Fashion Sense

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    I am having to do something as a harp teacher I was never trained for, and for which I don’t have the correct vocabulary. I find it is necessary to teach young teen students how to dress suitably for lessons, and for the harp in general, and it is hard for me to say how. The best I could come up with was business casual, Ann Taylor, Talbots, classic kind of stuff. Does a kid today even know what classic is? I found out the kind of shoe I remember is a pump. While we may be in another transitional phase regarding clothes, I believe a conservative, non-attention grabbing, simple, well-fitting elegance is the best. We want to show off the music and the person, not the clothes, and definitely not a fashion designer or store. (Speaking classically.) What do you suggest to your students?

    Jessica Frost

    For more formal events, I’ve found that at least in the area where I’m living now, “church clothes” usually fits.


    There’s also the issue of skirts that are too short. Frankly, anything above the knee can be problematic when sitting at the harp, especially if playing onstage where the harpist is higher than the audience. Suddenly there’s more that meets the eye than is appropriate. Tea length usually solves the problem and isn’t long enough to trip over when moving the harp.


    Yes, that is just what her mother said. Thank you for the term tea length. I presume that is about one-third down the calf, between midi and just below the knee.

    I gather that pump means a low-heeled shoe like a small high-heel. What do you call loafers with one-inch heels or other shoes like that, is it block heels?

    “In this day and age” really bothers me. People are far too ready to censor others in the name of “sensitivity” or “correctness.” There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t discuss clothing. I’m not talking about singling one girl out in a group, anyway.

    Now, what about hair and make-up?

    I wonder how Salzedo dealt with all this. His students were impeccably groomed and presentable, very photogenic.

    Jessica Frost

    I’m sorry if I was misunderstood or offended you….I didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t discuss clothing.


    Hair and make-up are probably harder to address than clothes! The teenage years are when young people like to experiment with their appearance but are also often very sensitive and insecure about it. Perhaps suggesting neatness is the most tactful way to go. They so often take the most innocuous comment the wrong way.

    I’ve heard that Salzedo was somewhat dictatorial about his students’ appearance because there was a certain image he wanted to create and they had to conform to his vision. I doubt any teacher could get away with that today.

    As long as the students appear neat and clean, and their apparel doesn’t imply any lack of respect for the audience or the place in which they’re performing (or impede their movement or prove overly distracting), I would hope the listeners would focus more on how well they play than whether they have a weird haircut or whatever.

    Miss Chalifoux told her female students at Camden (a more relaxed atmosphere than the Cleveland Institute) to wear skirts to their lessons rather than slacks and certainly never shorts. Not every teacher can get away with that.

    I do agree that appropriate dress is a subject rightly covered in lessons, for practicality as well as taste. Many feel that rings, pins, wrist watches and bracelets should be removed to prevent damage to the harp. Others feel fingernail polish is distracting, even in pale shades. One of my teachers said no perfume and to this day I don’t wear it.

    At the very least one should address the subject of footwear, which is as important a tool as the bench upon which one sits. But please, let’s not revisit the discussion of shoes versus no shoes, exhaustively covered in another post!


    I am very specific with my students since about


    Calista, I think your rules are very specific and clear, which is really helpful. My teacher doesn’t allow females to wear pants for performances, or open-toed heels. She has us remove all jewelry and watches to not scratch the harp, and she doesn’t allow colored fingernail polish. I see no reason not to specify these things, if a performer is sitting behind a gold harp, they should try to look decent in comparison!

    By the way, does anyone know where I could find pictures of Salzedo or Grandjany (or any other 20th century male harpists) in recital attire? I’m interested to see what they wore for performances. I wouldn’t want to wear a tuxedo for anything other than an orchestra concert or wedding. Girls get to wear brightly colored, flowy gorgeous dresses (and not concert black) for recitals, so I’m definitely not going to wear a tux, but I want to know what other men have done.


    I’m not offended. I think any and every teacher should ad-dress the issue. Why not an official guide to wardrobe for the harpist? Calista’s list is a great start. I hate spaghetti straps and topless gowns. Why? Every man in the audience is thinking, is a strap going to fall, what keeps it up. Believe me, we do. And I still don’t know the answer.

    I saw a young male violinist wear a long black shirt with a straight-across bottom, no tails, and buttoned up to one below the collar, with black pants. It was okay, though dull. Since he had wild curly hair, there was a balance achieved. He certainly had mobility, which we need. At my festival performance, I wore a black t-shirt under a silk light purple short-sleeve shirt (it was summertime already). I need an open neck to breathe, so I look at what conductors wear, sort of like Nehru jackets with envy. If only soft, unstructured jackets like we had in the 80s were still around. A men’s jacket, at least in my case, has to be custom-tailored to have enough room in the sleeves, so I don’t think we should have to wear them. But the alternative is? The only solution I’ve come up with is layering, using a large silk shirt as if it were a jacket. It’s good to play in, and looks pretty good. However, jackets do a better cover-up job when you sit down, but if the shirt is loose you can open it to hang loose.

    My tux when I was finishing school was black velvet, which was smashing, but is long gone.


    You shouldn’t force students to wear what you want. It is much more classy and respectable to dress nice, but for a lesson who cares?


    While I think telling women that they can’t wear slacks is a bit ridiculous, it is reasonable to have some dress code.


    I know there can be problems with the way some (youngish maybe) people present themselves….maybe they just don’t understand the pitfalls of wearing a skirt that exposes their undies on stage. And as a voice teacher there are things that just need to be taught to young people learning their craft so that they will present themselves in the most professional way possible. Things like, “You know if you don’t pull your hair off your face more (bangs over the eyes) the stage lighting won’t catch your facial expressions as well,” or “Be careful when you bow that you have a blouse that won’t expose too much.”

    However, NO ONE is going to tell me not to wear slacks when I play the harp. Good God Almighty! Moving that thing from place to place in the first place just about requires movers’ overalls in the first place, and with all the accoutrements which need to be hauled and lugged along with the harp on the dolly, I’m not hauling outfits to change into. I have some very pretty flowy black slacks. I can put all manner of very pretty tops, sparkly sweaters, jackets, etc. with them and look very formal and nice, and still move my stuff around. Geez, it’s bad enough that you have to get the harp in, undressed from it’s travel wraps, and tuned, then stash all the dolly and covers somewhere, set up the chair/stand/light, warm up and get ready. I can’t even imagine having to then haul in a dress bag with a gown and divert my brain away from the music while changing.

    I seriously think that some people who get a name in their line of work think they can just bully other women instead of kindly suggesting appropriate stage dress and helping people to get where they need to be. No slacks, indeed!



    Who cares how they dress?

    It’s a matter of respect. . . for their teacher and for themselves. There is much more to learn than just how to play the harp.

    Jerusha Amado


    My teacher would agree with you 100%.


    Even though I haven’t taken lessons with her in years, I’ll never forget her.

    Thank you for that, Jerusha. My teacher, Mimi Allen, taught me that and like you, she is always with me. To pass that gift on is very important.

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