Note before reading: Kerris has provided me with a list of the restrictions that I did not have before writing this post. I have strongly suggested buying patterned clothes, and have seen many people who have worn pattern (including myself) that have not been called out for it. Sometimes it's just a case of luck, so just bear that in mind when you're looking for outfits. At friendies you can probably get away with wearing pattern, but perhaps not Northerns or Nationals. It's up to you if you want to risk it - I probably will! :D
Having watched Strictly since I was six years old, I was in love with the dresses almost as much as I was in love with the dancing. I think we – especially ladies – can all admit that the beautiful princess dresses form a large part of the initial appeal of ballroom dancing.
And then, if you are merely a beginner or a novice, you get landed into varsity competitions and told you cannot live out such a dream.
Aside from the debate about the subject, I have written this article with some advice and suggestions on how to feel like a dancer, look like a dancer and dance like a dancer through what you wear at competitions, despite IDVC restrictions.
Now before I get into any of the nitty-gritty, it’s very important to remember that the priority is always to wear something that you’re comfortable in. You don’t need to show enormous amounts of skin or wear tonnes of makeup to make rounds.
Equally, as we’ve probably all witnessed at comps, looking really good does not help you make rounds either. I’ve seen a fair few scruffy looking dancers make finals. However, looking presentable helps you feel confident, sexy and gets you into the spirit of dance.
To break everything down I’m going to split this into my three game-changers – bright colours/patterns, tan and partner. The first two sections will mostly apply to followers but the last will apply to leads too.
Bright colours and patterns:
When it comes to dress restrictions, colour is the one thing you have on your side. When sparkle and shimmer has been taken away, we must go back to basics. And while an all-black ensemble looks very neat and slick, it does not help you stand out on the dance floor.
When shopping for comp-wear I always stick by my ethos and try to find clothes second-hand before resorting to fast-fashion. However, high street brands and sites like Boohoo, New Look, HM, Missguided etc, have an endless supply of bodysuits in every colour you can think of.
I suggest going for a colour that reflects your personality. As most people who know me can guess, bright pink is my personal go-to and I express that through my hair colour. Remember to pick something that also compliments your skin-tone, and then – if you can – match your eyeshadow, eyeliner or lipstick to it.
Red is always a punchy colour choice, but very popular. Neon has been particularly trendy recently and I think this is a great option for dancewear. Neon orange or yellow, bright purple or vivid green are some fantastic colours to go for. White is also an extremely underrated but bold colour – especially when you’re are tanned...
Now, bodysuits are the easy part. Finding a skirt can be a little trickier. I think any bright coloured bodysuit pairs well with a plain black or white skirt, but if you can find a skirt that is the same colour that is fantastic because it’ll draw attention to you as you dance – particularly in latin.
To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what the precise restrictions are for patterns, however at Blackpool this year I noticed several couples wearing patterned skirts, and even a couple patterned jumpsuits. I wore a tiger-print dress for latin as restricted wear at Bristol Friendly this year and was not called out for it, so the suggestions below rest on what I have observed and not clarified rules.
For ballroom, I think a long floral, dotty or even animal-print skirt or dress is really eye-catching. Equally, as I have stated above, any long dress or skirt that is a bright colour is lovely too. Satin fabrics are particularly good at catching the light as you dance and add the illusion of shimmer when we’ve been denied glitter.
Animal print looks particularly nice for latin. It visually makes you look confident and sassy, despite how nervous you might feel before walking onto the dance floor. It may sound fickle, but I noticed a dramatic difference in my attitude and dance style when I wore animal print versus the usual black outfit I’d worn previously.
I’d attached below a PDF mood board of some perhaps more unique ideas for comp-wear as inspiration from what I’ve already said. If none of it appeals, that is totally understandable – my style and colour choices can be rather eccentric. All the items I found on the websites I sited above.
For those of you sat reading this and thinking ‘nooooooooo… please no’, all I have to say is I’m sorry, but it truly is a game-changer. My first competition, I didn’t tan. And even though when I looked in the mirror at home I thought to myself, ‘yeah I’ve definitely got a subtle olive/mediterrean vibe going on’, my French genetics proved totally useless on the dance floor.
The photos came back and I was completely, utterly, horrifyingly pale. I still stand by what I said before that you never want to do something you are not comfortable with – so if you do not like the idea of fake-tan don’t worry, it isn’t a deal-breaker. But if you’re wearing a bright colour as I suggested fake-tan will make it look even brighter and will make you stand out even more.
I think the real concept behind fake-tanning for comps is firstly because dance-floors can wash you out. But really, I think it’s more about the feel of the dance. Most latin dances originate from hot countries, the music itself is very summery and carnivalesque – especially samba and cha cha.
This may make me sound completely ridiculous, but when I dance cha cha, and I listen to authentic cha cha music, I imagine myself dancing on a warm evening in Spain after a day of lounging in the sun…
But essentially, all my daydreaming really just proves that being tanned not only helps your outfit pop, but it gets you into the mood and the flavour of the dance. It reminds you of where it all started: Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Spain…
And it doesn’t have to be an expensive or stressful ordeal. I know that horror-stories of going green - *cough cough* Kerris *cough cough* Beth– may put you off but if you plan your week right it won’t go wrong.
I use the St Moriz tanning mousse in dark which literally costs £5 from Superdrug, and my mitt was £2 from Primark. You could alternatively invest in a tanning mousse from a dance brand.
