The rules of dressing for Glyndebourne

Expert style tips from the ultimate arbiter of etiquette, Debrett’s

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For opera lovers, Glyndebourne is the pinnacle of the cultural calendar, and this year’s Festival is set to be as glorious as ever, with Verdi’s La traviata and the world premiere of Brett Dean’s new opera based on Hamlet expected to entrance audiences.

Dressing for the occasion is an opportunity to hit the sartorial high notes with elegant eveningwear and statement accessories, but there are challenges when it comes to choosing your outfit, not least the unpredictable British weather and the need to be suitably attired for both indoors and out. Here, an expert from Debrett’s shares recommendations of how to navigate the dress code…  

Harry Cory Wright

Formal evening dress is required at Glyndebourne Opera Festival because its founder, John Christie, felt that it demonstrated respect to the performers. Usually, this means traditional black tie for both men and women, but variations are seen, including kilts, tartan trews and white dinner jackets instead of the classic black.

Making an effort is certainly encouraged at Glyndebourne, in tribute both to the performers and the beautiful surroundings. Outfits should be audience-appropriate, however – no view-obscuring headwear, for example. If you’re picnicking on the lawn during the interval, factor in the weather and avoid anything too restrictive or uncomfortable.

Women may absolutely wear palazzo or evening trousers, but if you’re opting for a matching jacket or blazer, avoid anything too reminiscent of office wear.

A smart evening coat or shawl will ensure you stay warm if picnicking outdoors, and a large umbrella will keep off any rain – a more elegant option than head-to-toe waterproofs.

Men should wear polished or patent black lace-up shoes, as is customary with black tie. Flats or wedges are recommended for women if you’re picnicking, as heels can sink into the grass.

Fine or costume jewellery, with a clutch or small evening bag, is usually worn with formal evening wear. Tiaras are not required, however.

Debrett’s has partnered with Bicester Village to publish a ‘Guide to British Style’ (£9, available here). Fifty per cent of proceeds from sales are donated to the Bicester Food Bank.



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