Singers and actors may have to combat performance anxiety, but audience members can suffer from a worry of their own: what to wear for that night out. Showing up radically over- or underdressed at a play or concert can take the fun out of an evening before the curtain even rises.

A little common sense can prevent a fashion faux pas, say locals who are regulars at the opera, symphony and other performances. When in doubt, dress in clothes that would be appropriate for a job interview, they say. Leave the tank tops and flip-flops at home, and avoid jangling jewelry that can distract others.

Opera-goers tend to dress up, says Valerie Vaughan, membership chairman of the Junior Committee of the New Orleans Opera Association’s Women’s Guild. Men generally wear a suit or coat and tie, and women wear outfits suitable for dinner at one of the city’s fancier restaurants. Vaughan says few women show up in miniskirts or sequins. “The opera is more conservative,” she says.

Patrons ramp it up for the opera’s annual fundraising ball, where it’s black tie for men and full-length ball gowns for women. Attire is also formal at after-opera parties given by the patron’s group called Mastersigners.

philharmonic fashion
Symphony-goers are a bit less formal, but the look is still dressy. When Pete Wolbrette goes to performances of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, he wears what he calls “stagehand chic” because he volunteers to record some of the LPO’s performances. But when he’s in the audience, he wears a coat and tie. “I like to dress up a little bit,” he says. “I enjoy the concert more.”

For women, outfits that would be appropriate for church or work are also fine for the symphony, although some enjoy pulling out pashmina shawls, silk scarves, dressy jewelry or other accessories to make their outfits a bit more glam.

At Le Chat Noir, the cabaret crowd wears a variety of looks, ranging from coat and tie to “casual chic” – a style that owner Barbara Motley says sometimes  includes designer blue jeans, high-fashion tops and stilettos.

Audiences seem to dress up more for shows featuring big-name visiting performers, while outfits are looser and casual for campier shows, she says. The 20-somethings tend to sport dressier clothes, perhaps because they go casual most of the rest of the time.

Years of practice have taught Motley to guess which type of drink a person will order based on what he or she is wearing. “You have your beer crowd and your martini crowd,” she says.

relaxed outskirts
Things are a bit more easygoing in the ’burbs. At the North Star Theatre in Old Mandeville, people wear what they would feel comfortable in at a neighborhood restaurant.

“We’re fairly casual on the north shore,” theater owner Lori Bennett says. Women might wear sundresses with shrugs or cardigans, or a pantsuit. Men needn’t wear a coat or tie.

Audiences at Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans, which stages performances in the WTIX-FM building in Metairie, wear a little bit of everything, says staffer Chelle Ambrose. On weekends, some come straight from work without changing. On weekends, people may be more dressed up because they’ve gone out to dinner first.

Dr. Melody Ritter, president of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society’s board, says the organization’s “come as you please” policy is one of its selling points. Some people like to dress up and make a night of it, while others put comfort first, Ritter says. “Our venues are a little bit more casual,” she says, although you probably won’t see people in cut-off shorts or other beach-appropriate attire.

The society’s annual fundraiser, Pasta & Puccini, is a glitzy affair where men wear either tuxedos or coat-and-tie, and women choose either long gowns or dressy cocktail outfits. In the past, the event has been held at the Pontchartrain Center, but this year’s party is slated for Harrah’s Casino.

If you do want to splurge on a new evening look for the fall, Steven Putt at Saks Fifth Avenue says several trends are expected to be big for after-5 events in New Orleans. For women, the most popular colors will be gold and amber, and many outfits will be made of heavily patterned material. Romantic blouses, top-handle purses, tailored dresses and evening booties are all in, as are big, bold necklaces, he says. Dress lengths still run the gamut from mini to maxi.

Men’s wear will feature made-to-measure and tailored suits, dress boots and a  vest, Putt says. He recommends topping it off with the scent of the season: citrus.•
Spectator Chic

All-cotton shirt by Scott Barber. All-wool serge trousers made  by Zanella (Italy); belt by Torino.

Spectator Chic
All-wool windowpane sport coat by Zegna (fabric made in Canada by Coppley); cotten interlock knit shirt by Polo; hi-twist wool trouser by Corneliani (Italy).
Spectator Chic
Purple top by Ports 1961; pants by Mint; shoes by Botkier; purse by Kooba.
Spectator Chic

Suit by Tahari; dip-dye top by Theory; shoes by Botkier.

Spectator Chic 
Dip-dye dress by René Lezard and shoes by Cole Haan.
Spectator Chic
Tonal glen plaid suit of super 120s wool, made in Canada by Empire; all-cotton twill-weave dress shirt by Ike Behar; woven silk tie by XMI.

Women’s clothing courtesy of Rubenstein’s, 102 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-581-6666. Men’s clothing courtesy of Perlis, 6070 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-895-8661.