I Want to Sparkle: Advice on Ballroom Costuming

By Javier Chacón

Congratulations on leaving the Syllabus world! You’ve now entered the open ranks, which means it’s time for new choreography, more technical drills, and of course… BLING. Perhaps you’ve been wearing some sparkles up to this point, but now that you’re in Open, you probably want something a little more serious for when you get on that floor and can finally do the fancy moves you’ve been going over in your head for the past six months. If this is the case, you’re probably also asking yourself: “How do I get a grown-up costume without destroying my life’s savings or selling a limb?” If your partner isn’t a costume designer, fear not! Here are some tips from dancers in the open ranks.

Renting

You probably already know that you can rent gowns for specific competitions. While it is not advised that you lead the rest of your dancing life simply renting gowns as it can get very costly, it is a great way to get better acquainted with the different designers out there so you begin to have a better understanding of how they work and what styles you like best. It’s also a great way to get to wear a very expensive gown for a fraction of the price.

Buying Used

Perhaps the most popular practice for dancers first going into the open ranks. Why buy used as opposed to buying from a China site you ask? For starters, you don’t risk wearing the same gown as three other people as they are usually custom-made for the original purchaser. They also tend to be better quality than mass-produced gowns. With the amount of “dresses for sale” groups on Facebook, it’s easy to find something you really want to wear and can also afford. Don’t forget to talk to the Open dancers that you cheer on at competitions. Often times, they are also selling theirs (which means you don’t have to pay shipping from Europe).

DIY

This is a tricky scenario. Technically anyone can buy some practice wear or an un-stoned gown, buy the stones, and then use an ironing board in order to stretch said gown over and begin to apply rhinestones or other embellishments. However, if you factor the amount of time it will take to do this, and the potential for something to go very wrong, you’re better off getting something already made and ready to go. If you are a skilled seamstress or are currently in the process of making clothes, then go for it. Just know, it is time consuming and can take a few tries to get it to look the way you want it to.

Consignment and Sales Racks

This is usually a tricky thing to navigate. Sometimes you luck out, and sometimes… it’s not always magical. Look out for vendors with resale/consignment/sale racks at major competitions. This is a great way to get a designer gown at a fraction of the original price. Note that often times, the gowns on these racks need a little TLC. However, they become investments that you can wear time and time again. These will be more expensive than the used gowns you can find on Facebook, but will more often than not be better quality.

Buying New

The final option in the process of purchasing Open-level costumes is to buy a new, or even better, custom-made, gown. This will most likely involve saving some money in order to have a predetermined budget with which to shop. If this is the route you’re going, a few things to remember are:

  • More expensive does not mean better. I’ve seen plenty a designer gown malfunction on the floor.
  • Just because it’s designer does not mean it’s perfect for you. Don’t buy something because of the tag alone; make sure it’s actually what you want and feel comfortable in.
  • Designers have gowns in many price ranges. Don’t be discouraged because the ones on the mannequins happen to be the 5K ones.
  • Not all custom-made gowns will leave you eating ramen for months. There are independent designers willing to work with you and help you stay within your budget.

I hope these tips have helped you out! Ballroom is a fantastic sport that you can continue to enjoy for years after you graduate (I should know). Make sure that you focus on the aspects of it that matter most to you. Sparkles are great, but they are definitely not a requirement. Some of the best dancers I’ve seen have worn the simplest of gowns and out-danced every other couple on the floor. Above all, ballroom is about the dancing: everything else is secondary.

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