Ballroom Dance costumes and make-up

International versus American style ballgowns

There are several functional differences between American style and International style ballgowns which lead to stylistic differences.

An International style ballgown has to look good in just one position. The lady stays in closed hold throughout the dance. This means that the front of the dress is much less important than the back, that the sleeves don't have to stay on when the arms are not up, etc., etc.

In contrast, an American style ballgown has to not tangle up its wearer, fall off, or look unattractive in a wide variety of positions. Both the front and the back of the dress are visible "in use". Also, the wearer usually wants to be able to hold up the skirt in certain steps such as runarounds.

The upshot of all of this is that international style gowns tend to have around 1 1/2 circle skirts with heavy feather boas (which move well when you're not holding them, but don't look good being held), and lots of floats on the arms and shoulders (which drag on the floor when walking around with the arms down, and would tangle up an American style dancer until she couldn't move). American style gowns usually have a thin boa or none, at *least* 2 circles of skirt and usually more, and at most one float hanging from the nape of the neck.

However, there is no reason why an international gown has to have a boa, and there has been some trend towards using the American style skirt on international style gowns in recent years. Basically, you can almost always wear an American style gown for International, but most International gowns won't work for American. [Elizabeth Earhart eearhart@aol.com ]

!Just like New York and Paris - Ballgown designers bring styles in and out, and enjoy the opportunity to create a whole different look for Amer. Smooth from Modern. Feathers are almost a requirement for Modern, however, if you have seen this year's Blackpool Championship tape, you might have noted one young lady (who didn't place) in a very elegant gown without feathers.

As Amer. Smooth allows for open work, the dress must allow the partners to dance their respective parts. This might sound silly, but wings or drapes commonly seen on Modern dresses, do not adapt well to a return to closed dance position from an open spin. They also tend to fly up - cover the head, obstruct vision etc.! A long drape from the neck down the back is an attractive alternative, and not as dangerous!

Amer. Smooth dresses may have feathers, and may be pleated - but most that I have seen recently are constructed of 2-3 layers of chiffon over a lining fabric ( each layer being 7-9 yards of fabric), or 1 layer of 14-16 yards of charmeuse or silk or a multi-layer of pearl chiffon. All of these fabrics float well and an open turn with the skirt held high is as dramatic and beautiful as anything I have ever seen.

Modern dresses typically are pleated and have 2-3 layers of feathers around the bottom. About 10 years ago, the skirts were short, hideous poufs with approx. 15 petticoat layers underneath. The hem lines went down, feathers became popular, and the dresses started to flow with the dancers. In the last two years, I have noticed the hem lines going up and down - from high ankle to mid-calf. Some designers use 3 1/2 circles of pleated fabric, some use 4, to create the top layer. Under, there are 2-3 layers of crystal chiffon, chiffon, lining fabric - you name it - I've seen it. Some designers put ruffles on these layers to create more pouf, others increase the amount of fabric at the hem line by adding 1/2 and 1/4 circles into seam lines.

One thing that is a constant in all ballgowns is the treatment of the hem line - it is either fishlined on a serger or more popularly now - boned ( with dress boning). The fishline is 100 lb test - if they can get it, for optimum results. This makes the hem line ripple and helps chiffon, a relatively shapeless fabric, have life while standing still. One of my dresses (Amer. style) has over 1500 inches of hemline; without the fishline, it would be glued to the floor.

Bodices are fortunately as original, as the skirts are similar. With new exciting fabrics entering each season, the bodices change in styles constantly. Laces over see-through lycra has been in for the Modern scene and also for Amer. style.

Treatment of bodices (and skirts) is another constant. You do not see as many sequins as you do rhinestones. I wonder how one dances without rhinestones! It takes an incredible # to do what needs to be done usually and the final effect is worth it. Sequins shine, but rhinestones can make your ceilings sparkle! Each stone is applied by hand, preferably with glue. [Rush cbm@ix.netcom.com ]

Tell me about guys' tuxedos

Black tie vs white tie

Black tie is a tuxedo with a black bow tie and cummerbund (or a white or black waistcoat), and pleated shirts with flat collars. White tie is a tailsuit with a white bow tie, white waistcoat, and a stiff shirt with wing collar. There are various amalgamations of white tie and black tie that tuxedo rental places will try to palm off on you, but these are the real thing.

