If you haven’t seen it yet, Say Yes to the Dress is a TLC reality show that showcases brides’ journeys to their perfect wedding gown. As I was watching the most recent marathon, I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between picking out your dream wedding dress and picking out the perfect Irish dance dress. At the very least, the price tags can be very similar! Just like every bride wants to feel like a princess in a dress on their wedding day, every Irish dancer wants to feel like a star on stage in a dress that perfectly suits their style, both in terms of dancing and personality.
So, proof that Randy really does know best, here are some tips for making process of finding the perfect Irish dance dress a piece of cake!
1. Know Your Budget
The price tag is one of the most similar things between buying a wedding dress and an Irish dance dress. If you’re not prepared for it, there can definitely be sticker shock. The worst thing in the world is finding your dream dress and then realizing you can’t afford it. Many of the top dressmakers charge between $1500-$2500 for new custom dresses. The actual price depends on style, age, and fabric used. Also, depending on the dressmaker, that price may or may not include rhinestones. Be sure to check that detail when ordering as putting rhinestones on a dress can be a large added expense.
If you’re set on one of the “Big Names” (as they’re called out in the Irish Dance world), look for special deals. For example, Doire just ran a special on $1000 dresses for Nationals. The catch was that you didn’t have a say in the style or color. However, every dress turned out amazing so I think it was a pretty good risk to take. Check out the results here. Another option if you’re set on a Big Name is to buy a used dress. With some dancers churning through dresses yearly, there’s always a good selection of up-to-date Big Name styles on the market. Check out dance-again.com regularly so that you can jump when you find the perfect dress. Dance-again now uploads new dresses on Facebook, so be sure to follow them so that you never miss a dress.
If you’re set on a custom dress but don’t have the budget for a Big Name, there are many great “Small name” dressmakers who have a similar style and quality as the Big ones but offer more reasonable prices. The popular ones will often book up early, so make sure you call in advance if you have a deadline. Some excellent smaller dressmakers include Shamrock Stitchery, Kirations, Michelle Lewis, KDSF, Hannah Peters, Emerald Key, Jean Olsson, Michele Fitzpatrick, Allison Thrasher, Sarah Rule, and Donnelly Dress Designs.
2. Know your silhoutte – figure flattering on you
Just like a bride has to take her figure into account when picking out a dress style, the same is true for Irish dancers. The great thing with today’s Irish dance fashion is that there are tons of options. Gone are the days when everyone had the same three panel silhoutte. Today, dancers can pick the style that will show them off in the best light. You have to know that the style that you love might not actually look good on you. Dressmakers will know what will be most flattering on you, so trust them on that respect.
3. Open to alterations
This tip is especially true when buying used dresses. First, make sure you measure yourself properly and accurately. This guide from Michelle Lewis is a good resource for getting measurements. Once you know your measurements, look for dresses that are close to your size. They don’t have to match perfectly because many dance dresses can be altered. A lot of dressmakers know that girls grow, so they left room so that the dress can be let out and it’s often very easy to take a dress in. If you find your dream dress on a used dress site, but it doesn’t quite fit, ask if it can be altered.
Custom dressmakers will often have their own set of measurement criteria, so make sure you follow those for a perfect fitting dress. If you buy a new custom dress and it doesn’t fit, make sure you contact the dressmaker immediately. Though some dressmakers are notorious for ignoring sizing complaints, many dressmakers will take the dress back and alter it for you. Take a picture of your dancer in the dress to show it how it fits and indicate exactly what the problem is. Send your measurements back with the dress.
If the dress arrives two days before the Oireachtas and doesn’t fit, you still have a few options! Try to have a local dressmaker or experienced tailor alter it. Especially in big Irish areas, there are dressmakers who have been tailoring Irish dance dresses for decades. Ask on your local voy forum to see if there’s a reliable one in your area. It’s not a bad idea to ask ahead of time, just in case disaster strikes.
The other option, if you can’t find a dressmaker in your area, is to use pins. This, of course, only works when the dress is too big, but you’d be surprised what you can do with some well placed pins. You can do enough with pins to make the dress looks polished enough for three rounds before permanently altering it. Make sure you talk to your TCRG first to avoid damaging the dress. If a dress is too short, you can add a tutu underneath as a last ditch effort. In a very worst case, try and borrow a dress for the day until you can fix your dress.
4. Open to different styles
This tip is even more applicable to Irish dancing than it is to a wedding. At least with a wedding dress, you don’t really have to decide the color! Many dancers have their dream dress in mind – colors, style, design, everything – and are very unwilling to change. If you’re looking for a used dress, this approach can be deadly. You may never find your dream dress and be forced to buy something you don’t like at the last minute just to find something to dance in. Instead, go in with an idea of what you’re looking for. For example, have a color palate that you would be happy with or a skirt style that you love and then compromise on the other elements.
On the custom side, you may miss the opportunity to try a fantastic new style if you’re dead set in your ways. I have to imagine the first dancer to wear a soft skirt dress went in expecting a three panel, but was open to different styles and was thrilled with the result. Also, oftentimes, the dressmaker sees something that would look great on you that you wouldn’t have expected.
