The Philharmonic is still in the early stages of its discussions. “One thing is really clear: People in the orchestra want to remain dressy,” said Fiona Simon, a violinist who has been a member since 1985. “It’s important that we look like we care. That is sending a message. We put so much into the preparation of our programs that, yes, we need to look good as well.”
If orchestras have sometimes struggled to revolutionize their looks, most large ones have decided in the meantime to let the women in their ranks wear pants if they wish — some only recently. The women in the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra have long been able to wear pants in the pit, but until 2015 they were required to wear skirts for concerts at Carnegie Hall and on tour. A new agreement, reached that year, allows them to choose wide, flowing pants if they like.
Jessica Phillips, a clarinet player who leads the Met orchestra’s negotiating committee, said that the change had been especially supported by women in the cello, wind and brass sections, who felt that skirts interfered with their ability to play comfortably.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is often considered the nation’s most forward-thinking orchestra, only moved to allow women to wear flowing formal pants or all-black, tailored pantsuits at formal concerts in its most recent contract, which was ratified last year. “We lobbied for it for a long time,” said Meredith Snow, a violist.
Ms. Sterrett, the horn player at the New York Philharmonic, said that as they discussed changes to the dress code, musicians made it clear that they wanted to make sure that concerts continued to provide an “elevated experience.”
“How can what we wear, how we look, represent the values of the orchestra?” she recalled her colleagues asking. “I really don’t remember hearing anyone say, ‘No, I don’t think we should change.’”