Cabaret Survey — About that unflattering dress

May 4, 2008

I’m pleased to introduce a new feature — the “Cabaret Survey.”  I often find that questions come up in one’s cabaret life where it’s interesting to get a range of feedback. 

This inaugural question came up because I wondered how a certain cabaret performer engaged at the Oak Room could appear in a dress with a rather unflattering back.  So I polled some of the most soignee divas I know to weigh in on this question:

You’ve gone to see a good friend’s cabaret show, and for some reason she’s wearing a very unflattering outfit, would you say anything about to her?

And if I had a chance, the follow up:

If a good friend thought one of your performing ensembles was problematic, would you want them to say anything about it to you?

Here are the responses:

Amanda McBroom (Cabaret legend and songwriter)

I would certainly say something to a person if her outfit wasn’t flattering, if she was a friend. That’s what girls are FOR!

Terri Allen (A favorite DC Diva)

I wouldn’t say anything…. I’ve had someone say something to me, and it made me uncomfortable. 

Kate Loitz (Peripatetic Bistro Award-winner)

The question is, of course, a delicate one.  In my less than subtle way, I have drawn something to the attention of a friend only once.  I’m no fashion-plate, but I know enough not to wear a white bra on stage.  Put on the lights and no man in the audience will look at anything but your chest for the entire performance.  I told one woman just that.  Actually, most people I’ve seen are wonderfully well put together so criticism is unnecessary.  I’m more likely to comment on some musical problem, but only if I’m asked.

Would I want to be told?  Depends on the person and the comment.  I’d accept any criticism from you, but not from anyone.  Appearance, though, isn’t a big deal for me, so I’d probably be OK with it.

Sally Martin (DC’s most comme-il-faut chanteuse)

Hmmm…very interesting question.
OK, I think the operative word is “good” friend, i.e. close friend– and by that I would mean someone to whom you’re close enough that you could speak frankly AND tactfully without hurting their feelings. Certainly I’ve been on the receiving end of comments from close friends about something I’ve worn that for some reason didn’t look quite right or was unflattering and I’ve appreciated it very much. But I would never volunteer the information to someone I was not personally close to–not worth the chance of offending them. And likewise I would have been offended had those criticisms come from someone I didn’t consider a close friend.

Barb Jungr (Britain’s Queen of Cabaret)

Yes, if it was a friend and I cared about them I would say something like “lets go shopping together and look at some things for stage clothes because there are some great designers and things out there”.

I wouldn’t say what a horrible dress — I’d work on a positive way of helping them move forward with something new.

D’Arcy (Cabaret fashinista doing her show “I Believe in Love” at Don’t Tell Mama on Monday, May 5, and Tuesday, May 13th)

If she was such a good friend, yes, i would find a way to say that perhaps she should rethink her attire. i would emphasize what did work, and then suggest an alternative to the piece that didn’t work. i would wait and have the conversation the next day or later, not at the time of the performance.  

My personal opinion…

If the show was a one-off I’d certainly keep silent.  If it was a very, very good friend and the situation was correctable I might say something.  More likely, I’d walk away puzzled, questioning my own taste.  Or maybe I’d just get it out of my system by blogging about it.