone ring) during the show.

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Apple watches are just as distracting as a phone screen, stick to a classic timepiece in order to keep track of time.

Also, this should just be common sense, but don’t roll up to the theater with a massive bag, or even worse, tons of shopping bags.

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Broadway theaters are pretty old, meaning the seats are going to be super close together with minimal leg room.

The last thing you’ll want is to crowd what precious space your legs have with a big bag(s). Not to mention, if you’re near the aisle, you’ll have to move your bags every time someone needs to walk across to their seat.

I always opt for a classic tote bag if I’m coming after a day of errands or sightseeing, or ideally, a small purse, this way I’ve got my essentials and can easily place my bag on my lap.

Gentleman’s Dress Code

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a men’s fashion expert. Over the years, I’ve seen men wearing different levels of outfits at the theater.

Please either leave the baseball cap at home or take it off once you’re inside the theater.

If it’s summer, please don’t wear shorts and sandals to the theater—even if it’s 100 degrees out. It annoys me to no end seeing sloppy dressers at the theater, and a lot of the culprits are men.

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Also, wear nice pants and a button-up shirt, polo, or chic sweater. Or if you want to be a bit more casual, wear a T-shirt with nice jeans (dark wash, no holes!) and put a jacket over it for an upscale vibe.

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Instead of sandals, opt for a pair of classy and clean sneakers or loafers during the summer and a pair of nice boots during the colder months. I’ve even linked a few of my ex’s favorites below to help you visualize what’s appropriate for the theater.

Aurélien Navy Nubuck Resort Sneaker


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Also, if you’re going to be checking the time during the show, please just wear a watch.

Nobody likes being distracted from the show when their neighbor is checking the time or text messages on their phones.

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When in Doubt, Follow These Outfit Rules

  • Dress respectfully
  • Dress comfortably
  • If you wear jeans, make sure they’re a dark wash with no holes
  • Don’t wear any hats or hairstyles that may ruin the view of the person behind you
  • Avoid wearing too much perfume (some people are allergic)
  • Bring an extra layer to combat the aggressive air conditioning

Broadway Dress Code Exceptions

fancy broadway dress code 2

If you’re lucky enough to get tickets to a special performance like opening night, a gala or even The Tony Awards expect a different dress code.

Most events will include a dress code description with the tickets. You’ll absolutely want to avoid wearing casual attire.

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The Tony Awards

When I went to The Tony Awards for the first time, I went all out in a dramatic vintage cocktail dress with heels and an evening bag. The second-year I attended I wore this feathery number below.

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A lot of women, especially nominees, will wear full-on gowns. The choice is yours depending on what you have in your closet.

Men should absolutely rent a tux. This isn’t the time to look underdressed. 

Opening Night

Opening Night Outfit The Last Ship

I always default to heels and a cocktail dress that’s unique but not too over the top. If it’s wintertime, I’ve worn chic jumpsuits and long-sleeved dresses without looking out of place.

Gentleman can get away with a suit or skinny dress pants paired with a nice top and sports jacket.

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Galas and Special Performances

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I enjoy thinking of these events as opportunities to wear more sparkle than I would on ordinary nights. My last gala outfit was a chic black jumpsuit with heels and a sparkly clutch. 

Ladies, when in doubt, always default to heels and a little black dress (just not too short).

Men, you have it easy—just wear a nice suit and dress shoes and you’re set. 

Curtain Call

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Even though there isn’t a set dress code on Broadway it’s important to arrive put together. 

A Broadway show is a unique treat for most, so make it a night you won’t forget.

Just writing this, I’m getting antsy for my next chance to head to the theater. Dressing up and going to a show may be my all-time favorite way to spend an evening.

To me, there’s truly nothing like the magic of sitting in an audience and being transported by the actors.

Just remember, fashionably late doesn’t exist in the theater. So put on your Sunday clothes (Hello, Dolly, anyone?) and get to the theater on time.


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