What to Wear: A Style Guide for Your Night at the West End

You’ve got your tickets to a West End show. But now comes the age-old question: what should you wear? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this guide to dressing for your night out in London’s dazzling theatre district.

Understanding West End Dress Codes

Let’s start with the basics: most West End theatres don’t have strict dress codes anymore. The days of mandatory evening gowns and tuxedos are behind us. (Thank goodness – imagine trying to sneak snacks into your top hat!) However, many theatregoers still see it as a special occasion and dress accordingly. A good rule of thumb is ‘smart casual’, but this can vary depending on the show, venue, and performance time.

Dressing for Different Types of Shows


For popular musicals like The Phantom of the Opera or Wicked, the atmosphere is generally relaxed:

  • Women often opt for cocktail dresses, smart trousers with a blouse, or even stylish dark jeans paired with a smart top. Just remember, if you’re seeing Cats, maybe leave the mouse costume at home.
  • Men frequently choose collared shirts with trousers or dark jeans, sometimes adding a blazer for a more polished look. No, your Phantom mask doesn’t count as formal wear, gentlemen.

Classic Plays

For productions of Shakespeare or other classic plays, the dress code might lean slightly more formal:

  • Women might consider a dress or skirt ensemble, or tailored trousers with an elegant top. Elizabethan ruffs are optional, but highly entertaining.
  • Men could wear a suit (tie optional) or a smart shirt and blazer combination.

Avant-garde or Modern Productions

For cutting-edge shows, the dress code is often more relaxed and eclectic. Both men and women can experiment with more artistic or bohemian styles.

Seasonal Considerations


London summers can be warm, and some older theatres lack air conditioning. Consider:

  • Light, breathable fabrics
  • Sleeveless dresses or short-sleeved shirts
  • Bringing a light jacket or wrap, as theatres can sometimes be cool. You don’t want to be shivering more than the actor playing Hamlet in the ghost scene!


Winter in London calls for layering:

  • Wear a coat that’s easy to take off and store.
  • Consider wearing tights or warm socks with your outfit
  • Opt for closed-toe shoes to keep your feet warm. Fuzzy bunny slippers, while cozy, are frowned upon.

Time of Performance

Matinees generally have a more casual atmosphere, while evening shows, especially on weekends, tend to be dressier affairs. It’s a great opportunity to dress up if you enjoy doing so, but don’t feel pressured. The actors are the ones who need to impress you, not the other way around!

Footwear Considerations

Remember, you may be doing some walking or standing:

  • For women, if you’re wearing heels, consider bringing a pair of foldable flats. Your feet will thank you, even if your calves won’t.
  • Men might opt for dress shoes that are comfortable. Leave the tap shoes at home unless you’re planning an impromptu audition.
  • In wet weather, consider water-resistant footwear.

Final Thoughts

Dressing for a night at the West End is part of the theatre experience. It’s a chance to step out of your everyday routine and into a world of glamour and artistry. Whether you go all out or keep it stylishly low-key, the most important thing is that you feel confident and ready to enjoy the show. Remember, the real dress code of the West End is enthusiasm for the performing arts. So whatever you wear, wear it with a smile and an open heart, ready to be transported by the magic of live theatre. And if all else fails, just tell everyone you’re method acting for your role as “Audience Member #1.”