What are you wearing tonight?
If you love the dance world as much as I do, you’ve probably come to learn that the experience truly becomes complete when donning a fabulous outfit. I first stepped into a dimly lit club filled with swing dancers longer ago than I care to admit and there has been no turning back. I was swept into a new culture of reviving dance moves from the 30s, 40s and 50s faster than you can say “Shim-Sham” and hand in hand with the dances came the incredible urge to dress the part.
At first I was a purist, only vintage would do. But I sadly lost many great finds to the rigors of the dance floor. Amid a pile of torn lace and silk, split seams and torn hems, I realized vintage would have to be saved for less active events and I needed some new “old” clothes to cut a rug in.
Much to my delight, there is a whole industry devoted to solving such a conundrum – hello Retro! Whether a designer is drawing inspiration from the past or using a vintage pattern, modern materials and sewing techniques (not to mention sizes!) can be the answer to a swing dancer’s prayer. You can channel Betty Grable at the WWII tribute dance and go home with your dress in one piece.
But what to pick with this whole new world of options?
Some styles and cuts look great, but may leave you wishing for more mobility on the dance floor. People laugh, but I always do a dance test when trying something on that I plan to take dancing. I highly recommend it. There are only 3 parts. 1 - lift your arms over your head. 2 - reach your arms in front of your body. 3 - do the Twist. If these can be accomplished without being constricted, I can be pretty sure I’ll be a-okay with most moves my dance partner throws at me.
A bodice or top with a halter or straps is usually the easiest, but cap sleeves allow for a lot of movement too.
If you really like sleeves, fabrics with some spandex in them are a blessing. Or try a sweater over a strappy top.
I find strapless just plain dangerous for dancing. If you see me out, ask about the time we found someone’s strapless bra on the dance floor…
Whether a dress (skirt) or pants is in order depends more on mood and type of event than ease of movement, although if the skirt is slim I recommend one with a kick pleat or slit to give your legs some freedom. But when opting for a skirt, always wear something under it – I mean besides your unmentionables.
Pettipants or dance pants (think cheerleader) give a nice finished look when worn over stockings without being revealing. Some things are best left to the imagination…
Then there are the shoes. Some folks opt for shoes made especially for dancing and there are many retro designs to choose from. I own some, but I usually save them for the locations that have a ballroom floor suited to that kind of shoe. My go-to shoes for dancing are Bass saddle shoes, yes, they still make them. They’re in the American Classic’s collection & come in lots of colors now. And if two tone isn’t your thing, there are solids as well. I love these because they lace up, there’s not a 3” heel to worry about and the sole is not too slippery or too sticky.
Don’t forget to accessorize – seamed stockings and a flower hair clip add a nice classic touch. Never fear if you’re struggling with styling your hair with a vintage look, there are some helpful blogs & websites out there, including:
As you spend more time on the dance floor, you’ll learn what works best for you. The important thing is to feel confident in what you wear & you’ll look great. Dance is a celebration, it’s meant for fun. For 4 minutes or so we get to live in the moment and the troubles of the world become a blur, I don’t often see dancers that aren’t smiling. So whatever tomorrow brings, we might as well dress up for the party tonight.
See you on the dance floor!