Dressing For An Art Exhibition Opening

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.

My Top Tips

Having attended a few opening nights of an exhibition, here are some general tips that will keep you on the right tracks:

  • Always read the invite for a dress-code. Twice. If there is nothing noted, do some research. The opening of a Martin Creed exhibition at the Royal Academy might ask for something extra than the final exhibition of your sister’s best mate at the University of Chester.
  • There is nothing wrong with clichés. Most people I know from an art background tick the cliché box quite well. I know those who dress fully suited and booted, there are turtle-necks and elbow-patches flying all over, enough quirky glasses to open a new line at Specsavers and plenty of dishevelled, stretched and paint stained shirts. Don’t worry about looking ‘too arty’, most of the others at the event will look more so than you without even noticing.
  • Depending on the venue, outerwear can be a pain or just what the doctor ordered. Nobody wants to be carrying their trench coat over their shoulder whilst juggling champagne and canapés, but nobody wants to be freezing on their way home or to the inevitable after-party knees-up. Do some further research – most galleries will have a cloak-room and the problem is solved. If this is not the case, a nice heavyweight blazer will keep you looking stylish and keep the chill away too. A bag is always a no go and not normally needed, so leave them at home.
Example Looks
Look 1: The Louvre

Formal Art Exhibition Opening Lookbook Inspiration

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.

Example Outfit:

  • Bellerose Navy Polka Dot Salini ShirtBellerose Navy Polka Dot Salini Shirt
  • Loro Piana Unstructured Double-breasted Cotton BlazerLoro Piana Unstructured Double-breasted Cotton Blazer
  • Topman Berry Brushed Skinny TrousersTopman Berry Brushed Skinny Trousers
  • Reiss Vincent Luxe Formal Suit Belt BlackReiss Vincent Luxe Formal Suit Belt Black
  • Etro Paisley ScarfEtro Paisley Scarf
  • Grenson Chisel Punched Leather OxfordGrenson Chisel Punched Leather Oxford

Key Pieces:

  • Sandro Printed Cotton-blend ShirtSandro Printed Cotton-blend Shirt
  • Allsaints Curzon ShirtAllsaints Curzon Shirt
  • Allsaints Grosvenor ShirtAllsaints Grosvenor Shirt
  • Brioni Paisley-print Silk ScarfBrioni Paisley-print Silk Scarf
  • Priestleys Vintage Burgundy Edwardian Paisley ScarfPriestleys Vintage Burgundy Edwardian Paisley Scarf
  • Austin Reed Viyella Rural Print Paisley ScarfAustin Reed Viyella Rural Print Paisley Scarf
Look 2: The Town Gallery

Town Gallery Opening Lookbook Inspiration

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.

Example Outfit:

  • Canali Cashmere Rollneck SweaterCanali Cashmere Rollneck Sweater
  • Topman Black Velvet Skinny BlazerTopman Black Velvet Skinny Blazer
  • 5th & Main Black Slim Jeans5th & Main Black Slim Jeans
  • Austin Reed Black/red Leather BeltAustin Reed Black/red Leather Belt
  • Paul Smith Otter Chelsea BootsPaul Smith Otter Chelsea Boots
  • Etro Printed Silk ScarfEtro Printed Silk Scarf

Key Pieces:

  • Allsaints Link Roll Neck JumperAllsaints Link Roll Neck Jumper
  • Alexander Mcqueen Cashmere Rollneck SweaterAlexander Mcqueen Cashmere Rollneck Sweater
  • Jeff Banks 24:7 Turtle Neck JumperJeff Banks 24:7 Turtle Neck Jumper
  • Reiss Buffalo Felted Cable Crew Dark GreenReiss Buffalo Felted Cable Crew Dark Green
  • Aubin & Wills Merino Wool V-neck SweaterAubin & Wills Merino Wool V-neck Sweater
  • Reiss Finch Salt And Pepper Cardi MustardReiss Finch Salt And Pepper Cardi Mustard
Look 3: The Art College

Art College Exhibition Lookbook Inspiration

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.

Example Outfit:

  • Topman White Floral Pocket Roll T-shirtTopman White Floral Pocket Roll T-shirt
  • Burberry London Slim-fit Fine-corduroy BlazerBurberry London Slim-fit Fine-corduroy Blazer
  • Asos Slim JeanAsos Slim Jean
  • Gucci Horsebit Suede LoafersGucci Horsebit Suede Loafers

Key Pieces:

  • Allsaints Spires BlazerAllsaints Spires Blazer
  • Reiss Canyon Patch Pocket Herringbone Blazer BlueReiss Canyon Patch Pocket Herringbone Blazer Blue
  • Topman Oat Fleck Skinny BlazerTopman Oat Fleck Skinny Blazer
  • Allsaints Convoy Leather Biker JacketAllsaints Convoy Leather Biker Jacket
  • Reiss Brandon Moleskin Aviator Jacket GreyReiss Brandon Moleskin Aviator Jacket Grey
  • Topman Mid Wash Lined Denim Western JacketTopman Mid Wash Lined Denim Western Jacket
  • Asos Denim Jacket With Contrast CollarAsos Denim Jacket With Contrast Collar
  • Ymc Canvas Biker JacketYmc Canvas Biker Jacket
  • Allsaints Kensai Bomber JacketAllsaints Kensai Bomber Jacket

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.