On a normal day I tend to dress for the weather. I get cold easily so that's usually jeans and multiple layers under my fake leather jacket! In the winter I normally wear my long dark 'wool' coat, so that makes me look like I've dressed up anyway. I think most buskers tend to go for comfort over anything else. If you are standing outside for a long time, you need to make sure you are able to perform to the best of your ability. I can't easily play my violin if my shoulders are restricted by my clothes, for instance, so that's something I have to take into account. Other buskers will have to consider similar issues when deciding what to wear depending on their act.
Many people still have lots of misconceptions about busking where they equate street performers with homeless people. Sure there are some homeless buskers, but they are in the minority. When buskers look like they haven't washed in weeks and their clothes haven't seen a washing machine in months, it adds to the bad rep. As a minimum I think it helps if buskers have a certain standard they set when they present themselves to the world.
However, I believe talent is more important than looks. Having said that, sometimes musicians who aren't the best at what they do, but dress up and perform at the right spot can earn the same as someone very talented but has dressed a bit scruffy. Insane but it happens. Case in point, those human statues just sit there all day and do nothing and they earn loads of money. For them, presentation really is everything.
Sometimes if you look like you know what you're doing and you don't sound horrible, that's all you need to earn some money while busking. However, good looks do not earn consistent tips on their own, while talent does. When the public sees someone who looks good and plays well, I think that's a good formula for a busker to earn a lot.
Another thing to consider is that certain types of clothing suit certain acts better. In Winchester there used to be a guy that played classical music in a suit and tie (maybe he's still there?) and always had loads of coins in his case. It was easy to spot him because the way he dressed made him noticable. Someone else might play country music and wear a cowboy hat. It always helps to put on a full show when busking, but personally I don't tend to see that much of a difference in income whether I dress up or not. My talent is usually what shines through. And if I dress too nicely I start to attract creepy guys. I'm sure other women have experienced the same!
So I titled this post presentation is everything but...
I don't think it is everything really if you are a musician or do some kind of circle act. Sometimes a few elements of the right look is enough to make a good act. I don't think every busker should feel like they have to dress nice every time they go out. What do you think? How important is presentation when it comes to busking? Write in the comments below!
I am a British American violinist and fiddle player. I play full time as a street musician in addition to the live gigs I perform with several bands.