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Monday, November 28, 2016

Dress Maintenance: How Much Durability Can you Reasonably Expect from Your Ballroom Costumes

One of the most important aspects of the ballroom look is having the right costume. Getting to wear outlandish, bright, and sparkling costumes is by far one of my favorite parts of being a ballroom dancer. And since having the right costume is such an integral part of my performance, I am happy to spend big to get exactly what I want. The reality of ballroom dance is that it’s an expensive sport and costumes are a large portion of that cost (unless you’re sponsored). Considering the price of a top-quality costume (which we’ll discuss soon), it’s not that surprising that newcomers often get upset when they notice a few stones have fallen off after their first competition. Unfortunately, however, that’s the reality of ballroom costumes and it’s a reality you’re going to have to learn to live with if you want to stay in the sport.

While it may be shocking to find a handful of missing stones or feathers after your first big ballroom performance with your new dress, it’s actually pretty common. In fact, I would be impressed and inquire about your glue preferences if you didn’t lose a few stones after each wear. The reality of dancesport dresses is that they’re constructed using fairly fragile material. The fabrics are often pretty sturdy, especially the lycra material that serves as the base for most dresses, but the decorations that make your dress uniquely yours are delicate. And the nature of dancesport and our over-the-top performances means these delicate decorations take a serious beating every time we take them out of the closet. While you may think you’ve paid enough for this not to happen and the costume must be poor quality, the reality is there’s no such thing as industrial strength feathers that don’t shed or shape-shifting glue that doesn’t eventually crack under pressure, so expecting your dress to perform that way is kind of unreasonable. Think about the stretching, rubbing, pulling, and general abuse your dress takes while you’re dancing. Not to mention the occasional dampness your dress might experience during an intense comp. Taking all of that into consideration, imagine how a regular evening gown would perform under that type of pressure. Looking at it that way losing10 rhinestones or a few feathers doesn’t seem so bad, right?

Now that we’ve discussed the serious beat down we give our dresses every time we perform, it’s time to talk about who’s responsible for making and paying for the small repairs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a newcomer exclaim “I paid (insert price here) for this dress, so I think (insert designer’s name here) needs to stand by their product and repair it for free!” I hate to break it to you, but that’s totally unreasonable, and here’s why:

First, there’s not that much markup in the price of decorations (i.e. stones, feathers, fringe), so by the time you account for the cost of materials and labor, dress designers aren’t making that much profit (unless you’re getting price gouged – more to come in a future post!) on the dress. If they offered free replacement services every time your stones came off they would put themselves out of business. Similarly, maintaining ballroom costumes is time consuming, so if designers repair costumes for every client every time a few stones or feathers fall off they wouldn’t have any time to create new designs. Finally, as the buyer it’s your responsibility to educate yourself on what you’re purchasing and make a decision that best fits your needs. You wouldn’t purchase a calfskin Chanel handbag and then complain to Chanel when your long nails scratch it, so the same applies with dancesport dresses. Know how much maintenance you want to do and select a dress accordingly. You’re pretty much going to be stuck doing stone replacement (which is easy and we’ve covered in a previous post) regardless of what design you decide, but some designs are more high maintenance than others.  For example, if you don’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars at some point in the future to replace feathers, don’t purchase a dress with a feather skirt. Similarly, if you don’t want to replace stones after every single competition, choose a design with less dense stone placement, so that it’s less obvious if you lose a patch of stones.

All this being said, some designers will offer complimentary maintenance on their costumes for the first year. However, you’re going to pay a premium for this service that’s built into the price of your dress. Likewise, many dressmakers are willing to do more in-depth revitalization work on their designs after a few years. Of course it’s going to cost you, but it’s usually substantially less than the price of a new dress and you can rework bits of your costume into something totally new, so the costume feels fresher.

If you want my advice, which I assume you do since you’re here, go into your purchase understanding that your dress will need maintenance and select a dress that fits your needs. I also recommend asking your designer to send you a list of the stones he/she used in the design, so you can replace them as they fall off. Most designers are happy to do this, as they also understand the fragile nature of dancesport costumes. Once you’ve got your list of stones, keep some Gem-Tac on hand and embrace your crafty side on occasion – believe it or not, dress maintenance can be oddly therapeutic. That said, I do advise leaving tricky stuff like feathers and fringe to the professionals.


  1. Love the way you write! Great blog =)

    1. Thanks so much, Carolina! I'm glad you're enjoying it! Please feel free to comment or email if you have any questions/suggestions for posts! I'm always looking for post inspiration! =)