Art can shake up our souls in ways we would never have expected. It can change us, influence us, and stay with us long past the moment we first encounter it. I don't know if everyone feels as feverously as I do about spending their free time at art galleries, but I do know that anyone who loves art and fashion is well attuned to the feeling I'm talking about. There's a split second when you spot a painting from across the room, listen to an album for the first time, or watch a look make its way down the runway that makes the world stop spinning, and it's just you experiencing that art form at that moment.
Long story short, I can not sing higher praises for embracing the arts in all their forms. And while exploring a new exhibition is exciting, I'd be lying if I didn't say deciding what to wear to an art gallery is anything but that. No one wants to fall prey to the cliché tourist look or make a fashion faux pas. Luckily, there is a slew of individuals in the fashion set (besides myself) who love exploring museums in style.
Ahead, you'll find some general tips along with 10 art-gallery outfits and the key pieces needed to create the looks for yourself. Michelangelo may not have painted "The Creation of Adam" in a day, but that doesn't mean you have to spend years picking an outfit to look like a masterpiece.
I can't claim the title of gallery owner or even full-time art historian, but I can say that I've spent my fair share of time gallivanting about galleries around the world. And while there aren't general guidelines on what to wear per se, there are a few unspoken tips every art and fashion lover swears by.
Do: Research Your Gallery's Dress Code Beforehand
While most museums don't have strict dress codes, some exhibitions may prohibit hats, large bags, or specific footwear, so you'll want to check the site beforehand.
Don't: Opt for Uncomfortable Footwear
We all want to look cute, but trust me when I say walking around for a few hours in uncomfortable shoes is not worth it. Either wear chic closed-toe shoes like loafers or ballet flats or a pair of heels you know you can walk in without dragging your feet in the galleries.
Do: Wear Pieces You Can Layer
It may seem obvious, but I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed the rookie mistake of visitors not planning their ensembles based on the weather and their physical preferences. If you get cold easily, having a trench coat or cardigan on hand is a must.
Don't: Wear Anything Too Risqué
Everyone's definition of "risqué" may be different, but you'll typically want to think about the timing and crowd that will be browsing the gallery at the same time before slipping into skin-baring pieces. For example, if you're visiting a museum in the middle of a school day, it might not be the ideal time to bust out a cutout dress, but if you're attending a cocktail party celebrating a gallery opening, that's a whole other thing. It's not wrong to show a little skin—just make sure you balance it with styling, timing, and self-awareness.
Do: Show Off Your Style
There's a large misconception that you must dress a particular way to visit art galleries (e.g., either super formal or very "touristy"), but that's not the case. Like art, there's beauty in everything being different, so why wouldn't you show off your style? Going to an exhibit is the perfect chance to put your own work (yes, I'm talking about outfits) out there. At the end of the day, wearing something you feel comfortable in is the key to looking great. But should you still need a little inspiration, keep scrolling. I've rounded up a few outfit ideas and shopped out the key pieces needed to re-create the looks for yourself.
Art-Gallery Outfits to Re-Create
Looking for a simple yet utterly chic outfit idea you can wear almost year-round to a gallery? Look no further than the 'fit above. Pairing a sweater with leather pants and slingback heels will allow the art to take center stage.
Whether you live in New York City or Houston, the key to giving off that downtown artsy vibe lies in this ensemble. Pair a denim jacket and T-shirt with plaid trousers and platform boots and you'll basically be an art connoisseur.
Anyone who loves art knows that choosing what to wear to a gallery cocktail reception is overwhelming because it's not like you can wear the same thing you'd wear to go out dancing or out for date night—it's a whole different league. But when in doubt, the black dress will never fail you in this situation. If you want a little artistic license with this staple, opt for iterations with unique details, or style it with fun accessories.
If you prefer wearing something a little more modest, then use the ensemble above as your creative muse when crafting your look. A fun printed turtleneck paired with a maxi skirt and boots is the perfect outfit for a day spent at the museum.
For colder months, layering is essential, especially when gallery hopping. But if you want to give off that downtown-girl vibe without having to wear a heavy coat, then take a cue from the look above. Pair a bomber jacket with a button-down, a sweater, and leather pants for a look worthy of wearing to any gallery, no matter where it is.
Some of the best exhibitions will often include indoor/outdoor situations, so planning an outfit that works for the weather is necessary. Again, layering is critical, so throwing a trench coat over a waistcoat styled with a skirt and loafers works perfectly for a day spent exploring.
No matter what season it is, you really can not go wrong with wearing a suit to visit a gallery. In the fall/ winter, you can style it with boots and outerwear, and in the spring/summer, a lightweight version can be paired with sandals. It's the perfect canvas to work with year-round.
Let me tell you a little secret: The key to looking chic at a gallery lies in picking statement pieces that are easy to style. And nothing in my mind speaks to that ethos like a matching set in a rich fabric like plissé, velvet, or silk. All you have to do is find one with an exciting hemline or in a vibrant hue and pair it with sandals and a clutch, and you'll look like you walked right out of a painting.
For warmer months when you're hoping to use the central air conditioning at your local museum, you want to plan an outfit that considers the weather and apropos attire. Admittedly, hot summers can make you want to reenact Sandro Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" painting, but going au naturel at a gallery isn't it. Luckily, slip dresses exist, and finding one with pretty details can make you feel like you are channeling Venus yourself.
By now, you've hopefully decided what you want to wear to a gallery. But if you're still unsure, allow my very own ensemble to inspire you to look at the bigger picture when planning your outfit—comfort. It's all about wearing something that makes you feel like your very own masterpiece. That may mean wearing a sweaterdress and leather coat like me or a pair of jeans and a blazer, but at the end of the day, you are your own canvas, so don't be afraid to get creative.