Besides my passion for vintage clothing, my other longtime hobby has been singing. I grew up doing musical theater, sang in many choirs and branched out into opera and light opera in college. Chorale and oratorio is my favorite genre but there usually isn’t much opportunity to wear anything except black when performing. That is why I have been thrilled to received many requests for help dressing up a choir for a 1920s, 1930s, 1940s or 1950s themed concert. These choirs sound like a lot more fun than any I have sung in. Sign me up for the soprano section please!
Dressing an entire choir or any large group is not an easy feat. You have various ages, income levels, comfort factors and willingness to participate that make it difficult to coordinate everyone. But it is not impossible. I encourage choir directors (or volunteer costumers) to focus on the accessories rather than entire outfits. This allows the choir to dress in their normal concert clothing (all black dressy or T-shirts/polo shirts) while adding a bit of vintage flair to set the theme.
Here are some ideas by decade and theme:
Victorian Era/Old Timey Christmas Theme
The old timey Christmas caroling concert is a popular one in December. Setting it the Victorian era harkens back to the day of Charles Dickens and his famous “A Christmas Carol” story.
- Women’s Clothing: Long floor length ballgown skirts and a modest blouse trimmed in lace
- Women’s Accessories: Victorian bonnets, cameo brooch pin, warm shawl/capelet, gloves only if they can turn the pages with them on*
- Men’s Clothing: Tuxedo (tails are best) or dress pants, dress shirt and a colorful vest (Christmas colors, plaid, brocade)
- Men’s Accessories: warm scarf (plaid, red, green etc), top hat (only for top row/sides), gloves only if they can turn the pages with them on*
*putting music in clear plastic slips will make them easier to turn but also add significant weight to the binder. Fingerless or mesh gloves may be a better solution.
1920s Flapper / Jazz Age / Great Gatsby
The roaring twenties is filled with music, dance and naughty-flappers. Not every woman will want to dress in a skimpy flapper costume (it is not accurate either) but a few flapper accessories for the ladies and some “gangster” clothes for the men will have the audience wanting to do the Charleston with the choir.
- Women’s Clothing: Any dress or dressy pant set with accents of beading, sequins, or fringe. If wearing a short dress, wear black stockings (not fishnet.) For daytime events and summer tea parties/garden parties consider delicate chiffon solid or floral dresses instead.
- Women’s Accessories: Headband/Headpiece, long pearl or bead necklace, long drop earrings, cloche hat (daytime) and hair styled short (low, loose bun is easy)
- Men’s Clothing and Accessories: Dress trousers, dress shirt (vertical thin stripes or solid blue with a white collar and round club collar is even better), vest with collar, and bow tie. Suspenders instead of a vest is another casual option. The “barber shop” look uses a striped vest, bow tie, arm garters and straw boater hat. A gangster costume may include white shoe spats. Men who want to wear hats could wear a derby, fedora, or newsboy cap. For simplicity pick two items such as suspenders and newsboy cap for the easiest look (works well with T-Shirts too)
1930s Old Hollywood / Art Deco Era
The golden age of Hollywood centers in the 1930s. Most concerts in this era are very formal and elegant evening affairs.
- Women’s Clothing: Long evening gowns.
- Women’s Accessories: Long gloves*, feather boa or long fur shawl, sparkling rhinestone jewelry/hair clips/pins
- Men’s Clothing: Black tuxedos or white dinner jackets over black tuxedo pants
- Men’s Accessories: Pin a carnation flower to the lapel. Oil and slick back hair.
Daytime events would have women in pretty floral dresses, white shoes and small white hats (very hard to find). Wide leg sailor pants or palazzo pants and a puff sleeve blouse or ringer T-shirt is a casual summer option. Men’s could wear plaid, check or windowpane sportcoats over trousers. An all white or cream linen suit is ideal in summer. A pullover sweater vest over a colored dress shirt and trousers is a more casual option. Hats could be felt or straw fedoras. A silk scarf wrapped, crossed and tucked into the shirt is the epitome of a fashionable man and woman in the 1930s.
1940s WW2 / Big Band / 4th of July / Memorial Day
Bring out the red, white and blue for any 1940s or patriotic event. The 1940s didn’t utilize accessories as much as the other decades so I encourage women to try and style their hair into a 40s look, wear a wig or just focus on wearing patriotic colors.
- Women’s Clothing: Knee length solid color, sailor/nautical/army green or floral dresses or two-piece suits with a soft blouse. Wear high waisted, wide leg pants with a buttondown shirt for a casual look. Wearing Rosie the Riveter overalls, coveralls or denim blue jeans and plaid shirt is another fun costume for a women’s choir. For evening accessory ideas look here.
- Women’s Accessories: Pin a flower or few flowers to one side of the hair. Wear a V brooch pin for “Victory”/ patriotic flag pin on a blouse or jacket lapel. Wear a headscarf or snood for casual/Rosie looks. Wear red lipstick.
- Men’s Clothing: Pinstripe suits and/or double-breasted suits. Almost any classic or wide fitting suit can work for the era (no skinny, modern fit suits.) Casual looks can include sport coats layered over mismatched vests or pullover sweaters. Hawaiian shirts and trousers for a casual post-war look. An easy military uniform is the Navy sailor shirt and trousers or khaki army shirt and pants (similar to workwear clothing.) These military uniforms are often sold as costumes.
- Men’s Accessories: Patriotic tie or bow tie, fedora hat, parted and slicked hair, a white scarf over a tuxedo jacket
1950s Sock Hop / Doo-wop / Grease / Rock ‘N Roll
The 1950s centered around the teenager and all their fads- poodle skirts, socks hop, rock ‘n roll music, and even prom.
- Women’s Clothing: Swing dresses or pencil dresses. Poodle skirt or any full swing skirt with wide cinch belt and blouse or snug sweater. Saddle shoes, penny loafers, ballet flats or white keds classic shoes.
- Women’s Accessories: Chiffon hair scarf tied around a ponytail or the neck. A simple headband or ribbon band. Short pearl necklace and earrings. Small vintage hats (crescent-shaped, pillbox, fascinator, etc), cat eye glasses frames
- Men’s Clothing: Trousers and plaid button-down shirts. Hawaiian shirts/camp/bowling shirts and trousers. White T-shirt and dark denim cuffed jeans (greaser look.) Pastel prom tuxedos or white dinner jacket and black trousers.
- Men’s Accessories: Horn rim glasses, skinny tie, hair styled into a pompadour
Need more ideas? Contact me about your choirs decade and needs.