What Not to Wear to the Vienna State Opera House


What to wear Vienna State Opera

Kraków, Budapest and Bratislava all have one thing in common; they are living, open-air history museums dedicated to sharing the horrors of World War II and the 20th Century.

This is not so in Vienna, though the city was equally affected by and involved in this period of history

For Vienna is the dream of aristocracy, the belief that the golden age that came before such a period of disgraceful ruin has been resurrected and still exists. The city never speaks of World War II above the volume of a hushed whisper, but instead shouts at full volume names that conjure an era of glamour. Sissi! Mozart! The Habsburgs! As if by ignoring the destructive history that occurred between these names and now will mean that these dark days never happened.

Nowhere in Vienna is this more evident than at the Vienna State Opera House.

What to wear vienna state opera

Built in 1869, the Vienna State Opera House opened with Mozart and was attended by Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth “Sissi.” Heavily bombed during World War II, the building reopened in 1955 with a new auditorium, symbolizing the beginning of new life for the recently independent Austria

Today it is one of the most important opera houses in the world and boats the largest repertoire anywhere.

What to wear vienna state opera

I’ve been to a handful of theaters on Broadway, to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and a few others around the world, but I’ve truly never seen a collection of such elegantly dressed patrons as at the Vienna State Opera House.

I suppose this should come as no surprise from the location that hosts the annual Opera Ball where young ladies are still presented to society.

What to wear vienna state opera

I arrived at the opera house midway through a full day of sightseeing dressed in my finest yoga pants, tennis shoes and a green sweater, ragged from a winter of travel. This attire was entirely appropriate for the 40-minute guided tour where I was joined by a pack of fellow tourists sporting similar attire.

What to wear vienna state opera

I even fit right in as we went backstage and watched the stagehands setting up for the evening’s performance.

My tour guide shared with me the most important fact about the Vienna State Opera House toward the end of the tour: for every performance they sell day of standing room tickets for four euro.

Four euro! Who can pass up a four-euro ticket to the opera? Not me.

Following my tour I waited in an hour-long line for a ticket to the evening’s performance of Parsifal. By the time I received my ticket there was not enough time to change clothes before the performance.

And so, I strode under the marble archways and antique statues to the chagrin of fellow theatergoers who bluntly expressed their disapproval of my attire with strained glances.

What to wear vienna state opera

The standing room section is quite near the stage on the ground floor.

I looked up at the beautiful women in the velvet boxes, moving gracefully in their glittering dresses, faces full of fresh makeup, arms full of pearls, surrounded by handsome men, intellectually stimulating conversations and the lingering scent of wine and vowed to someday come back and be one of them.

What to wear vienna state opera

But in this moment I stood below in my yoga pants and sweater, invisible as I leaned against the resting bars, grateful to be wearing tennis shoes during the five-hour performance of Parsifal.

Though the opera was long and I really had no idea what was going on despite the English translation streaming on the rest bars, I forced myself to stay for the entire performance.

What to wear vienna state opera

After it ended, back-aching, I slipped out of the Opera House silently and disappeared into the streets. On the way back to Hostel Ruthensteiner I found the perfect dress to wear the next time I attend a performance.

What to wear vienna state opera

My fellow female travelers may this serve as a warning. Should you find yourself at the Vienna State Opera House please wear a dress and some shoes with a bit more style.

What to Wear to the Vienna State Opera House

To avoid my embarassment, shop ahead of time for an appropriate outfit to wear to the Vienna State Opera. Ladies, now is the time to dress up!


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This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Lauren, this is an awesome post! So well-written. Also, I think that could happen to anyone! Lastly: SISSI! She was awesome.

  2. Sophie

    I’m doing some research on what to wear to the opera in Vienna for an upcoming trip. I went years ago and wore a knee length skirt and somehow felt I didn’t fit in with either end of the spectrum. Seems you have to commit to normal street clothes or a full-on ballgown! Thanks for your insightful post.

    1. Lauren

      Sophie I think you will feel you fit in in a knee length skirt with a nice blouse. A dress and heels would be my choice outfit if I were to return. Definitely do not make the same mistake I did and don’t wear normal street clothes. I hope you have a wonderful visit. The opera is a beautiful place!

  3. Tim

    Lauren: Did you see many men in tuxedos, or was it more common to see them in suits. We will be visiting Vienna and seeing Elektra and my husband and I definitely want to “fit in”, be that in a traditional suit or a tuxedo. We own both, so we just need to pick which one to pack. I think wearing a tux would be great, but I don’t want us to be the only ones doing so (other than the ushers of course). Any guidance is really appreciated.

    1. Lauren

      Hi Tim! Yes I did see many men in tuxedos. There were also many men in suits, so you would fit in wearing either one, but many attendees do go all out and dress in white tie. Have a great time seeing Elektra!

  4. LN

    Hi! I have a similar question as Tim above. Do you think a a floor lenght evening gown is a litlle too much? (paired with my partners tuxedo)? Did women wear gowns? Do not want to go overdressed. thank you!

    1. Lauren

      A floor length evening gown would most definitely be appropriate. Many ladies were wearing them. I think it is impossible to be overdressed at the Vienna State Opera House. Someday I am going to return to the opera and wear an evening gown to make up for my previous blunder. Have an amazing trip!

  5. KK

    Thank you for this great post! We will be visiting Austria shortly and attend Vienna State Opera just before Christmas. I was quite worried about the dress code, now I feel a bit more confident to wear a full length lacy evening dress on this special occasion.
    All the best to you!

    1. Lauren

      Yes! Wear a full length lacy evening dress and look beautiful for me as I looked horrible during my visit! Have an amazing time and thanks for stopping by to leave a comment!

  6. Tim

    I took your advice and we wore our tuxes to a Saturday evening show (of Elektra) the week before Thanksgiving and I would estimate that 5-10% were in black tie / gowns, 60% were in suit and tie / cocktail dress, 25% in jeans (some men in jackets and women in a sweater), with the rest in t-shirts. I saw a couple people in full white tie. We did not feel out of place at all and I didn’t get the feeling that people were judging any of the attire (although, the t-shirt crowd should have been judged, in my opinion).

    It was a great experience, in a beautiful space. Would love to hear about your experience.

    1. Lauren

      Hi Tim! Thanks so much for leaving this breakdown of how people were dressed during the show you saw at the Vienna State Opera House. It is super helpful! I’m glad to hear you fit in with the way you were dressed. I’m sure you looked fabulous!

  7. Joan

    My husband and I are attending Vienna State Opera in March and I am so grateful to have some input on what to wear–especially Tim’s breakdown of outfits. I am tempted to be in black dressy pants and fancy top, to be comfortable and let my son, who is in the production wear the skirt. He’s cast in a woman’s role in Tri Sestri. So, I guess I can wear the pants in the family along with my husband;-)

    1. Lauren

      That’s a great story! Congratulations to your son on landing a role in Tri Sestri. I hope you have a great visit!

      1. Joan

        Thank you! My daughter just learned he went to the opera ball there this past weekend. The photos he sent are amazing!! It looks like a fairy tale! Fortunately, as an opera singer, he has appropriate formal wear.

  8. Alex

    What a lovely, helpful review to stumble upon….my husband and I were wondering what to wear and now I’m quite excited about going off and picking out that perfect dress before our trip!

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