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ChoralNet: Choosing a Black Choir Dress

Greetings, Choralisters, and many thanks to all of you who responded to my inquiry
about choir dresses. Since there were some definite "Common threads" (no pun
intended) to the responses, I'm going to summarize rather than compile them to save
you time.

All of those who responded about the style of the dresses cautioned strongly
AGAINST empire waist, saying that it tends to make the larger girls look
pregnant. At the same time, they said that the right version of a
higher-waisted or loose-waisted gown could look very good on girls of all

Those that mentioned distributors by name (and I'm being careful to act only
as a reporter here and not as a sales rep.) spoke of two companies by far the most
frequently: Southeastern Apparel in Dothan, AL and Stage Accents in the NYC area.
One person also mentioned working well with a smaller company in CT, Cousins Apparel
(which does work nationally, or at least regionally).

Several male respondents also cautioned me about the politics and potential
in-fighting that is likely to occur between the women of various sizes
regarding what looks good on them. One of the respondents advised me to
turn the supervision of dress selection over to one of the women in my
choirs and to wash my hands of the whole thing. (I was involved in
supervising dress selection over 25 years ago, and I can attest personally
to the in-fighting as a result of that experience. In fact, that's one
thing that drove me to write the question in the first place, as I'm hoping
to avoid some of the same pitfalls, though I¹m sure I won't avoid them all.)

Again, many thanks to all of you who took the time to respond to my question.
You¹ve helped me a lot! (If any of you are curious about what we finally choose, e-
mail me again in mid-fall to find out.)


Chuck Livesay

Dr. Charles Livesay
Director of Choirs
Spring Arbor University
Spring Arbor, MI 49283
(517) 750-6498

Thank you to all who replied! I think I have enough thoughts now to come to some
conclusion. For the spring concert,
in just over a month, I think I will have to be the dictator, but we'll see where
we go with it later.

Susan Marrier

Hi Susan,
I guess it depends on what look you're trying to achieve, and also on the
size of the choir. If it's a small group, I think the following looks
fantastic: Any combination of black plus silver, the emphasis being on
looking really special. I've seen this work with a small group of
instrumentalists. It woujld be equally effective with black plus gold.
Each member gets to choose her own outfit, but the musical director has
power of veto (that way you can rule out things that are too revealing, or
too distracting or dazzling, etc).

My choir is quite large (about 100 singers), and this is what the women
wear for most concerts: Concert black, with a few provisos - shoes and
stockings must be black and closed toe; tops must be smart and have a
collar and sleeves (we vary the sleeve length according to the season, as
Sydney summers can be very hot); skirt or trousers must be full length;
jewellery is limited to a watch and one or two subtle pieces (such as
earrings, bracelet, pendant). Two people have power of veto - conductor
and president. we do get a variety of shades of black, but it doesn't seem
to matter. If you wanted to be more uniform than that, you could exclude
shiny fabrics such as satin, silk and velvet.

Sometimes, for a special occasion, we vary the concert dress. E.g., for a
festive Christmas concert we might add a splash of a single colour -
members would bring their coloured accessory to rehearsal at least a week
before the concert, so that unsuitable items can be changed in time for
the show, and also so we can make sure we don't have a whole row of
sopranos for example all wearing different shades of pink, etc.

I hope this is helpful.
All the best,
Margot McLaughlin
Director, Macquarie University Singers
NSW Australia

I am the wardrobe chairman/costume designer for a large master chorale.
When it came time to select new concert attire, I made large posters of
many different styles, culled from choral catalogues, retail catalogues
and magazines. I then had all the ladies peruse them and mark which they
liked. I then sent for samples of the top five and had them select from
those by actually modeling them (in some cases, in several sizes where I
could get ahold of them.) Then we voted. Committees do not work! If
eveyrone is involved and has their shot, then there is less ability to
complain later (although, of course, they do.) I have to say that this
system produced an outfit with which everyone is quite happy and we look
fabulous. I do recommemd a wardrobe chairman who coordinates accessories,
carries emergency supplies such as thread and tape and makes sure everyone
knows what to wear when and what accesspories (such as hosiery color) are
expected. It does help if that person is someone who consistently looks
well-dressed at rehearsals and has a very strong and upbeat personality.
I can talk my gals into wearing what is needed (we do a lot of period and
ethnic costume concerts) because they have come to respect my "eye."

Hope this is of help. I know what a mean little problem this can be!

Gay Durward
Los Cancioneros Master Chorale
Torrance, California

Dear Susan,
We have just gone through that (painful) process for the community choir
with which I sing. I have the dubious honor of being in charge of
wardrobe. You need to find a wardrobe mistress with a fairly thick skin,
who will agree to stand tough until the decision is made. After that,
the "shooting" should stop.....I think it's called "grin and bear it."
(Or, "grit your teeth and go out for a glass of wine after the battle.")

