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Grace and Glamour: A Guide to Gala Etiquette

Opera singer arriving at the gala
Gala Ready

For those of you who don’t know, I am an opera singer, but I also work full time for a performing arts organization in the heart of Washington DC. Our recent gal was amazing and a lot of fun. Over the course of the night, it dawned me that as so much of social media explores an “aspirational lifestyle”, more people than ever before are going outside of their comfort zones and attending events such as formal galas, operas, orchestra performances, etc.

That being said, as the invitations roll in and your excitement builds for attending an upcoming performing arts gala, opera, or orchestra performance, it's essential to brush up on your etiquette to ensure a memorable and enjoyable evening for all. Whether you're a seasoned gala-goer or attending for the first time, these tips will help you navigate the event with grace and glamour.

Dress to Impress:

Formal wear for a formal gala
Dress to impress

First impressions are key at any gala, so it's essential to dress the part. Consider this an opportunity to pull that gown or tuxedo out from the back of the closet, or buy a new one. Keep in mind to add one or two accessory pieces that is recflective of your personality! Most recently many men have opted for an amazing tuxedo with a pair of classic athlesisure “24/7’s” . Lapel pins are my favorite, along with a print or embossed tuxedo jacket. Gone are the days when men only had one black tuxedo jacket.

Ladies, embrace elegance with a sophisticated gown or chic cocktail dress. Choose fabrics that drape beautifully and colors that complement your skin tone. Accessorize tastefully with statement jewelry and a clutch purse. Remember, confidence is your best accessory, so wear your outfit with poise and flair.

Mastering the Art of Bidding:

Auction paddle

Many galas feature auctions or fundraising activities to support the performing arts. If you plan to participate, approach bidding with strategy and grace. Start by setting a budget and sticking to it, ensuring you don't get carried away in the excitement of the moment. When placing bids, do so confidently and decisively, but always be mindful of the auctioneer's cues and pace. And remember, even if you don't win the item, your contribution to the cause is invaluable. At the most recent gala, there was a gentleman who participated in his first bid. While many other bidders raised their paddles for thousands of dollars, the organization also encouraged bids of $25 or more. I remember the auction host said “$350” and the man raised his paddle high and proud. The note was “1st time bidder” his entire table erupted. Congratulations, what came next was amazing. The corporate VIP at his table decided to match his bid.

Navigating Social Interactions:

As you mingle and network throughout the evening, remember the importance of graciousness and charm. Engage in meaningful conversations, showing genuine interest in others and their experiences. Maintain eye contact, smile warmly, and be mindful of your body language, conveying openness and approachability. If you're introduced to someone new, offer a firm handshake and repeat their name to help remember it. And don't forget to express gratitude to the event organizers, volunteers, and performers who make the gala possible.

Attending a performing arts gala is a special opportunity to celebrate the beauty of artistic expression while supporting a worthy cause. By following these etiquette tips on attire, bidding, and social interactions, you'll ensure a night to remember for all the right reasons. So, dress to impress, bid with confidence, and mingle with grace, embracing the magic of the evening.

Remember, it's not just about what you wear or how much you bid—it's about the joy of coming together as a community to honor and support the performing arts.


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