Barbara Hannigan: No Jacket Required

Barbara Hannigan, writing in the Guardian:

For Façade, I wore something appropriate to the theatricality of the piece – a strapless evening gown. A friend commented on the expressivity of my arms, and it struck me that this was part of my strength as a conductor. When I’d made my debut at the Châtelet, I’d worn a suit: many women conductors wear either gender-neutral outfits or something resembling a man’s suit. I thought trousers and jacket were the “costume” I had to put on. However, to cover my arms in a jacket might serve convention, but not the music – and I never wear suits in real life! Ever since, I’ve worn a sleeveless dress to conduct. It’s something I can move in that doesn’t distract me or the orchestra – and it fits the music on the programme. I don’t tie my hair back, either, because I never do unless I’m having a bad hair day. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback about this from orchestras and audiences. None find it a problem that I’m not soberly clad in a dark suit. Critics do invariably always remark on my attire, though, which isn’t something they regularly do with male conductors.

It’s insane that this kind of attitude is still the norm in the classical music world.

About twelve years ago, I saw a concert performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle by the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland. For those concerts, the orchestra were allowed wear their own clothes. After the second or third opera, one critic mentioned in a throwaway comment that one of the percussionists “inadvisedly” was wearing a sleeveless top. The next night, she was wearing a sweater (not comfortable for a percussionist under stage lights, I’m sure), but four or five of the other girls in the orchestra were wearing sleeveless tops; both a sign of silent solidarity and a wonderful “fuck you” to the critic.