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, plus at least 7-10 ones every time I’m back in the city seeing friends.

Basically, I’m a Broadway expert at this point. In fact, I even worked at Broadway.com for almost 8 years as one of their “theater experts”, who answered customer questions and helped book Broadway shows.

Meaning, for all 8 years, I got to see pretty much every Broadway and some off-Broadway shows for free!

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.

So, as a total Broadway expert, 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.

Are You Seeing a Matinee or Evening Show?

ally going to a broadway show nyc

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. 

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 at opening night of Barry Manilow on Broadway

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 at a Broadway Theater

Ally on a Rooftop in NYC

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).

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!

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.

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

Oh, and 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 and no money to leave them at coat check.

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.

Oliver Cabell Runner

Crafted from buttery Italian leather, complete with hand stitching, these are one fashionable pair of runners!

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Gentleman’s Dress Code at a NYC Theater

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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.

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.

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.

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.

When in Doubt, Follow These Outfit Rules

the public theater off broadway 2
  • 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.

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.

ALLY BEFORE THE TONY AWARDS

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 - Ally NYC

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.

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. 

General Broadway Theater Etiquette

What Time to Arrive at a Broadway Theater

ALLY IN RAIN NYC OUTSIDE OF BROADWAY THEATER GOOD NIGHTOSCAR

Broadway theaters open their doors beginning 30 minutes prior to the performance.

If you already have your tickets in hand and don’t care about having a lot of time to use the bathroom or check out the concession stand, then you can plan on arriving 10-15 minutes early to give yourself time to get through the security line and find your seats. This is normally how I try to time it.

You can easily go wait in a massive line to be let in when the doors open if you want time to wander around the theater, hit the bathroom, and get in a cocktail before the show.

Do You Have Your Tickets?

PRIMA FACIE BROADWAY PLAY MAY 2023

Before you head to the theater make sure you know where your tickets are.

If they were flagged to go to will call when you bought them that means you’ll need to pick them up at the theater’s box office, which is right inside the entrance.

You may have had digital copies sent. If that’s the case, download them ahead of time so you don’t run into any issues at the theater.

Still need tickets? Check out my guide below to score last-minute Broadway tickets!

TodayTix

Besides offering great prices, TodayTix also offers rushes and lotteries helping you score amazing deals on last minute tickets to some of the hottest shows in town!

Book a Show!
If you click this link and make a purchase, I earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Drinks and Snacks at a Broadway Show

BROADWAYNYC GOOD NIGHTOSCAR APRIL 2023

One of my biggest pet-peeves is that theaters let people bring drinks with ice and loud candies into the theater. There’s always someone who doesn’t realize how disruptive their snacking is.

If you’re going to indulge in something sweet, please unwrap your candy before the show starts.

Also, order your drink with no ice to avoid creating noise while you sip on it.

Local’s Tip: You can’t bring your own food and beverage into the show. They search bags and will take things they find.

During the Performance

company playbill inside the theater

Before the show starts make sure your phone and any watch alarms are totally off.

There’s nothing worse than someone ruining a scene when something in the audience lights up, vibrates, or rings.

As we discussed above, also stick to drinks with no ice and non-noisy candy to avoid being disruptive to those around you.

Oh, and please don’t talk or whisper during the show. Wait until intermission or the end of the show to chat about what you’ve seen over drinks.

Local’s Tip: The second intermission begins bolt to the bathroom line. They’re always notoriously long, especially for women.

If you’re comfortable with it, thanks to NYC gender equality laws, you can even hop into the men’s line which is generally shorter and use one of the stalls in there before intermission ends.

Stage Dooring at the End of a Broadway Show

BROADWAY SHOW COMPANY 2022 STAGE DOOR

After a show you can hang around the stage door to meet the actors and have your Playbill signed as they leave the theater.

If you’ve seen a show with a big celebrity featured, race to the stage door the moment the show ends. Hopefully the theater limits the stage door access to people leaving the theater, but sometimes you’ll have to compete for a good spot with fans off the street.

I used to think stage dooring was so cool when I was a teenager seeing Broadway shows. Seriously, my parents will confirm I have an embarrassing amount of signed Playbills and posters being stored in their basement.

Fair warning, sometimes actors sneak out other exits, sometimes they’re really nice and take their time chatting with everyone.

Other times they’re exhausted and may just sign or take photos with a few fans before getting in their car.

Either way, always be respectful and never ever try to follow any of the actors.

Closest Subway Stations to Broadway Theaters

Cab-Times-Square

Broadway theaters are all located around Times Square (with the exception of Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont currently showing Camelot), so if you’re seeing a true Broadway show you need to hop on whichever a train line that stops at one of these locations:

  • 42 St-Times Square
  • 42 St-Bryant Pk
  • Port Authority Bus Terminal

Seeing an Off-Broadway show?

Chances are it will be either uptown, in midtown, downtown, or in Brooklyn. Double check the address before hopping on the subway!

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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