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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Price of Ballroom Dresses and What You Get for the Money

If you’re in the market for your first Ballroom or Latin dress, chances are you’re experiencing a bit of sticker shock. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction was something along the lines of “how the f**k am I supposed to afford lessons, entry fees, AND dresses?” Considering what often turns up when you do a quick Google search for ballroom/DanceSport dresses, this reaction is totally fair. And while options have expanded a bit since I first got into the sport, Google often turns up some fairly pricy options on the first few result pages (*cough* paid ads *cough cough*). In addition to these wildly-priced options there are a handful of budget-friendly choices, which while undeniably helpful, can also add to your confusion regarding how much a ballroom/Latin dress should cost. In other words, you may be wondering why that dress costs $7500, but this dress only costs $150? Or even more confusing: why does this bitch make me inquire for pricing? To be perfectly honest, if you’re new to the sport it’s damn difficult to figure out how much you should pay for a dress! While I’ll get into how much you should pay in an upcoming post, I want to first delve into what you should expect at various price ranges.

Since I assume all of my readers are clever and bright women (and men!), I hope you’ve at least figured out that the price variances are due, at least in part, to differences in quality. In fact, quality is one of the two biggest factors in determining the price of the dress (we’ll talk about #2 later). While there are some (very) limited exceptions, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to ballroom dresses, you generally get what you pay for. This means that you can’t reasonably buy a dress for $150-$300 and expect it to be just a nice as a dress that costs $3000. If you really expect that to be the case, we’re going to have to have a private “come back to reality” chat.

So what can you expect at each price range? Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty and take a look at what makes one dress cost $150 and another cost $7000:

Please keep in mind that the below expectations are based on price of a NEW ballroom/Latin dress.

As you might expect, dresses in this price range are generally exceptionally low quality. And while you may expect there to be significant quality variances between a $150 dress and a $500 dress, there aren’t; the price differences primarily come down to where you buy the dress. So what makes the dresses in this price bracket such low quality? Pretty much everything.
First and foremost, it’s important to know that in this price range the dresses are mass-produced, which means both the design quality and the craftsmanship are poor. Though most vendors in this price range advertise custom-made dresses, the reality is that you select a pre-designed dress, which is then tailored to your color and size specifications. In a sense, it is custom in that they’re making a dress to your exact measurements (though I’ve yet to see one that arrived and fit perfectly) and your color choices, but the dress is not designed just for you. In all honesty, despite differences in color most of these lower-end Asian-made dresses look exactly the same on the dance floor. This means that you’re almost 100% certain to see YOUR dress on someone else at the competition, especially if you don’t customize your color selections.

In addition to the fact that most dresses in this price bracket are pretty cookie-cutter and look the same, there are major issues with fabric and stone quality. To keep costs down, designers in this price range use the lowest-quality fabric available. I have a couple dresses from this price range (they were gifted to me, I did not buy them) and the fabric is often a different weight than what you get with higher-end dresses. In many cases, the fabric is thinner, which means it rips more easily, it’s often sheer, and it doesn’t provide any support. In contrast, I’ve also got one dress in this price range where the spandex is thick AF! While it certainly isn’t sheer and it does suck you in, the dress doesn’t breathe at all, which is a huge problem when you’re dancing. Perhaps most importantly, the lyrcra/spandex used on these dresses often pills, because it’s a looser weave, which means your dress ages more quickly. Likewise, these ‘designers’ often use synthetic fabrics rather than silks to create flowing pieces, which makes the designs too stiff. Further, the elastics that keep the dress attached to your body are often weak and start to denigrate after a couple of wears. Similarly, the fringe is low quality and often starting to fray from the moment it arrives. And feather decorations are made from chicken feathers rather than ostrich, and they typically aren’t attached well, which means they shed horrifically. 

Finally, the stones on these dresses aren’t crystal rhinestones at all! They’re plastic! Called ‘Korean stones’ these stones are poured glass or plastic (depending on the dressmaker) and they just don’t shine like real crystals (i.e. Preciosa, STAR BRIGHT, or Swarovski). Since the stones are arguably the most important part of your dress, this is a huge problem, since you just won’t shine as bright.

This price range is tougher to describe, because there are only 1-2 dressmakers that fit this category. Likewise, there’s a pretty significant amount of variance between what you get for $500 and what you get for $900+. In general, dresses closer to $500 you can expect to be similar to the above-discussed dresses from the lower price range. However, the craftsman ship from these dressmakers is typically superior to those described above. Further, you tend to get more unique designs in this price range. As you move into the $700+ range, you start getting into higher-end fabrics like those produced by Chrisanne-Clover and DSI. Of course, it’s important to double-check with the dressmaker to confirm exactly which fabrics they intend to use. As far as stones, dressmakers in this price bracket still tend to use Korean stones as their go-to for decorating, however, they’ll often use Preciosa for an upcharge, which pushes you into the $900-$1100 range. In general, I steer clear of dresses in this range, because it’s easy to be over-charged for poor quality.

In general, once you cross over the $1100ish threshold, you start getting into the top-quality designer dresses. And while I know it sounds like a lot of money, these dresses are well worth your investment! In all cases, dresses from the top designers (Doré, Elle, Designs to Shine, Chrisanne-Clover, DSI, MALY, VESA, etc.) are going to be made with high-end fabrics from the likes of Chrisanne-Clover and DSI. Likewise, top-end dresses are decorated exclusively with Swarovski crystals, which are the undisputed best stones in the industry. When you start getting into the price differences between a $1400 dress, a $3000 dress, and a $7000 dress, the differences are primarily based on where your designer is located and the decorations. In general, dress designers in the US tend to be more expensive than European designers, despite the quality remaining largely the same. That said, there are big price differences even between dresses from the same designer. For example, Doré Designs (US-based) has dresses ranging from $2500 to over $7000. The price differences between these designs are based on the amount of fabric, the number of stones, and the specific decorations (fringe, feathers, lace, etc.). That said, once you start working with a high-end DanceSport designer, the quality remains the same regardless of the price tag.

Hopefully this post has helped you sort out what type of dress you can expect to get at each price point. In my opinion, it’s worth saving up for a high-end dress, because the more budget-friendly options don’t tend to hold up and you’re likely to be disappointed by the quality and fit. That being said, you don’t have to pay top-dollar for a high-end dress, as there are numerous ways to get a top-quality dress while working with a budget. Keep a look out over the next couple of weeks for a few posts on budget-friendly costume options!

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