The Audition Coach: How to Dress

A Thousand Ways to Wear Black

Rebecca Raney
3 min readDec 7, 2021
Thumbnail illustration by Rebecca Raney

As a competitive violinist, I received a lot of advice. However, the most intrusive suggestions had nothing to do with my playing; it was all about how to dress — particularly since I came from the wrong side of town.

In fact, when I recall how I tried to fit in with the elevated company I kept, I think of a character who received a ball gown to disguise her identity.

The character, Adele, was a chambermaid in Die Fledermaus, the operetta by Johann Strauss.

In a famous scene, she is wearing her employer’s lavish gown at a ball. A wealthy man, Gabriel von Eisenstein, recognizes Adele in his wife’s dress, and, when pressed, he says he thinks she is a chambermaid.

Her response?

No one ever gave me a ball gown to disguise my origins. It’s fair to say, however, that the most deliberate coaching I received on how to present myself came from the competitive music world.

What did I learn?

In short: A thousand ways to wear the color black.

It may sound simple, but there are a thousand ways to get it wrong. (Note: If you’re male, you wear a polo. Black or navy. That’s it!) But if you’re female?

A black dress? Too dressy. You’re working too hard. A T-shirt? Disrespectful.

Also, watch that V-neck — it can’t plunge too low.

A cardigan, for conservatism? No. You want to wear one piece, without any fabric flopping around.

The winning look tends to hit the mid-range: A knit top with black pants. Skim. Don’t cling. Respectful, but not frumpy. Casual, but not disrespectful.

See? It’s respectful. Not too dressy. Conservative, but not prissy. It’s comfortable. You can move in it, but it doesn’t fit like a sack. Not too tight. Not too loose.

If you come from the wrong side of town, you’ll always bear anxieties about whether you’re wearing the right thing.

When you feel out of place, auditions can be the worst. We would all like to think that auditions are only about the performance.

If only they were.

Here’s a take from the “audition coach,” who parses several levels of black attire.

The backing track is “The Laughing Song” — the aria sung by Adele in Die Fledermaus.

Let’s keep in touch! I write column about my return to the violin after walking away from music years ago. I delve into money, music and merit in the turmoil of America. Here’s the link to the monthly newsletter:

Rebecca Raney — The Reckless Violinist



Rebecca Raney

Respectable journalist. Terrible waitress. Reckless Violinist. YouTuber/Novelist. Contributor at The New York Times. Follow at