Remember that girl from your secondary school that you haven’t seen in years? The one with the love of cigarettes, manga t-shirts and garish pink stripes through her hair? Well, turns out she’s put some splodges of paint on a canvas and people are now saying things like; “It’s so very cerebral post-modern”, “It’s as if Tacita Dean and Goya had a love-child who was bullied by Yves Tanguy at pre-school” and “The colour is evocative of not only her childhood but her underlying Freudian lust for her father.”
You don’t understand any of this, but have been invited to an exhibition of her work and understand that there will probably be champagne and maybe even figs with blue cheese on sticks. Sounds like your kinda gig.
However, you thought that Bacon was something you eat, Magritte was a cocktail, a ‘Hirst Spot’ some type of disease and a Picasso is a car. To survive this evening of art jargon you’ll have to bluff it. Wearing a football kit doesn’t make you Van Persie, but at least you’ll look the part.
By the end of this article, you may not know your Vermeer’s from your Veneers, but it’ll look like you have all the knowledge of John Berger, Melvyn Bragg and Brian Sewell. Just stay away from anyone talking about Dadaism.
Having attended a few opening nights of an exhibition, here are some general tips that will keep you on the right tracks:
For those big nights at the big places, mingling with the big-wigs of the art world, unless it’s a black tie affair you’ll be looking to make a formal impression with some attitude and character. One thing to avoid is that nice pinstripe suit you’ve just got tailored. Anything pinstriped, including striped shirts, will make it seem like you’ve dressed for work and although smart, you’ll look out of place – and as such, not stylish.
Instead, a boldly coloured suit with a simple, open white shirt with a pair of tan monk-straps will keep everything slightly more relaxed. Mixing and matching suit jackets and trousers can also be an effective way to look sharp but not too formal.
A pair of white jeans with a blazer is another option that is on the right side of formal. Mix in some print and extra colour in the form of a patterned shirt (not too bold) and a silk paisley scarf – worn as a neckerchief or draped in between the jacket – and you’re on to a winner.
Although perhaps not attracting millions of people, this event still takes place in a professional gallery and deserves elegance.
Be sure to add extra colour here. Some bold knitwear or a colourful turtle-neck will separate you from the rest. A pair of black jeans (or even raw denim) are a traditionally casual piece, but they have the ability to be dressed up in a stylish and effective way. They can be worn more formally with a black turtle-neck under a blazer or casually with an open shirt/t-shirt under a slim-fit cardigan with a striking neckerchief.
A pair of Chelsea boots will bridge the divide between elegance and rock ‘n’ roll.
How about that visit to a university exhibition or something similar? These are far more relaxed, with more relatives than critics, so the outfit should be less formal – whilst retaining an essence of smart and being suitably ‘arty’.
Blazers and suit jackets can be dressed down slightly by being worn over a simple neutral t-shirt, with a denim shirt or with some light chinos. The blazer can easily be replaced by a denim or leather jacket, so long as you keep your layers underneath minimal to avoid overheating.
Keeping your look contemporary but understated will give you kudos within this undoubtedly stylish crowd, without you looking like a peacock.
Going to such an event can often be quite daunting. In general, the art and fashion worlds are closely connected, so a gallery event will be full of well-dressed individuals who know what they’re talking about. Hopefully the outfit suggestions above, even if you can’t tell your Mona Lisa from your Desperate Dan, will help you feel more confident and stick out for all the right reasons.
Let me know any personal tips you have for attending this type of event, and what your go-to outfit would be in each of the scenarios above.