Deciding what to wear when attending a Broadway play is less complicated than many people think. Movies often depict the image of an immaculately-dressed man and woman in their best formal clothing on their way to the theater, but the reality is actually quite different. In general, men no longer don tuxedos to attend a play unless it is opening night, and women rarely wear hats and gloves. As the rest of American society has become more casual, so has the norm for attire at Broadway shows. Most attendees focus on looking attractive while still maintaining a level of comfort.
Many women attending Broadway shows in New York City are tourists, and therefore their wardrobe choices are limited by the amount of clothing they have packed. Fortunately, many clothes can do double duty and it is not necessary to pack a separate outfit for attending a show.
A beautiful and comfortable dress is always an appropriate choice. In the summer months, this may mean a sundress; in the winter, a heavyweight dress under a warm coat is practical. Cocktail and semi-formal dresses are a good option year-round, especially for evening shows, which tend to draw more formally-dressed patrons than matinee shows. A dressy pair of pants and a nice top is also appropriate for any Broadway show.
The temperature inside a Broadway theater may be quite chilly, especially in the summer when air conditioning is on a low setting to compensate for the heat outside. Bringing a light wrap, sweater, or jacket is good idea for this reason. However, a well-attended show can result in a rather warm and stuffy theater, so be careful not to dress too warmly. It's best to choose layered clothing that can be easily removed or added.
Many women prefer to wear heels to the theater, but as any smart New Yorker will tell you, it's very important to wear comfortable shoes when commuting around the city. A woman may put on flats and carry heels in her bag, changing at the theater. This is an especially smart choice when taking the subway to the theater, as the journey will likely include lots of time standing and walking up and down stairs.
For many men, the primary concern in choosing clothing for the theater is comfort. This is a wise focus, since attending a show involves at least two hours of sitting and often traversing crowded stairwells before and after the show and during intermission. Most theaters have very narrow aisles and small seats designed to maximize the number of attendees, so it is important to choose clothing that is comfortable and not distracting during the performance.
A classic option for men is a suit, or dress pants with a button down shirt and tie. For matinees, it is common to see men in khaki pants and a collared or golf shirt. Occasionally men wear jeans, although this is generally considered uncouth and a slightly dressier look is preferred. Typically, it is better to err on the side of being overly formal than overly casual when attending a Broadway show.
Like women, men should consider layering their clothing to accommodate a variety of temperatures both inside and outside the theater. An extra sweater or thin jacket is appropriate to bring to the theater all year round.