What To Wear To The Ballet
It used to be that the ballet was a special occasion, and much like when flying in an airplane, you'd dress up rather nicely. Occasionally, a very special ballet performance would come along, and you'd dress as formally as you could.
The dress code is more complex now. It can be much more relaxed in certain cases, but that means you have to be careful when judging the performance you're going to see. Given how informal people have become in terms of dress, it can take some thought to put together an outfit to see something like the Nutcracker.
A Daytime Matinee for the Kids
This is one of the more informal dress codes, but it helps if parents can set a good example. Everyone should be dressed neatly, and it's nice if you can get children into nicer clothes, but if jeans are all they'll go for, that should be OK as long as the jeans aren't ripped. Shirts shouldn't have logos, if you can help it. Parents would do well to try to dress in business casual, but if this performance is very low-key, clean, neat jeans could be fine with a nice button-down or knit top.
An Evening Performance That Is Not for a Special Occasion
If you're going to see a performance one evening that is part of the regular run for a ballet in your area, business casual will do. If you'd wear it to a typical office in your area, it should be fine for the ballet. No sneakers or sports shoes, however; go for nice shoes that you could wear to more formal occasions. The neater, more businesslike dress makes you look more professional, too, and the fact that you dressed up shows respect for the performers.
A Special Occasion Ballet
If the performance is for a fundraiser, for example, or it's the opening night of a much-anticipated ballet at the swankiest location in the region, then you need to dress at least in full business attire, if not more formal. Generally, a suit and tie for men and a pantsuit or evening dress for women should be fine. If very formal dress -- ball gowns and tuxedoes -- are required, the invitation should state so.
Whether you're taking the kids to see the local ballet school's production of the Nutcracker or you're attending the opening night of a visiting troupe's performance of Swan Lake, the keywords are neat, clean, and respectful. Your three-year-old might not care, but you can model how to dress for the ballet so that your kids know what's expected of them as they grow older and attend the ballet later in their lives.