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Buyer’s Guide To Irish Dance Dresses

caraCara Sutherland is an Open Champion dancer from Cleveland, Ohio, USA. She is currently studying Exercise Science and is involved with the Performing Arts at John Carroll University.

I bought my very first solo dress at a feis for $200 and wore it later that day. In the ten years since then, much has changed for the purchase and exchange of Irish dancing dresses. It became much easier and faster to make custom dresses. As a result, there are many more used dresses currently for sale than in the past. The market has become fully globalized due to the Internet and popularity of resale sites like Whether you are a first time buyer or seasoned shopper, here are some tips to getting you into the dress of your dreams!

Begin thinking about what colors and styles you like.

The best part about a solo costume is that it is a chance to showcase your individuality! It is completely one-of-a-kind and should complement your style of dancing—like elegant or fierce. I look for style trends from the websites of top designers and photos from major championships. A designer once told me the looks created for Worlds remain trendy for about two years.

Remember, styles work on some dancers better than others. If you have difficulty keeping your arms back, avoid dresses that draw attention with cuffs or contrasting colored sleeves. Also think about colors that work well with your skin tone and hair. For example, if you have very pinkish fair skin, reds and light colors might wash you out on stage.

Refer to your teachers too, because they will have ideas about colors and styles they would like on you.

Plan a budget.

It’s always been a fact that Irish dance solo costumes can be very expensive—but they can also be completely worth it! Discuss a budget with the person who will be paying for the costume before you begin looking. Be prepared to spend over the “budget” if necessary.

Custom dresses can cost as much as you are willing to spend depending on the size, deadline, and materials, so be upfront with a designer about the price. Crystals and embroidery are the most costly part of a dress. Dressmakers usually buy the crystals in bulk to get a discount, but will have to spend hours of labor applying thousands of crystals on a dress. I asked some of my dressmakers to add crystals up to a certain price, starting with large ones, and then I ordered many of the smaller crystals online and added them myself.

Anticipate when you will need the dress.

My most regrettable dress purchase was when I experienced a growth spurt before a feis. I felt rushed into making a decision and chose one of the first dresses I saw. It’s very advantageous to anticipate when you are starting to outgrow a costume so you’ll have time to shop around or even make plans to borrow from a friend if nothing suits your fancy right away.

Dress designers need a great deal of notice to meet the demands of their clients. Place an order or put down a deposit as soon as you know you’ll be working with a custom dressmaker to best ensure they’ll complete the costume by your deadline.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

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