I think that all men in classical music look at the concert attire worn by our female colleagues with a little bit of envy from time to time. Not that we men all want to wear heels and make-up (though some of us probably do….not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but putting on a tuxedo shirt, tails, and a tight bow tie is not exactly the most comfortable way to play a musical instrument. Though we men get to dress in comfort in many pit situations, wearing black just like the women, most of the time we’re confined to some jacket and tie combination–even in the summer!
My First White Jacket
I finally needed some “summer whites” for a gig my first year out of music school. Prior to that point, I’d never really done a summer gig that required a white coat, and I had little interest in plunking down cash for a piece of formalwear that I didn’t need.
Knowing that the time had finally arrived for a white coat, went downtown to a local menswear outfit and purchased a white jacket. What I didn’t realize was that most menswear stores don’t carry a truly “white” jacket, but more commonly carry an off-white or cream-colored coat.
I remembered thinking, “Is this the color of the jackets I usually see orchestra musicians wearing in the summer?” I couldn’t remember. I mean, if this is what stores carry, this must be what people wear, right? I spent about $250 on a beautiful cream-colored jacket, and I was pumped to give it a go.
Cream ain’t White
I arrived at my summer gig (out in scenic southern Oregon) and began rehearsing for the first program. Donning my white(ish) jacket as I walked up the hill to the performance, I was dismayed to notice that al the other men walking in wore truly white jackets, like chef’s coats cut as blazers.
Some musician came up to me as I was getting warming up onstage.
“Your jacket. It’s not white!”
“Uh…. sure it is. It’s… off-white. Close enough, right?”
The musician harrumphed and walked off, leaving me red-faced with shame, feeling like some kind of cream-colored freak show, a smudge in a sea of white jackets.
But I’d be damned if I was going to spend another $200+ on another stupid white jacket. Give me a break! Plus, where would I find a white jacket in rural southern Oregon? I got over my shame and played the rest of the series in my Rat Pack regalia amongst all the waiter look-alikes.
The summer gig ended and I jettisoned the jacket in the back of my closet, forgetting about it for several years. The following summers found me playing pit-black opera gigs, and I didn’t think of the white jacket for quite some time.
Resurrecting the Jacket
I got called a few years later to play for a summer festival in Door County. Looking at the performer literature, I saw that “white jacket” was the dress for the men. Nooo! Even though Id bought the cream jacket several years previously, the thought of shelling out $200 or more (the cheapest price I could find online) for one-shot gig clothing stuck in my craw.
At the first concert for this festival, I kept my jacket balled up as I walked in, not wanting to get razzed about my creamy outfit. Much to my surprise, one of the other guys walked in wearing the exact same jacket as mine! I lit up with happiness and donned mine as well, forgetting about the whole thing.
Several years later, I was called to play with the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago. Now, I knew that these guys all wore white jackets, and I really didn’t want to mess around with passing off my cream-colored jacket as acceptable (though I actually think it looks much cooler than an equivalent white jacket).
I got online and started poking around. Nothing under $200. Not even on eBay. What’s up with this? Why doesn’t anyone want to get rid of an old white jacket? Was I really going to have ot plunk down that $200 at long last.
Suddenly, an eBay ad popped out at me. White jacket…$50! Yes! This is perfect. Hmmm…. that jacket looks… a little…. weird…. naw, it’s probably fine!
I got the item for $50 (or $60 or whatever with some shipping) and smiled. I’d finally solved the problem of inappropriate concert attire.
Testify! Brother Jason’s in the House!
The jacket arrived a few days before I was to play with Grant Park. i pulled it out, noticing the perfectly white hue it had (yes!), and donned it.
Hmmm…. er, this wasn’t exactly what I’d been expecting. First of all, the jacket went down to my knees, and it seemed to be more suited to a guy twice my weight.
Then there was the issue of the lapels. They looked more like something out of Star Trek than out of a concert hall. There were three folds that ran the length of the lapel, which was also notched and looked a little…odd.
I suddenly realized, to my horror, that I’d bought one of those jackets that televangelists wore in the 1970s. I felt like I should be leading a revival down on the banks of the Mississippi, not heading to a concert.
I also realized that I would have fit in perfectly on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Great.
The Preacher Man Cometh
Fortunately, Chicago’s Grant Park can be a pretty warm place during summers, and the orchestra ended up going jacket-less for the first concert. The second night was cooler, however, and we were told to wear our jackets. I reluctantly pulled mine out of my locker, glancing around gingerly to see if anyone noticed my wacky attire. I tried to pull the jacket up as I was walking around to keep it from hanging down by my knees, which probably only made me look weirder.
There was no doubt that I was wearing white, but there was also no doubt that I looked extremely eccentric, and I was hoping and praying that I’d just get through the concert without anyone calling attention to it.
The Grant Park folks are a good bunch of people, and no one gave me any crap about it. I resolved to shell out the bucks and just buy a regular normal jacket the next time that a gig came up that required one. Enough of this bargain hunting–it only seemed to come back to haunt me.
As I was leaving, someone in the orchestra called out to me:
Hey Jason! You look like a superhero!”