What I did was ask for suggestions as to what the women thought would LOOK
BEST IN A GROUP SITUATION (capitals mine). Especially get opinions from
the loudest of the protesters (they tend to be the ones LEAST likely to
volunteer for the position, but the first to criticize.) You can do a
informal verbal poll or a written one, which I find easier. Give them a
list of characteristics, and ask them to check off the ones they find most
desirable. Before having them "vote," go over the choices orally, giving
pros and cons for each, i.e., sleeve length - cooler vs. coverage; fabrics
- knit comfort & ease of washing vs. heavier material better drape vs.
probable dry clean.

Emphasize that this is not a choice for an individual, like a prom dress,
but a style which will give a neat, but flattering, group appearance.
Then let them vote and turn in the ballot. After going over the choices,
go through your catalogs and find 3-5 examples of outfits that most
closely resemble the MAJORITY of the choices in one package. Order
samples (all companies I dealt with were happy to comply with that
request) and then hold a fashion show for the women. Then have them vote
for ONE OF THOSE SAMPLES. (I know these are "adults," but sometimes you
have to create a situation with an ultimatum built in, or it will never be

I found that once things were gone over, rationalized, and voted on,
everyone was more interested in when they would arrive, rather than on
harping on the choice itself. (FYI - we went with a 2-piece jacket
dress, black, in that kind of slinky travel knit that never wrinkles but
looks pretty elegant, which the women felt was not only appropriate to
wear within the group, but could also be worn for a nice occasion outside
the group. We had it made to ankle-to-top-of-the-shoe length. Praise
Hymn Fashions, #1857 FEK)

We looked at outfits from: Praise Hymn Fashions,
Formal Fashions Inc.,
Southeastern Fashions,
Stage Accents,
Hope this helps.....GOOD LUCK!!

Theresa Schneider
NMUSD, Costa Mesa, CA

Gosh, it may be time to take the upper hand and just say, "This is what
you're wearing. If you want to be in the concert you will wear this." As
my college director used to say, "Choir is not a democracy."

That being said, a uniformly cut black skirt that is hemmed to be X number
of inches from the floor (measuring from the floor up to the hem) and a
matching blouse works for us. Maybe you can have them vote on the color
of the blouse so they feel more democratic. Although that could open a
big can o' worms!

Good luck!

We are in our 12th season and are still wearing all black, all different.

Since the matter is a non-musical one, I, as director, have firmly
declined to become involved in the selection of a uniform costume. By
referring the matter to committee, I have stopped all discussion dead,
because no one wants to be on the committee!!

It would be nice if we all dressed the same, but that is not a ditch I am
willing to die in.

All best,

Mary Lycan
Women's Voices Chorus

I just joined a wonderful women's chorus and we wear black skirts (floor
length or dress slacks and shiny/silky blouses (collar, button down the
front w/long sleeves in these colors: shades of blue, purple, teal, green
- NO yellow, orange, gold or silver), black dress shoes, black stockings,
black belt, if desired... GOOD LUCK! ANn Healy No Yarmouth, ME -

Hi Susan,
Elektra had the same dilemma for their first few years - finally we
settled into the reality that women feel best in 'their own clothes' so we
simply set guidelines for their dress. We're always in black, which is
then glitzed with black beading, sequins or gold. We also wear gold
jewelry. We're very specific about the depth of the black (determined by
types of fabric), length of sleeve, hemline, the stockings and shoes and
the actual color of the 'gold'. (Think 14K) When the package is put
together the aim is dignified, evening elegance (as if your date is in a
tuxedo). I've attached a recent photo - I can send you our dress code if
you like. Good luck, Diane Loomer

We wear jewel-toned tops (no t-shirts or patterns allowed): emerald,
amethyst, ruby, tigerseye, etc., and black bottoms (can be skirts or
pants), black shoes, black sox or stockings. We make sure we don't have
too many of the same color next to each other verbally at tech rehearsal
or earlier, double check balance visually at dress rehearsal. This year
we're considering doing a costume change: all black for the first set,
jewel tones and black for the second set or jewel tones/black for one
set, and black bottoms with Hawaiian shirts for the other
(pops/Broadway/folk/political/humor) set. Hope this is helpful. Best,
Cynthia Mendocino Women's Choir Cypress House, Lost Coast Press, QED Pres
155 Cypress Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437 707-964-9520 * fax: 707-964-7531

I took a page from brides of todayspecify a store and that the outfit
has to be a certain color and style (long sleeves, floor-length skirt,
etc.) and let the women go out and choose their own style. It seemed to
work well, and everyone looks great. Their take on it is that orchestra
members wear similar but not the same dresses/outfits, so why shouldn't

Hope you find a great solution. I'm sure there will be many, many more!


