Tweed city shorts

I have a bone to pick with the Viennese opera house, the Wiener Staatsoper.

On Saturday night, I stepped out on the town in the hope of seeing La Syphilde.

I love going to the ballet. For me it is usually a totally magical experience.

Not this time.

I was dutifully following the snake of the standing-room ticket line, when I was approached by a member of staff…

‘You can’t go in like that’, she said.

‘Like what?’, I asked, bemused.

‘Wearing shorts’, she replied.

‘But… but.. these are… TWEED CITY SHORTS!’, I spluttered.

‘And I’m wearing them over tights!’

Her: ‘No shorts. That’s the policy.’

‘Well, what am I supposed to do about it now?!’

‘I don’t know,’ she shrugged.

‘Go home and put on something longer.


There went my Saturday night plans out of the window, to be replaced by laundry and watching unintelligible Austrian dating shows.

I have several problems with the no-shorts policy and its application, which I will enumerate forthwith:

1) Even from within the Staatsoper’s antiquated appropriate-level-of-formality paradigm, I was by no means shabbily dressed. This picture demonstrates my offending lower half (and yes, since you ask, those are leather boots, hand-made by Catalan artisans in the foothills of the Pyrenees):

Compare me to the girl in front of me, who seemed to have arrived directly from the airport, and who was dragging along a bright pink suitcase, and I think I came out on top in the style stakes.

2) You saw this coming… I reject the appropriate-level-of-formality paradigm! Even if I had looked a bit down-at-heel, aren’t the worlds of opera and ballet famously trying to shed their elitist image? Aren’t the arts for everyone, regardless of economic or social circumstance? Isn’t the whole point of the 3 EURO standing-room ticket to encourage people who wouldn’t usually think of stepping inside an opera house to give it a go? Apparently not in Vienna.

3) The gender thing. If my shorts had been a skirt, I would have been let in. Mini-skirted girls were waved through without a second thought. The fact that my garment placed a fabric barrier across my crotch disqualified me for entry. This strikes me as grossly prescriptive and unfair.

4) Did I mention they were TWEED CITY SHORTS!?

Humph, humph humph… I should have worn a six-nipple dog jacket.


10 thoughts on “Tweed city shorts

  1. Ridiculous to have any sort of dress policy for an audience I find curious.

    Perhaps the policy is a hangover from the past and something to do with banning the wearing of Lederhosen.


  2. I am deeply sorry about this ugly experience. In an Opera in Berlin, I am confident without your flashing any primary or secondary sexual organs, they would always give you a pass. Even in fashion-obsessed Italy I am pretty sure you would have made it into the Scala with that outfit.

    So what’s up with Vienna, what’s the difference? Here is what I think may be the explanation. I know it is always unfair to generalize, please see it as a mere opinion based on my own personal experiences with Austrians, your experience will differ for sure.

    IMHO, Austrians and particularly people in Vienna are a class obsessed people and if you do not belong to the right social class, then you may have problems. I believe, you were not rejected because of your style but because of the class affiliation your style (or in their mind lack of) communicated implicitly, thereby contaminating the proper audience of the opera.

    In time, you will notice small or even big things living in Austria that may provide evidence to my theory. One example is that one must always address other people with their title. The usual example is Mag (meaning magister = any type of academic degree). When you write an email you address people with Sehr geehrter Herr Mag. Fischer, which is equivalent to Dear Miss MA, BA Beird. Forgetting this title is considered an insult. The same goes for bureaucratic functional titles like Herr Kommerzienrat Fischer, etc. No need to mention that such formula would be considered outrageously ridiculous and pretentious in Germany or any other country.


  3. I’m sure you’re right about the reason behind the rule. But, at the same time, non-shorts-wearing people were let in who looked considerably less classy than me. These rules are usually in place to give institutions an excuse to throw out people who ‘look wrong’… but usually they applied more flexibly!!!


  4. I found this quite inadvertently while googling something in connection with music and Vienna. Interesting to read about your experience, if also depressing.

    My username links to my blog, so you can see I go to the Wiener Staatsoper fairly often. I can believe your story, as about five years I was at the Staatsoper for a Wagner opera and witnessed an American couple in the foyer being turned away ten minutes before the opera as the guy was wearing beach shorts (this was in September, which can still be warm in Vienna). The couple were quite distressed as they had paid a lot of money for their tickets (and when you’re willing to pay those sums, I believe you should be allowed to wear whatever you want).

    But that was in 2006 and I thought things had moved on by now. You do clarify that you can dress very informally – I routinely go in jeans and a tatty rainjacket, and nobody bats an eyelid – but for some weird reason they do seem to have this thing about shorts. It think it might depend on the usher you encountered though. There is a lady, late 50s with short grey hair, who is actually quite nice once you get to know her, but is a bit of a stickler for dress standards. Some of the others might not have bothered so much.

    Btw if you ever feel like making your peace with the Staatsoper, be warned that the quality of the Staatsballett isn’t so hot.


  5. Thanks for the comment, Zwölftöner. The usher was young and raven-haired, so it wasn’t the one you were thinking of… Where is the best place to see ballet in Vienna, in your opinion?


  6. That doesn’t surprise me, some of the younger ones can be quite tough – particularly if they are new to the job and want to prove how well they are upholding the ‘standards’ which they see as constituting bourgeois operatic culture. That people still have those impressions shows how far opera has to go (and I’m not just talking about clothes here).

    There is only one ballet company in town (to my knowledge), so the only options are the Staatsoper and Volksoper. (The Wiener Staatsballett switches between the two but the quality of the Staatsoper orchestra’s playing is better). I don’t know what their current principals are like, but as a company they are not regarded as very good. Until recently the Staatsoper had a general manager who disliked ballet (to put it mildly), and considering he was in the job for 18 years there hasn’t been a thriving ballet scene in Vienna for some time now.


  7. Pingback: On giving up vs. moving on « My Viennese Adventures

  8. Came across your blog while looking for trains from Vienna. In 1962 when I was 12 I went to the opera in Vienna with my mum. I’m Australian but were were there for a year. Going to the opera I had a big coat and long pants. Inside I took the coat off and had a lovely subdued jumper underneath. At the interval we went walking in the circular walking area and we were pulled over by one of the attendants who said I was not dressed properly for walking in that area. We had to go back to our seats and be less conspicuous. Crazy. I still remember it clearly after 50 years!


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