How to pass for a Milanese at La Scala

Even though we don't get to the opera nearly as much as we'd like to (damn you, MTV and Jersey Shore!) we do like to keep abreast of the opera and classical music scene through...


So now that you’ve managed to score tickets to a performance at Teatro alla Scala, the real panic sets in: What on earth are you going to wear?

At its heart, Milanese style is about understated elegance and sartorial simplicity: the very best fabrics in conservative cuts, uniquely accessorized. Think of women in Marni dresses adorned with silver necklaces bought in India. Think of men in bespoke suits and handmade shirts paired with bottle-green Loden overcoats from Salzburg. It’s about an old school style with a counterintuitive twist. And though it’s not easy to carry-off for the non-Milanese, it can be learned. Here, a few of Opera Chic’s sartorial rules.

Don’t overdress. It’s the most common faux pas. We know—the Milanese are so stylish that you overcompensate and show up at La Scala in a tuxedo and a long silk gown for a fifth replica of a dusty, old Rigoletto. Really, you’ll just look like a tourist.

Don’t underdress. Flip-flops, sneakers, and shorts are never acceptable. T-shirts in the cheaper gallerie (more on that below) are okay, but would it kill you to wear a short-sleeved polo instead?

Note where you’re sitting. At La Scala, dress code guidelines are practically encoded into your ticket price. The platea (orchestra) and all three levels of the palchi (balcony boxes) call for elegance. For men: a dark suit, white shirt and tie. No pinstripes, please! For women: a dark dress and heels—and leave the aggressive accessories (fishnet stockings and hats) at home. If your seats are in the cheaper, rather cramped gallerie (the two top rings, also known as the loggione) it’s less formal. For men: khakis or dark jeans, and dress shirts with navy blazers or cashmere sweaters; for women, a dress or skirt and heels.

If you have tickets to the premiere of an opera (la prima), regardless of the day of the week or season, dress up. But if you’re seeing the ballet, symphony, or a recital at La Scala, the dress code is more relaxed. During the summer, the dress code is even more casual.

Save the black tie for Dec 7. The only time it’s appropriate to wear black tie to La Scala is the annual December 7 opening. You’ll be surrounded by men in tuxedos and heavily bejeweled women in kitschy designer combinations. And frankly, if you shelled out $4,000 for your seat, you can wear whatever you want.

Cover up! Unlike in New York, nude legs are anathema. Cleavage and bare shoulders are also generally a no-go. In the winter, women wear opaque black tights or black stockings, and even in the summer months, nude pantyhose (sorry!) are worn by young and old alike.

Accessorize. Jewelry—more likely in hushed ebony and creamy ivory rather than shiny pearls or gold chains—is always ladled-on. If it’s winter, feel free to break out the fur. You won’t encounter PETA protesters as you traverse Piazza della Scala in your J. Mendel.

When in doubt, just wear black. At the Piermarini (La Scala’s Milan nickname, homage to the opera theater’s architect, Giuseppe Piermarini), black is always appropriate. And most importantly, it hides any Campari stains from your pre-performance aperitivo at the Park Hyatt!

Check out Opera Chic.