I have had this conversation with numerous travelers (typically backpackers) in Europe: they want to go to the theater, opera, classical music concert but have no dressy clothes. The theater usually says that it encourages people to dress up but it is not enforced. Yet, all the locals dress up. Should they still go in jeans?
Most of them do. They justify it by saying that the real experience of Aida at the Opera in Vienna should not be dilluted by people wearing jeans (and taking pictures inside the Opera house – like the Stanford U students in the picture) and on the contrary, it shouldn’t be enhanced by wearing a gown.
So why do locals usually dress up? Are they just shallow and think that cultural experience will come with nice clothes?
Over the years, I have adopted the “when in Rome, do as Romans do” point of view when it comes to theater-going. Dress the way the locals dress, even though it might be inconvenient and mean buying an outfit. It doesn’t have to be a gown, but at least a skirt and a shirt (long pants and long-sleeve, collared shirt for men). If you can’t afford it, it might be a good idea to go to see a small, independent show instead. Consider that those locals may have saved up a lot of money to see a show in a majestic theater building and expect it would be special. By wearing jeans and “not caring”, you may just be ruining it for them. You might be able to enjoy the show regardless of the clothes you wear, but they might not.
In most European theaters, you will notice that the people dressed up are the locals and the people in jeans are the tourists. Many shows featuring a high concentration of jeans are thus called “tourist shows.” And that is certainly not a compliment.
Then again, who knows, “dressing up for culture” might be a thing of the past…