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Choosing a ballroom costume

August 12, 2009

Part of the look for a competing in a ballroom event is an appropriate costume.   Just as you would want to show up at an interview dressed smartly and looking the part, so it is true with competitions.   And as shows like “What Not to Wear” point out, the right cut, color and materials can make a huge difference in how you appear.  Here are some ideas to consider while on your quest to find the perfect costume:


There are lots of theories and opinions when it comes to choosing colors.  Some people choose based on lighting conditions or the color of the floor, others based on colors they like are compliment them personally, and yet more may opt for black or white.

Noted on a thread at, the following recommendations were made based on hair color and I think it is a good starting point.

  • Black hair: hot pink/electric blue
  • Blonde hair: light blue/red
  • Brunette: bright coral/burgundy
  • Red Hair: peach/emerald


White tends to stand out, whereas darker colors run the risk of blending in too much with your partner.  In general, I think picking a color that both compliments your skin tone and hair color, but will also stand out on the floor (brighter colors over pale or dark) is the best option.  Using contrasting colors can also be a way to command attention.

Cut – Part One (Body Shape)

There are two elements to the cut of a dress when it comes to costumes.  First is finding a design that suits your body type (top-heavy, bottom-heavy, straight or curvy).   Even if you get the right color, you don’t want the cut to emphasize all the wrong places.  Here are a few sites that can help you determine your shape and the best cuts for your body type.

One of my favorite books for picking clothes for your body shape is In Style’s “Secrets of Style.”  I recommend it as a good starting point for clothes in general, but a lot can also be applied to dance.  (

Cut – Part Two (Emphasizing your strengths)

As a dance you want the judges to notice your strengths and not focus on your weaknesses.  While good dancing and choreography that plays to your talents is always in order, a costume can help even further.  For instance in Latin, if you have good leg lines, you’ll want a shorter skirt to show them off.  Is your hip movement not as strong as it could be?  A fuller skirt that flows can create the illusion of hip movement to make it appear that you are doing more than you actually are.   Asymmetrical hems tend to move more than straight hems.  Floats on a standard dress can distract the eye from a less than perfect frame.  Fringe, feathers and floats which fly out when you move also create more visual interest while you are dancing and can help catch the judges’ eyes.


As with many things, costumes are often you get what you pay for. Expensive materials like ostrich feathers, high quantities of rhinestones and fine fabrics like silk will look better than their cheaper counterparts.  At a professional level, a high end dress is expected and anything less will look poorly compared to your peers on the floor.  At an amateur level, it depends on what level you are at and what you want to achieve.  A syllabus dancer at local or collegiate competitions can stick with something very simple and low cost.  In fact, USA Dance requires plain fabrics at that level.  Off the rack dresses or places like eK clothing ( offer a selection of clothes that can be used.

As an open level amateur, you will see everything from simple to professional quality dresses.  In general you want to dress as best you can afford, as it will show the judges that you are serious as well as help you stand out on the floor.  Rhinestones are the sparkle of choice and a decent dress should have at least 10 gross, often 20+ gross of stones and preferably made by Swarovski.  Used dresses are often an excellent way to go as you aren’t paying for the upfront cost of making the dress, but selections are also more limited.

Here are some sources for used dresses:

Custom made dresses are yet another and the usually most expensive option.  The plus is that you get something that fits your body and your personality and will be one of a kind on the floor. There are many, many designers so I won’t try to list them all here.  If considering that route, make sure to check out other dresses made by that designer and find one that matches your tastes.

While there is much more to discuss in the world of costumes and probably endless debates about the best options, this is a good running start.  Most of all, find something that you love and feel confident in, as that will shine through in your dancing.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nina permalink
    July 18, 2017 5:51 am

    Thanks for the info about ballroom dancing dresses. Extremely informative.

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