3 Things To Look For When Buying An Irish Dance Solo Dress

Article featured in Diddlyi Magazine.
05.13.11

Photo by Shelly Hathaway

If you’re an Irish dancer, the subject eventually comes up. You’ve placed first in most of your Novice dances and you know just how much you love Irish dancing. You don’t plan to stop anytime soon, so you start thinking about getting a serious costume. Something that’s comfortable and light, but at the same time colorful, modern and helps you stand out in a sea of Irish dancers trying to win their way into Championship level.

There is a lot of debate about just how important finding the right solo dress really is. Some dancers insist that the new solo dress they bought was the key factor in helping them win at the last Feis. There’s no way to know for sure how much wearing the right solo dress helps you win, but no one is denying just how fun it is to purchase a beautiful unique dress that you really enjoy wearing while you compete.

I’ve bought three dresses in the eight years I’ve been dancing and each one helped me feel a bit more confident when I got onstage. In my opinion there is no denying the psychological effect of wearing something truly beautiful. You know you look great and therefore feel more confident. That’s a really great feeling when you’re standing in front of a judge.

When I bought my new turquoise dress from Paul Keith in 2009 I had no idea that only 9 months later I would win into Open Championship. I don’t think it was the dress that actually won those competitions for me, but I felt more beautiful and confident in my new dress, not to mention it was twice as light as the last dress I’d danced in.

Whatever it is about having the right solo dress, if you’re a serious Irish dancer, eventually you’re going to need one. It can be hard to know what to buy at first, so I’ve put together 3 tips that will help you know what to look for.

Photo by Shelly Hathaway

(1) Only Wear Colors That Work for You
I once took a Fashion Strategies class and for a group assignment we had to determine what colors looked good on each other. We held up pieces of material to each other’s faces and decided which colors looked best on each person. This is a great thing to try on yourself before looking for your new dress. Some people just look dreadful in lavender while others don’t, someone with blonde hair should probably have a dark collar rather than a light one. I’ve seen too many dancers wearing solo dresses in a color that doesn’t look good with their face. Having the right colors helps you stand out and helps your confidence, while the wrong colors are just distracting. Anyone who’s ever been shopping knows that sometimes a dress looks better on the hanger than it does on you. The same rule applies when buying a solo dress.

(2) A Solo Dress Should Be Comfortable & Light
A lot of dresses made by expensive designers are visually stunning, but weigh nearly 10 pounds! You can blame all the stiffener and the 10,000 diamantes, but some solo dresses are just way too heavy. Notice the weight of a dress when you’re trying it on. When you’re onstage pounding your feet and flying from one corner to the other you WILL feel the weight of what you’re wearing, and if you’re not used to all the extra weight, your performance will go down. Find something light and comfortable.

(3) Don’t Spend Too Much The First Time
It may shock you, but solo dresses have been known to cost up to $3000 USD. Others can cost around $500 USD or even less, it depends on whether the dress is custom made, pre-cut, or used. Only you know what you can afford, but my personal advice is to buy something cheaper if it’s your first time buying. A lot of girls from my school have talented mothers who successfully sewed them their first dress, while others bought something used. If you’re just entering Prizewinner, you’re not going to need a dress custom-made to you’re exact fit by the most expensive designer on the market.

You would not believe the amount of gorgeous used dresses you can find if you know where to look. In the Irish dance world, ‘used’ often means ‘worn only 3 times by a dancer who grew out of it’. So you can easily find a dress that’s practically brand new and buy it for half the price the original owner paid for it. But keep in mind, if you want a decent dress, be ready to pay at least $500 USD. That’s a great deal for a solo dress.

I hope these tips help you find the right dress! Irish dance costumes can be expensive, but every serious dancer eventually needs one. Good luck in your search!

Here are a couple Irish solo dress sites that I use when shopping for a new dress. Some sell used and others sell custom-made dresses.

Used dresses: Dance Again (Prices range from $300-$1500 USD)
Pre-cut Dresses: Paul Keith (Prices range from $500-$900 USD)
Custom-Made Dresses: Elevation Design (Prices range from $1500-$3000 USD)

Article written by Shelly Allen
Photo by Shelly Allen Photography

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