Town and Country

I Took My New Dress to the Symphony

Benaroya Hall: The perfect place to parade the fruits of your micro-stimulation practices.

February 8, 2009

Last Friday, I made my first Totokaelo purchase. When Jill Wenger, she of the inspiring and utterly perfect global style mecca Impulse, opened her second store (in conjunction with an innovative online presence) just down the block from my office, I did a little dance—and then panicked. I’m not, historically speaking, good at resisting temptation.

But all of you and all of this provided the kind of temptation I have no problem giving in to, and, thinking of February’s Style Counselor, Dee Hewitt, and her sage advice regarding the five-way rule, I green-lit this great little sac dress from the London-based line Bi La Li. (The photo was snapped by Ty, Totokaelo’s sweet as-a-peach guy Friday.)

Yes – I did pledge to shop American-made, but this dress spoke to me, and right now my urgent objective is to support local, independent retailers, and in that regard, I felt on-point. Also, because the dress is wool, which is much more environmentally friendly than cotton and other fibers, and because the style is just so wearable and classic, I felt great about my micro-stimulation purchase. I knew I’d be able to wear it in a zillion different ways — starting that weekend with a night at the symphony.

Remember that I asked for your advice on dressing for Benaroya Hall? Due in part to your responses, my husband wore the one black suit he owns (for some men, all it takes is one really great one), a classic, understated slim-cut two-button vintage number from the 60s. To soften it a bit, he wore a cashmere v-neck over his cream/beige Brooks Brothers shirt and vintage tie. The sweater (worn in addition to the suit jacket not instead of) was the perfect touch—and totally his idea.

When I slipped on the Bi La Li at home to see how it looked, he said approvingly but somewhat vaguely, “Oh, another one,” by which he meant that the draped front of the dress reminded him of the draped piece on an insanely wearable and re-wearable Clu tank (pictured here) that I bought from Patricia at Merge in Fremont back in November or so.

But I digress (often).

To give my symphony look a little saturated color and warmth, I wore two layers of tights: black under a pair of rich raspberry ones by DKNY. To play off and against the super modern-meets-30s style of the dress, I wore my most amazing pair of Italian vintage shoes; patent leather oxford heels with cutouts and an open lace-up front. With my trusty double-breasted vintage I. Magnin coat, I was set. (see photo)

In the car we listened to Swing Years and Beyond on KUOW … do you ever listen to Swing Years and Beyond on KUOW? You really should.

The crowd that gathered to hear famed Irish pianist Barry Douglas play Liszt’s first piano concerto was pretty diverse but stylish for sure. Yes, there were students in jeans, and frankly, I felt a little sorry for them; you could tell that they could tell that they were underdressed. On the other hand, I saw a number of wonderfully elegant older women in layers of black and gray cashmere and silk, a tall blonde in a chic, color-blocked Phillip Lim mini, and some super dapper gentlemen—and even a four or five-year-old in a tux. I really wanted to take photos, but at 8p.m. in the winter, the gorgeous windows at Benaroya let in a midnight-blue city sky, and without flashing the stylish with my somewhat obnoxious on-camera flash, it just wouldn’t have worked. It made me realize why street style photographers take it to the streets … during the day: the light. Duh. Guess I’m still working on my Scott Schuman impression.

Once we got to our seats and began watching the players as they warmed up, it became clear that the orchestra members themselves were a style show of their own. I do sort of love style boundaries, and the double-bass section in particular proved adept at working within the all-black dress code. I also loved first violinist Maria Larionoff in her le smoking-esque tuxedo look. In general, the chicest orchestra members put me in the mind of Yohji Yamamoto, but with a more low-key, refined, and slightly DIY air—and a sense of humor. Throughout the evening, the violinists and woodwinds and horns and everyone else appeared to be truly feeling it. They looked like they were having fun. And fun is, of course, always a welcome element of style. The orchestra literally sets the stage for the rest of us to relax and enjoy the show, so if you’re thinking you’d be intimidated in the midst of all this serious music, think again. (After the performance we saw a few of them at a nearby table at Union, which is, of course, a very stylish scene for imbibing symphonic food and drink after the symphony.)

And then there was conductor Gerard Schwarz in a white tie tux with tails, and Barry Douglas in a modified Johnny Cash: black suit pants, black cowboy boots, black suit jacket, black tee. Considering the style range of the conductor and the visiting pianist, I do feel that a number of options are appropriate for audience members. If you have to go with jeans, make them dark, pressed, clean, and slim-fitting, and make sure the rest of the outfit elevates them. The key is to keep the environment in mind; Benaroya is a drop-dead beautiful scene. Even the plush, copper-colored seat coverings feel regal. So dress with respect to that, and with respect to the orchestra, the visiting musicians, and the grand history of the music at hand.

Actually, the key is to go. The music, players, and setting are equally phenomenal, providing a perfect excuse for you to practice a little phenomenal fashion and style of your own. My husband and I have already selected our next night out, hope to see you there.

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