Ladies' dresses for these things are almost impossible to define. Floor-length dresses are probably most appropriate for both black tie and white tie occasions, but some shorter dresses are probably OK for black tie.

By the way, here is the perfect explanation of formal wear, in the words of Irving Berlin (the song "Top hat, white tie and tails"): I just got an invitation through the mails:
"your presence requested this evening,
it's formal: top hat, white tie and tails."
[...]
I'm putting on my top hat, tying up my white tie,
brushing off my tails.
I'm duding up my shirt front, putting in my shirt studs,
polishing my nails.

Differences between a normal tux and a ballroom tux

This is a typical query:

"I'm in the market for a tux with tails, but I don't know how to go about getting one. The only help I was able to get from my dance studio was a phone number to call someone overseas in London for more information. Instead, I will go to a local men's formal wear shop where I have had good experiences in the past, and where I purchased my first (tail-less) tuxedo. The problem is, I don't know how to describe what I need so I can be sure I am getting an appropriate ballroom tux. Is there anything about the style, material, cut, etc. that I need to know about? Also, what can I expect to pay for such a tux? Thanks for any information!"

And here are some answers:

You may regret ordering a dancing tailsuit from your local tuxedo shop, as there are several differences between the dancing tails and the regular tailsuit that your local tailor may not know about. For example the arms are attached differently so that they are flat across the shoulders when you are in dance postion and not when your arms are at your side. There are often elastics or some such mechanism to keep the jacket in place while you are moving. The tails are also weighted so that they fly around a bit as you move. The fit at the base of the neck is very important as to emphasize your tall posture. These are just the differences that I can think of right now, I'm sure that there are more.

Some people that I have seen ordering tuxedos (and I have one pending shortly) have ordered them from Onik Designed and Made in Los Angeles. The address if you would like more information is: 3968 West 6TH St.
Los Angeles, CA
USA
90020
ph: (213) 380-3272

Prices vary according to the material that you chose for it to made from. They will send you some swatches of material to chose from varying in price from about $875 US to $1200 US. They do make some distinction between the American Smooth tailsuit and the International Standard tailsuit as well so that may influence your decision on which place to order from. [Brent Smith bhsmith@direct.ca ]

First: A bit of an explanation is in order here...

Tails suits and Tuxedos are two entirely different things.

Briefly, the cut of a Tails Suit is a shortened front with a set of tails to the back. The front, being cut-away requires the use of a pair of high waisted pants and a white pique waistcoat to go over the pants and the bottom of the shirt. They are worn with white (usually) braces (suspenders) and a white pique bow tie to match the waistcoat and the pocket hankie. The shirt is collarless and a detatchable collar si attached seperately.

Tuxedo jackets are worn at the aproximate length of the hip and a cumberbun is worn at the waist. This covers the waistband of the slacks which are at the natural waistline. The bowtie usually matches the cumberbund and the shirt collar is an attached one to the shirt (though some men feel more comfortable wearing their tails shirt and collar).

Secondly: And perhaps most importiantly.....

The cut and fit of a dance Tuxedo and dance Tails Suit is in no way similar to that used for ordinary formal wear. This is because of the necesity of creating the "Hold" position.

A typical cost for a reputable company's suit in the UK is aprox. $1300.00 US, depending on the quality of fabric you choose. This cost is only for the Jacket, Pants and Waistcoat. These suits are made to measurement.

There are, ocassionally a few avaiable for resale and the price varries according to tthe manufacturer, age, fabric and amount of usage.

