Begin Again: What Not to Wear to an Audition

August 17, 2023

Raise your hand if every time you have an audition, you agonize over what you’re going to wear. Yeah, me too. Even if I know the choreography backward and forward and have my sides and songs down pat, I still find myself stressing over which clothes might help sway the casting team.

I know I’m not alone. So I reached out to New York City–based casting director Jason Styres—whose work includes A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (Broadway and national tour), Nice Work If You Can Get It (Broadway), and The Lion King (Broadway and national tour)—for some sartorial answers.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when dressing for an audition?

Read the instructions listed in the appointment email. That sounds obvious, but it regularly gets forgotten. I get a lot of emails asking what to wear, and I simply copy and paste the information I’ve already sent. That said, if there really aren’t any instructions given, it’s not a bad question to ask. If it hasn’t been included, and eliminating the “What if?” will help you do your best, then ask.

How much does what you wear at an audition matter?

We are not hiring costumers—we are hiring artists. The way to stand out is to come in and do the choreography well. We don’t spend much time talking about what people are wearing. As long as it is within the parameters of what has been asked, and you feel confident, it’s great.

If there’s something really important, we will tell you. For example, I once worked on a show where the producer was obsessed with specific shoes. I didn’t want people getting nixed because of their shoes. So, during my pre-screens where people came in to get ready for the audition, I had them wear the shoes they planned to wear at the actual audition so I could tell them if they would work or not.

Should you come dressed like the role you’re auditioning for?

I typically think it’s strange to come dressed like the character. Instead, channel their essence. Wear something that alludes to the world they inhabit so it’s not hard for the team to imagine you in it, but don’t come in a costume. When casting A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder [which is set in the early 20th century], I asked one of the women auditioning to come back wearing something with a line below the knee that would give her containment that matched the time period. The outfit choice gave us a semblance of how she would eventually move in the actual costume.

Sometimes what a dancer feels most confident in is at odds with what a director likes. For example, some dancers might feel best in a skirt at a ballet audition, but a director might prefer a cleaner line. What should dancers prioritize?

Generally, I would do what the director prefers. You don’t go into a “no shoes” house wearing shoes, do you? There are, of course, times where it is appropriate to challenge a system, especially if it contradicts the core of an individual. If there is a requirement that you are concerned about, ask about it.

Head on over to Dance Magazine’s YouTube channel to see where I’m taking this advice, and the outfits I would wear to audition for various shows, companies, and commercial gigs.