Lots of luck. My experience is the same, i.e. strong willed women can
never agree, so decide what you want with one or two closest advisors and
be a dictator. What looks best to you? Jim Parker.

My solution to the problem was to do the following.

Choose six representatives of the choir at large. Make sure that the
represent the sections evenly and that they are of varying body shapes.
(seriously a big issue)

Give them YOUR criteria first.
-must be a long dress
-must have sleeves (long or short)
-must do a great job with a variety of body sizes and shapes.

Give them YOUR favorite catalogs. (companies that you know work well with

Have them pick out their favorite four dresses.
Narrow it down to their favorite three dresses.

You choose from the three since YOU have the final say in the issue.
There can only be ONE director.

In this system there is representation from the choir and leadership on
your part. I have used this system for 15 years and it has never failed
to this date.



Daniel R. Craig
Assistant Professor of Music
Director of Choral Activities
University of Southern Indiana
Director of Music Ministries
Old North United Methodist Church
Evansville Indiana

Someone needs to have a final decision. As conductor that could be you.
Or have a committee agree on two choices to present to the choir and have
them vote. Debbie Mello

We have worn black on black for the last 5 years, and the ladies always
look wonderful. Everyone wears the style that suits them, from skirts,
long and short (with black hose,) to slacks. I have ladies of all ages,
and this arrangement really works for us. Everyone looks good
individually, and as a group they look wonderful. We have added splashes
of color for special themes, but otherwise, we're just plain black (even

Smiles, Sharon
Artistic Director
Treble by Nature
Denver Distinctive Chorus for Women

If I were to write a book on this, I would call it "Girls, Dresses, and
Armaggedon." I understand that you are dealing with adults and I deal
with teenagers, but I'm not sure there is much difference when it comes to
this. I have told my group that they have until the end of the class
period to make a decision. If no decision is made, then I alone will pick
(as I hold up our old choir robes that everybody hates). Whatever they
wear, it needs to be comfortable, and if you travel, it needs to pack well
without getting too wrinkled. I have had girls tell me that they will
drop out of the group if they have to wear a certain outfit. But if their
appearance is more important than being a part of the ensemble, then
perhaps their priorities are not the same as yours.

Scott Wickham
Centaurus HS
Lafayette, CO

As dictatorial as this may sound, I've found the best success in someone
probably you just picking a dress/outfit and saying "this is what we
are wearing." There are a couple of styles that are equally flattering
(or unflattering, depending on your perspective)... the ensembles I sing
in right now that have a uniform dress wear a slightly loose
princess-seamed column dress with a sheer jacket overlay. We got them
from Stage Accents (, Georgette dress and Amadeus

Ultimately it is about the music and not what we look like. If the
audience is focused on an individual's outfit, then they aren't focused on
the music. If a chorister gets upset to the point of leaving over the
uniform issue, then they probably weren't in the group for the right
reasons to begin with.

My two-cents worth. :-)


Suzanne M. Hatcher
Co-Conductor, Maelstrom - The Miami Hurricanes Men's Chorus
Coordinator, 37th & 38th Annual Honor Choirs
Publicity, Marketing and Public Relations, Choral Studies
Graduate Teaching Assistant

Choral Studies
Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music
University of Miami
PO BOX 248165
Coral Gables, FL 33124-7610
Choral Studies Main Line: 305/284.4162
Choral Studies Fax: 305/284.4839

You have my prayers. Male singers agree much more easily. Then again,
they only have the standard tux. My women FINALLY settled on concert
attire, but for three, yes THREE years, we've been "fussing" over
accessorizing! I have not one good tip for you, except prayer. Peace and
good luck! Greg Shook

have the choir vote for a uniform director. this person picks a
couple other people for a committee. you tell the choir that they will
respect and accept the choice made by the selected uniform director and
those who don't may quit.

this is democracy that works. you must remind them that their method is
anarchy. if they don't like democracy, tell them that you can easily
turn it into a dictatorship!!

My women's choir stuck with the all black theme, but never looked
"motley" we set some rules to insure this:

Sleeves at least elbow length (preferably longer)
Hems below the knee (preferably no higher than 5 or 6 inches from floor)
Strive for an "elegant" look, but no deep-cut necklines or sparkly sequins
or elaborate lace Black or off-black hose/black shoes Limited, tasteful
jewelry (nothing too "baubly") and no scarves, sashes or shawls

That seemed to cover it, and I think we always looked nice. We decided to
stick with the all-black personally chosen outfits in order to avoid the
dreaded white blouse/black skirt look that has its own inherent problems,
and to allow women to express themselves a bit and dress their own bodies
in what looks good on THEM instead of trying to fit into a "uniform" which
never looks good on every body (not everyone looks good in a tucked in

I'd love to hear the other suggestions you end up with, though. Maybe
there's an even better idea out there!

Good luck.

Jody Sinkway
CantaLyrica, A Women's Chorus