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Wearable Design: Redesigned Uni-sex Symphony Orchestra Jacket

In symphony orchestras, concert dress has not changed essentially since the
days of Beethoven. For centuries, musicians have been donning constricting,
cumbersome, and extremely hot black tails, all in the name of professionalism
and tradition. The New York times noted that although the powdered wigs had
left years ago, much of the rest of the men’s orchestral attire remains the

Women, on the other hand, have very different dress codes requirements since
they were not openly accepted by orchestra management until the 1900s. In fact,
the Vienna Philharmonic did not vote to include women musicians until 1997.
Women’s attire, largely, is simply required to be concert black. This can mean
black long sleeve blouses, slacks, long skirts and stockings, and truly
anything that falls under what one might consider modest, black, and
presentable. This gives women a lot of leeway in terms of breathability and mobility,
especially when it comes to less layers. On the down side, many women look
woefully underdressed compared to their tuxedo and tails donning male
counterparts. This seems against the equality that a collaborative musical project
should visually illustrate: think Coco Chanel’s women’s suit post- World War I,
meant to give women the same professionalism and power as their military
husbands. How can both men and women wear similar uniforms, but without the
downfalls of looking and feeling stuffy?

In 2013, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, in
partnership with Macy’s and designer Fred Bernstein, significantly improved orchestral
attire for the modern performer. Both men and women received jackets that kept
the professional image but added comfort and mobility. These black satin
blazers feature in-folding, concealed flaps in the back-shoulder seam that expand
when the arm extends, allowing breathability and motion. Musicians could now
experience the desired range of motion and ventilation under bright stage
lights, while maintaining an aesthetic sharpness. Looking at the orchestra
together, the audience sees modern-cut sleek satin forms on each of the
musicians, and the performers can go through an athletic hour-long symphony
without sweating through their clothes or feeling constrained. The jacket design
of the NYO-USA was truly a big step forward for symphony orchestras both in terms
of equality and sensibility.



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