There are 2 well known manufacturers in the UK (Arthur Ashmore and Ron Gunn) and one in the US (Onik). [Sandra Lee Wollin SLWOLLIN@worldnet.att.net ]

Having a tux made to order

Dance tails are constructed very differently than regular suits or tails. The most important difference is the cut in the arms, which is tailored to fit the body when in dance position (with elbows raised to a position just below shoulder level). This makes it less than ideal for sitting around with your elbows down at your side, but of course we don't need to account for that factor when dancing a round of int'l standard.

A regular tailsuit will bunch up in the shoulders when the arms are lifted to dance position, even if it's fitted to your body.

The only good dance-suit tailor here in the states that I am aware of is Onik, who is situated here in LA. He's an excellent tailor, but he really only makes one style of suit. So if you're looking for something ultra creative, you may want to keep looking. Also, his suits are great for int'l, but I had problems getting him to adjust for the american. He was very stubborn about changing his design to acccomodate the different style of arm and body movements we use in the american style.

Lastly, many people who have past experience with him told me to instruct him specifically NOT to let the neck line scoop in back. I gave him this instruction, but I wound up with the super-scooper anyway.

But in spite of the few difficulties, his suit was constructed with excellent craftsmanship. I would still recommend him, but would want you to be aware that you have to put your foot down, or you won't get exactly what you want.

Are costumes and makeup practical or hopelessly out of touch?

From: psychohist@aol.com (Psychohist)

Andy Broomsgrove posts, in part:

But I strongly disagree that tails and a flouncy dress are particularly appropriate to ballroom in the late 1990's.

Ballroom needs to come to terms with today's fashions and attitudes, especially if it really wants to succeed as an Olympic Sport. The criticisms I hear time and time again about ballroom dancing (especially from non dancers) are about (a) the old fashioned music and (b) the costumes, make-up and hair do's.

None of which are essential or even relevant to the act (art? sport?) of dancing itself, of course.

I beg to differ, at least with respect to ballroom costumes, makeup, and hair. (The question of music has already been beaten to death in another thread; suffice it to say that not all nations are caught in the time warp that England seems to be in.)

Ballroom ladies don't wear their hair up in competition just because it's traditional. They wear their hair up because it's practical - keeps the hair from swinging around, getting in their eyes, slapping their partners across the face - and because they would rather show the judges a good neck line, which in continuous with the lines of the body, than loose hair that fails to complement the overall picture.

Competition makeup is also practical. It's designed to be seen from across a moderately large dance floor under moderate lighting conditions. As a result, it's intermediate between typical daily wear makeup which is lighter, and stage makeup, which is heavier since it must be seen under bright stage lights from the back rows of an auditorium.

Finally, the tails and ball gowns are also practical. Both are cut for minimal interference with the body and leg movements that take place in ballroom. The skirts aren't full because it's traditional - they are full because competitive quality ballroom requires a lot of leg division, and the skirt must allow for this leg division on the part of both partners, since the gent's knee often goes between the lady's knees.

The tail itself and the length of the skirt - as well as the fishline or feather boa that often weights the skirt's hem - are designed to show off rotational ballroom movements to best advantage. Just as a short skirt or fringe best shows off the fast rotations seen in figure skating or latin dancing, a long skirt or tails best show off the slow rotations characteristic of ballroom, when properly and smoothly performed.

You aren't going to change the basic look of ballroom attire without changing the basic nature of the dancing. Warren Dew

Last modified on: 2000, Wednesday April 12.


This file is part of the FAQ list for the newsgroup rec.arts.dance. The FAQ list is being maintained by Victor Eijkhout (victor at eijkhout dot net, talk about vanity), who appreciates being sent additions or corrections on the material in this collection. Copyright 1994/5/6/7/8/9/2000 lies with the maintainer and the contributors of various parts.

Listen up: Victor did not write most of this stuff; he just collected it. So don't send him any dance questions.

You may link to this page and make copies for private use in any form, but reproduction in any means, including book or CDROM, is not allowed without permission from the copyright holder. When linking, the page may not be displayed in a frame: use the full window, or open a new one.

It goes without saying that the maintainer of this FAQ takes no responsibility for any inaccuracies in the information presented here or for any use or abuse of this information. The maintainer is neither a doctor nor a lawyer.