Of course, being open to different styles depends on your relationship to the dressmaker. If you’ve only talked to the dressmaker briefly and you’re doing it online through a style book, maybe it is better to select exactly what you want. However, if you have more of a working relationship with the dressmaker where they can send you updates and have a long consultation, be open to suggestions, even if it sounds crazy at the time. 90% of the time, ideas that sound crazy turn out to be the top dresses.
5. Trust your instincts
However, on the flip side, if there is something that you hate and know that you will always hate, make sure you tell the dressmaker. If you’re open to different styles but really can’t stand tiger print, it won’t matter if it starts trends if the dress comes in tiger print because you won’t like it. And, at the end of the day, the only person that really has to love your dress is you! Especially when you’re shelling out large amounts of money!
6. Keep location in mind
Just like a bride with a wedding on the beach wants an appropriate dress, you have to keep in mind where you’ll be dancing when picking out a dress. If you’re a novice or prizewinner dancer, you don’t want the newest, trendiest, most blinged out dress. The judges will expect that you’ll be dancing at that level and it will reflect poorly when you don’t quite match it. There are plenty of lovely dresses that are a few years old or in a more classic style that would be more appropriate for a novice or prizewinner dancer. For example, instead of getting the newest asymmetric Gavin, this paneled Gavin would be more appropriate for a novice or prizewinner dancer. It’s still a gorgeous and polished, high-quality dress, but more accurately reflects the dancer’s level.
On the other end of the spectrum, dancers competing at the major level, especially in the teen age groups, should have dresses that reflect that. While I don’t think you need a new dress every season, your dress should be up-to-date and polished. However, it doesn’t need to be the trendiest or most expensive dress. As I pointed out in tip 1, there are plenty of options to look modern while staying within a budget. If you can’t get a dress every year, steer towards more classic looking dresses that will stay in fashion year after year.
The other element of getting an appropriate dress is keeping your personality and dancing style in mind. If you’re not a crazy bold dancer, dancing in a bold super trendy dress is going to feel off. If you have a beautiful and graceful dancing style, get a dress that reflects that. Don’t feel like you need a super trendy dress to stand out. A pretty dress on a beautiful soft shoe dancer will stand out just as much as a bold asymmetric dress.
7. Leave room for extras
Just like every bride needs her veil and shoes, accessories are a key part in finishing your Irish dance look. The right accessories can make a dress go from great to (the holy grail of Irish dance dress adjectives) “stunning”. However, if you forget to plan for accessories, you could be left scrambling for a headband the day before the Oireachtas. They also can add up, so make sure you check and see if they’ll be included in the dress price or if you need to leave some room in your budget for bloomers.
Here are some things to ask if they’re included with your dress. If not, make sure to leave room in your budget for them:
- Bloomers that match your dress
- Appropriate headband, tiara, etc
8. Share your vision before going in
This tip is crucial for good teacher-student relations. A lot of TCRGs have clear views of what they want their dancers in. A dancer is a reflection of the teacher’s school, so it is understandable that they want their dancers looking their best. If you’re looking for a new dress, the first person to talk to is your teacher. They may not have any rules or preferences, but they may have very set rules. The worst situation would be to buy a dress just to find out that your teacher won’t let your dancer dance in it. If you highly disagee with your teacher’s rules, talk to your TCRG about it calmly and maturely. If your teacher’s rules are severely affecting your finances or stress levels, that may be an indication that you should change schools.
Even if your TCRG doesn’t have set rules, they’ve been looking at Irish dancers for years and know what looks best on stage. They can give you some great tips for getting a high-quality dress that will let your dancer shine on stage.
9. Don’t bring too many people
On the flip side of making sure to talk to your teacher before you start dress shopping, make sure you don’t ask every person in your school for opinions. You’re just going to end up confused with a bunch of conflicting information. Ask a few people whose opinion you trust and who know you and your dancing style well. You might get some good input that you hadn’t thought of before. However, make sure to take advice with a grain of salt and put more weight into what your TCRG and dressmaker suggest.
10. Do your research
In the world of Irish dance fashion, styles change every six months and it can be hard to keep on top of. If you’re looking for a new dress, check out the pictures from the most recent major to see what dancers are wearing. Feispix has a lot of pictures from Wolds, All-Irelands and feisaenna around Britain and Ireland. Harrington Photography has the North American Nationals and a few regional Oireachtasai. Other picture sites are Shamrock Photo, Show the Story, Rince Pix, Reel Dance Pix, Swoose, Time in Focus, Photo Magic and Shelly Hathaway. Check them out so you can see what the newest trends are and be prepared to talk about what you like and what you don’t like when you’re talking to a dressmaker. I’m working to make Feisonista a resource for Irish dance trends to make that process a little easier. Check out the fashion recaps from 2011 Worlds and the North American Nationals.
Also, be sure to do your research on dressmakers. For each dressmaker that you’re interested in, check the quality of their dresses, the styles, the price range, the buying process, and general customer satisfaction. Typically if you google a certain dressmaker you can find voy postings on the buying process and customer satisfaction. Remember to take that with a grain of salt as well – one bad review doesn’t mean a completely bad dressmaker. However, several late dresses and dresses that consistently don’t fit is a sign of a less than ideal dressmaker.
Hope that helps! Do you have any other tips for buying your dream Irish dance dress? Did you say yes to your Irish dance dress?
Stay Fashionable, Feisers!