Even today it is common for schools of music to offer tips to their students as they venture out into auditions. The idea is that if you aspire to be a performer, you should then dress like a performer. And apparently there are, at least in more classical music venues, a notion of what an aspiring performer should dress like. Manhattan School of Music, for example, has secured the services of a New York area outfit (forgive the pun) called Joan’s Closet specifically to provide its aspiring students with gently used clothing which apparently the industry feels to be appropriate to the audition process.
And this all begs the idea of the importance of the interplay between performer and dress style. How a performer or even a group of performers dress will communicate something of the culture and values of the performers whether the garb is designed to do that or not. Performers who are attached to record labels tend to be delivered over to the wizardry of professional stylists.
But what about independent performers who live on frugal budgets and tend to perceive what they wear as a bit of an afterthought? Some more serious pondering on how the values and culture of a performer should inform style and dress can be an important tool . . . for marketing as well as aesthetics. This is especially true for performers on the front end of their careers. It’s worth a think and some conversation. Here are some points to consider.
How important is the idea of personal “authenticity” to your performance? To what extent do you want the audience to discern the “real you?” And is the dress in which you perform really you? This appears like a silly question for some performers. But for others . . . not so much. Art school bands, the Rolling Stones, the later Beatles, Queen, the Talking Heads, tended to see the art of the performance as more important than individual or personal authenticity. The reach of the production trumps the private personality. And they dressed accordingly. Their performance garb could even be used as a foil to who they really are personally . . . intentionally so.
And this introduces the notion of expectations. Do you unconsciously or consciously play to the expectations of your audience? And to what end? Is image something that you are looking to market through your demeanor? Do you see your audience as composed of your peers and look to enter into a musical communion of sorts with them? Are you dressing like them and they are dressed like you? And that is how it should be?
Or is your performance in some way a declaration to them. Your dress and your music are calculated to challenge. More than that, this gives you the capacity to recreate yourself rather easily and charmingly. From inception, this is the strategy of Madonna and Lady Gaga both of whom paid close attention to fashion from their earliest careers.
And to some extent the music style can define the clothing as well. We don’t anticipate Willy Nelson coming on-stage in pancake makeup. Willy wants a static wild Willy.
The interplay of dress and performance is way more comprehensive a discussion than a short blog. But it begs attention because understanding it calls into question who you are; who your audience is; and why you really do what you do – all of the facets of identity. So, what’s in your wardrobe?