Women's Fashion on the Classical Stage

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Friday, September 17, 2010

A recent British study proves what the glitz and stilettos of last week’s fashion week confirm—that fashion matters. The small but meticulous study, penned by Noola Griffiths of Tesside University in Marlborough, England, discovered that audiences perceive the music played by female soloists differently depending on what they wear.

In the study, female violinists performed jazz, classical and folk music in different outfits—jeans, formal wear and a short skirt with strapless top. Using several rating scales, the audience members in the study not only deemed the clubbing outfit "inappropriate" but also deemed the violinist performing to be less technically proficient.

In this week's Arts File on WQXR, Kerry Nolan talks to the author of the study, Dr. Noola Griffiths, and Professor Mary Davis, author of "Classic Chic: Music, Fashion and Modernism", about fashion and female musicians.


Mary Davis and Dr. Noola Griffiths

Hosted by:

Kerry Nolan

Produced by:

Julia Furlan

Comments [3]

Bill D from NJ

Even with more fancy dress women musicians have taken it on the chin. Anne Sophie Mutter, when she started wearing sleeveless gowns (which has advantages to a violinist), was taken to task by some critics and audience members for 'inappropriate' attire, and others have run into that kind of thing.

Though I will add that it isn't just women, male violin soloists are still encouraged to wear tuxedoes with bow ties and such, and when soloists first started doing things like wearing Mandarin style jackets and dress shirts and slacks without a tie or bow tie, they took heat as well (leaving out, of course, that tuxes and ties interfere with playing violins and other instruments).

The perception doesn't surprise me, because classical music still has a lot of people in it that still think this is the 19th century, and these people, many of them of the older generation that grew up with 'dress for success', where you went to work in a suit and tie or formal wear, where you were supposed to stay in that even if it was 90 degrees out, associate 'formal dress' with 'superior talent'.

Not saying that dress down to jeans and a t shirt makes sense on the concert stage, but I also believe that you have a kind of chicken and egg thing here that is sort of akin to playing new pieces in concert. The current audience is composed to a large extent of older audiences who want to see formal attire, and to try and 'liberalize' it a bit will alienate them; meanwhile, the whole tux/black tie/gown thing makes younger audiences, who are more casual, think of the music as a museum piece for older,richer people.

Personally, I would love to see Anne Sophie or someone like her perform in a tux, now that would rock:)

Dec. 28 2010 02:39 PM
Peter Allemano from New York, New York

Nolan is an excellent writer and a pleasant on-on-the-air presence. Normally, “The Arts File” is a joy to listen to. In this installment, unfortunately, Nolan’s journalistic integrity is compromised by ideological feminist sensibilities. To be sure, Nolan’s misandrist axe-grinding is done subtly and through innuendo. But whether it’s merely due to a dramatic, manipulative pause here or an off-topic, leading question there, the unwary listener nevertheless comes away with a false impression -- that female classical musicians are somehow held to unfair standards from which male classical musicians are exempt. That is not the point of any of the research cited in the program, however, and Nolan’s misguided attempt to generate controversy where none exists not only insults the researchers’ scholarly probity but -- ironically -- trivializes the women’s movement. Here’s hoping that Nolan’s better instincts will prevail in future installments of “The Arts File” and the overwrought, activist bias that colors this one will not be repeated.

Sep. 23 2010 04:34 PM
MattS from ny

So Charlotte Moorman had it right?

Sep. 21 2010 10:42 AM

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