The beauty of tanning is, and here I quote our lovely president, every colour looks good on tanned skin. It just… pops!
For normal comps I just apply one coat and shower. To avoid turning into Shrek, if my comp is on Saturday, I’ll apply fake-tan on Thursday night, sleep in it and gently shower on Friday morning which can be up to 6-10 hours of development. This way you won’t sweat it off during Friday practice or smell like a wet digestive during Friday lectures. If you’re still not happy with the colour on Friday evening you can apply an extra coat before you go to bed and gently shower it off in the morning before the comp.
For Blackpool I did two/three coats of tan over 2 days. I have to admit, at first I looked at myself and thought it was borderline unethical how dark I looked, but the pictures that came out afterwards proved the point.
We always look so much paler on the dance floor than in real life.
Right, this is the final, and I think possibly the most important step for looking dead professional on comp days.
So, I’ve been rabbiting on about bright colours, but this applies to leads too. Orange skirt? Match with an orange tie. Navy blue ballroom dress? How about a navy blue waistcoat. Leopard print bodysuit? Contrast with an all-black shirt and tie combo.
Richard and Ralph in particular have done this consistently, matching their ties to their partner’s dress colour. Andrew, our treasurer, and Jenny wore a fabulously well-matched purple outfit for Bristol Friendly too.
For female leads, matching to our follower can also be extremely fun. There is a massive misconception that female leads must dress like a bloke in order to do well in comps. But as our much loved queen Kerris has shown us, female leads can dress in a very sexy, strong and feminine way without wearing a skirt.
Personally, I think all-black is the most sleek and neat looking combination. But it doesn’t have to be boring. Flared leggings are extremely flattering and get a bonus point for feeling like pyjamas. A high-neck bodysuit is a strong look and can have an elegant touch if it’s all-lace, or backless. A trend I have seen a lot of – and really like – is a statement asymmetric sleeve. Lydia, our secretary, wears a single puff-sleeved bodysuit and I think it’s a very sophisticated and unique look.
For female leads, match the pattern of your follower’s dress/skirt with a belt. You can buy coloured satin sashes, or even very thick ribbon, on Ebay for a couple of quid which you can tie around as a belt. You could even buy some thin ribbon in that same colour, make a bow and pin it above your bun in your hair. Earrings are also a great choice. You can find an endless amount of long tassel earrings in every colour on the spectrum on Depop to match too.
Another wonderful female lead in our society, Solly, has recently started making and selling coloured hair pieces. This is yet one more way to synchronise your outfit with your follower’s outfit.
All this, I believe, is particularly important for ballroom. There are many same-sex couples who have identical outfits, especially when they are the same height, however what I love about the lead outfits I’ve described above is that you can look very unique and feminine. You can personalise your outfit much more easily and be your own person within the couple.
Latin is definitely the time when identical outfits can look really good in same-sex partnerships – especially when the choreography of your routine is about symmetry. I would suggest going for very bold bright colours and a contrasting pattern, like a zebra print skirt with a pink bodysuit. I can guarantee you’ll stand out from the crowd. If you have a considerably large height difference and you wear the same outfit – as Solly once said to me – you might look like you’re taking your little sister to school.
But, for those with a height difference, to make your outfit a little bit spicier in latin than the prim and proper ballroom look, maybe try taking your hair out of the bun and into a slick ponytail. This is a trend that has catapulted in varsity competitions and I understand why. Having your ponytail to flick makes your body movement feel sharper, it can help with armography styling – it just makes you feel like a sass-queen!
The suggestions above, a coloured sash, statement earrings, even something like a stretchy headband – yet another easy find on Depop – could be reserved for latin in the afternoon to add colour to a slick all-black outfit.
It makes life easier for the lead, especially if male leads wear matching ties, for the followers to have the same colour in both ballroom and latin so that your lead doesn’t have to buy two different coloured ties. It also means you could use the same bodysuit for both dances and just change the skirt which is also more cost efficient.
For the boys, what I’ve seen a few times at competitions are silk-style shirts which can be a very nice look in latin. I saw one male lead in particular who wore a mustard silk/satin shirt which matched his follower’s mustard coloured skirt. I thought this was a really nice look because it made them look united as a couple and they stood out on the dancefloor.
Each of them had their own spicy and unique take to their outfit.
Matching yourself in some way to your partner is not about conformity, it’s about having your own identity within the partnership. Both of you need to stand out, leads should not feel they should have to dress plainly in favour of their follower.
It is nice to see partners who look like partners. It could be the smallest detail, the colour of a bow-tie or a pair of earrings, but to me it really makes a difference.
Wow, what a ramble. I apologise for how long this is, but if you’ve made it to the end and are now looking on Asos for a leopard-print skirt then I must have done something right.
As I said at the very beginning, these are only suggestions and by no means a route to dancing success. Everything in this article is of my own opinion. I just love fashion and clothes and day-dream about all sorts of different outfit combinations that will look good in competition – particularly during lockdown.
The most important takeaway of all this, though, is that you must wear something that makes you feel like a dancer. A happy dancer. And whether that’s something within your comfort-zone or outside of it is totally personal to you.
(here is the mood board, apologies it's on a google drive file because I didn't know how to make it an attachable PDF haha) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KPHkrtI_NNALQ9S5m9bzGuN4L-icAiur/view?usp=sharing