“Where do you get all these clothes?”
“I don’t think I’ve seen you in the same outfit twice!”
Ladies, if you haven’t been collecting swing dance clothing and shoes for a decade, never fear! A wardrobe of dance basics can get you very far and, with some clever wardrobe planning, you can have a really versatile wardrobe with infinite possibilities. I get asked frequently about where to get started, so I’m going to give my basic advice about pieces to lay the foundation for a fabulous swing dancing wardrobe and where to find them. These are all pieces I have in my closet. I am a big proponent of personal style, so my examples may lean more towards my taste for vintage, but the principles should be generally applicable. Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.
Flats, heels, or wedges? It’s a personal preference. Most people start with flats. You can’t go wrong with a basic Keds-style sneaker – it goes with pants, it goes with dresses, it goes with just about everything. Dancestore.com offers a basic dance sneaker for $29.99 in white and black, which isn’t too hard on the wallet. If you want a different color or shoe, you can take the shoe of your choice to your local shoe repair shop and have the bottoms sueded or you can buy some suede soles and glue and fix them yourself.
If you are just getting started, you may not want to invest in a pair of really expensive (yet beautiful) dance shoes, so the dance sneaker is a way to have a comfortable pair of dance shoes with leather soles, without the big commitment.
I am a staunch advocate of looking your best while on the dance floor, which can come as a challenge given that most of us will sweat like we’ve been in a wrestling room for three hours. Here are some good clothing basics that will withstand the athleticism of swing dancing while still looking sharp.
Ladies Trouser by Heyday: This company, based out of the UK, makes a fantastic high waisted, wide legged pant that provides maximum comfort, movement, fit, tailoring, and the most universally flattering pants style known to woman. It comes in so many colors, but you can’t go wrong getting a pair in black to start building your wardrobe. I’m showing them in blue here so you can see the cut, cuff, buttons, and the other lovely details. Your bum will look like a million bucks in these pants and you will feel like you are wearing pajamas. The ladies at Heyday were very helpful with my overseas order and are happy to help you with sizing, fabrics, ordering, shipping, or any other questions you may have.
Trumpet Skirt by Dancestore: The aforementioned Dancestore, based out of Baltimore, MD, is firmly grounded in basic items for swing dancers and their trumpet skirt is an excellent basic skirt for dancing. The cut on trumpet skirts is flattering to many kinds of figures and the flare in the skirt occurs mid-way up the skirt, rather than flaring at the waist, avoiding most of those panty-revealing moments.
Shirts to go with pants and skirts: Really, the sky is the limit. Dress these up or down, wear a tee shirt or a blouse. There are three kinds of blouses I usually like to wear with separates.
1) Classic short sleeved button-up – It’s basic and comes in a variety of colors. To make sure you don’t look like you are going to the office, wear it with a sweater vest over it in the winter and perhaps find a nice print for the summer, like this gingham version from American Apparel.
3) The ladylike blouse – Sometimes sheer, sometimes ruffly, the best ones are usually at Forever 21 and H&M, but their websites are leaving me high and dry at the moment. Here are two examples from Mod Cloth, with buttons and without.
Dresses: Are largely about personal preference, but, above all, be comfortable. I like mine knee-length and swishy, with vintage tailoring. I’m currently obsessing over every dress at Trashy Diva, based out of New Orleans. *drools*
I usually keep accessories to a minimum, either small or none at all, because they tend to be cumbersome and get in the way while I am dancing. If I do wear something, it’s usually a small pair of earrings and a flower in my hair. You can make hair flowers from artificial flowers, glue or thread, and hair clips/bands/combs, or you can let someone else do the work, like the Etsy seller “bowsweet,” who made my favorite hair flower that I wear to dances.
To recap: Shoes that go with everything, flattering pants and a skirt to mix in with ladylike tops and knits, and a dress with an impeccable cut – it sounds like you have an amazing dance wardrobe!
This is the first in a series of articles I am writing for the Atomic Ballroom Blog about swing dance fashion, with an emphasis on actually being able to find and purchase these items. You can follow my regular blog at www.lindyshopper.com or you can become a fan on Facebook and have updates in your news feed.