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Monday, November 28, 2016

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

Getting to wear outlandish, bright, sparkling costumes is by far one of my favorite parts of being a ballroom dancer. 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. Considering the price of costumes, it’s not that surprising that newcomers often get upset when they notice a few stones have fallen off after their first competition. 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 adornments after your first big performance in your new dress, it’s to be expected. I would be impressed and inquire about your glue preferences if you didn’t lose a few stones after each wear. DanceSport dresses are constructed using fairly fragile material. The fabrics are 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. The nature of DanceSport and our performances means that delicate decorations take a beating every time we wear them. Though you may think you’ve paid enough for this not to happen, the reality is there aren't industrial strength feathers that don’t shed or shape-shifting glue that doesn’t eventually crack, so expecting your dress to perform that way is unreasonable. Think about the stretching, rubbing, pulling, and general abuse your dress takes while you’re dancing. Plus, the dampness your dress might experience during an intense comp takes a toll on decorations. Taking all of that into consideration, imagine how a regular evening gown would perform under that type of pressure. Looking at it that way, losing 10 rhinestones or a few feathers doesn’t seem so bad.

Now you see the serious beat down we give our dresses every time we perform, it’s time to talk about who’s responsible for the 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. 

The materials used to make costumes are expensive. In my experience, designers don't actually mark the cost of materials up that much. Most of the "profit" in ballroom dresses is actually paying for the time to make the dresses. 
If designers offered free replacement services every time your stones came off they would put themselves out of business, because they 1) couldn't afford the materials and 2) would never have time to create new designs. That said, some designers will offer complimentary maintenance on their costumes for the first year. However, you to pay a premium for this service that’s built into the price of your dress. If you want a higher-maintenance design, most designers will do in-depth revitalization work on their designs after a few years. Of course it’s going to cost you, but it’s usually substantially cheaper than a new dress and it allows you to rework bits of your costume into something totally new.

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 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 going to be stuck doing stone replacement (which is easy and we’ve covered in a previous post) regardless of what design you decide. However, you can mediate how frequently need to do repairs by carefully choosing your design. 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.

You should go into your purchase understanding that your dress will need maintenance, have your designer create something that fits your needs. I also recommend asking your designer to send you a list of the stones he/she used in the design. This lessens the hassle when you need to order replacement stones. Most designers are happy to do this, as they also understand the fragile nature of DanceSport costumes. Some designers will even sell you the stones with your dress. 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. Replies
    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! =)