No matter how many parties and gatherings are on your weekly social calendar, there’s one sort of invitation that can make even the most confident dresser scratch his head: the invite to an art event. Be it a gallery opening, a benefit, or simply an evening at an art show with a date, these events have a way of reminding you that the art world has its own set of sartorial rules. And no one wants to stand out (in the wrong way) for ignoring them, particularly because they’re rules that can teach you something about everyday dressing as well.
1. Keep the setting in mind
When you try to figure out what to wear to a specific art event, you need to consider the setting. An opening or a gala at an art museum is more on the formal end of the spectrum. A black tie or black tie-optional event calls for a tuxedo or a dark, classic suit. Consider the midnight blue tuxedo from the Brooks Brothers Red Fleece line for a budget-friendly option.
For an evening opening at a gallery, you can go with semi-formal attire, such as a navy blue or gray suit, like Ralph Lauren’s wool twill suit. However, you can go even more casual for many art events — particularly if you know the place or the artist and are confident that something less formal is appropriate. At many shows, a blazer like Club Monaco’s tweed version and a coordinating (not matching) pair of pants is a smart option. In some cases, a dark pair of jeans is even doable. When in doubt, consult the invitation — or a friend in the know — for clues on what’s appropriate.
2. Wear a suit, but don’t look like one
When you attend an art show or opening, you want to look sharp, but not like you just came from the boardroom. Whether you choose to wear a full suit or simply a sport coat with a coordinating pair of pants, there’s one easy trick that can make you look like you belong — even if you equate going to an exhibition opening with an anthropological excursion into foreign culture and ritual.
Just soften the lines of the blazer with a scarf on top. Tied, wrapped, rolled, or simply knotted, a luxurious cashmere or wool scarf is not only warm, but also a stylish form of insurance against looking like just another guy in a suit. Consider a solid color, like the can’t-go-wrong navy blue of A.P.C.’s soft scarf, or a classic pattern, like the blue and gray check of Begg & Co.’s wool and cashmere scarf.
3. Don’t overload your (color) palette
When dressing for an art event, it isn’t necessary to select a monochromatic ensemble, though we’ll have more on that later. To pull together a sophisticated but interesting outfit, it’s wise to choose just two main colors. After all, most artists are choosy about the colors they incorporate into a painting, drawing, sculpture, or entire installation. And color is one area where less is definitely more.
For instance, if you want to ditch the sport coat and go with an art-world classic, the turtleneck, consider a pair of gray trousers, like Ralph Lauren’s wool twill pair, matched with a navy blue sweater, like John Smedley’s merino and cashmere turtleneck or Brooks Brothers’ cable turtleneck sweater.
4. Going monochrome can’t hurt
If you have trouble deciding on two colors, you can opt for just one, and fall back on a favorite trick of artists and art enthusiasts everywhere. Monochrome is an option that’s long been a part of the art world, where Pablo Picasso went through not only a blue period but also a rose period; Yves Klein’s most widely-known accomplishment is the mixing of his trademark International Klein Blue; and artists from Gerhard Richter to Olivier Mosset completed series of monochromatic works.
You can try the monochrome look on for size with the same shade head to toe, like the 1960s uniform of a black turtleneck and black trousers. Or try this look with different shades of the same color. Rag & Bone’s charcoal sport coat pairs well with a gray sweater and a darker gray pair of trousers, and Club Monaco’s gray wool sweater works with a tweedy blazer and gray pair of trousers.
5. Let a pattern or texture take center stage
As many artists with unique approaches to texture and pattern have demonstrated, you don’t have to rely on solid colors alone to create the impression you’re after. Choose a coat in an attention-grabbing pattern or a sweater in a depth-adding texture, and pair it with solid pieces in a coordinating color family. The resulting look is a great way to show off your almost-artistic sensibility for combining colors and patterns without looking out-of-place in a sea of black and navy.
There are a number of ways to pull off the pattern or texture-centric look, and one of the easiest methods is with a famous Shetland sweater, like J.C. Rennie & Co.’s version, in statement-making blue, gray, or even mustard. Alternately, choose a textured piece of outerwear, like Oliver Spencer’s salt and pepper coat, or a patterned piece, like Brooks Brothers’ black watch trench coat.
6. Consider the details
A key to looking elegant at any gallery is to be mindful of the small choices that, when combined, are an expression of not only your aesthetic tastes, but your personality too. As with a painting, bigger choices, like your blazer or sweater, may stand out more at a distance, but a closer look during an intimate conversation can reveal the thought you put into the details.
A well-planned outfit is always complemented by socks like Brooks Brothers’ dotted pair, a tie like RRL’s chambray style, an accessory like The Tie Bar’s sterling silver tie bar, a pair of cuff links like Jan Leslie’s knotted style, or a stylish watch like Mougin & Piquard x J. Crew’s watch. Even a judiciously placed extra layer, like Hardy Amies shawl-collar waistcoat, can add important depth and thoughtful detail to an otherwise minimal outfit.