My Opinion on “Age Appropriate” Costuming

© Deborah J. Nelson/Satin Stitches Ltd.

What do we all see on dancers these days?  In studio competitions we still see lots and lots of skin.  Is this a good thing?

Every studio wants to present themselves as being very CURRENT, when it comes to their music, choreography and costuming.  But is being current always the best thing?

Fun, entertaining group - BUT their costuming is NOT suitable for your under-18 dancers!

Is following the crowd, always the best thing?  Leading the crowd takes more effort and self-confidence.  But you need to lead in a good direction.

All the latest music videos continue to showcase skimpy costumes, or suggestive costumes and/or very sexy costumes.  I just enjoyed the E Network show “The Making of the Pussycat Dolls”.  They are a very slick, entertaining group.  I enjoy their music, their videos AND their costuming. But is emulating this look suitable for your impressionable teens, tweens and younger kids?

Miley Cyrus has gotten herself into a controversy over her photo shoot and spread in a popular fashion magazine.  She was photographed in what some view, as semi-pornographic poses.  Well, I personally do not feel that they went that far.  But just the same, she has been touting herself a role model for younger girls.  This may have been a lapse in judgement.  OK, who was responsible?  Was it herself?  Was she asked if she wanted to pose nude, clutching a sheet?  Who suggested this pose?  Was it the photographer, the magazine stylist?  Was there any supervision by others at the shoot?  Where were her parents?  I just read, recently, that her parents did OK all the photographs.  OK, what were THEY thinking?

Was the whole thing a calculated plan on her part (or her manager or agent) to propel her into the interest level of older fans?

What can we learn from this little episode? Do you want your young dancers to be seen in a similar light?  Or do you choose age appropriate costumes for them to wear?

Ask yourself, will their grandparents be embarrassed when they come to their granddaughter’s competition or recital?  How do you think the parents will react?  Of course I realize that many parents condone the sexy little outfits for their darling little girls.  Again, does this make it correct?

More conservative and modest costuming can be done, and still have an end result not look dowdy.  It may take a little more creativity, though.  But I think it is definitely worth it.

What is my take on what is age appropriate?  Here goes!

The very youngest dancers should be cute and cuddly.  They are just learning, and when they take the stage, everyone loves them, especially Mom, Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa.

Preadolescent kids should not be using music, dance moves or costumes that suggest anything other than fun dance themes.  Costumes should not include backless garments.  There is no need to show midriffs either.  Girls with any baby fat do not need to feel uncomfortable, just because the thin girls want to look like their older sisters. Nothing suggestive of lingerie is appropriate.

Adolescent girls are probably the most difficult to say no to, for suggestive costumes.  Again, they see their older sisters in skimpy costumes, along with suggestive street clothes.  It seems that skimpy tank tops that show bra-straps continues to be popular, and the norm. High-waisted pants have not yet been embraced by most teens, even though that is what is being shown on the runways.  And showing cleavage is still embraced on television as seemingly appropriate for the office and the classroom.

Low-rise pants or skirts can become a problem.  Not allowing bare midriffs can alleviate this issue.  On the other end of bottoms, do not allow the shorts to become too short either.  Just because the NFL cheerleaders in your hometown have their boy-shorts cut a little cheeky, does not mean it is a good thing on your youngsters.  High-cut or French-cut leotards or briefs are not the best plan either.  The key is moderate or modestly cut boy-shorts or leotards.

Do I suggest that our teenage daughters start sewing those lovely homemade frocks that the Morman cult women are wearing?  Absolutely not!  But let’s try and add a little modesty where we can, OK?

My opinion is this: There should be no cleavage visible for any high school female dancer, in any dance costume.  I am aware that flat or moderately endowed dancers may not have a problem with most costumes.  BUT what you fail to see, is when you have a larger busted dancer, you need to make sure that she still looks modest.  If you choose a costume design that does not take into account, all your dancers bust sizes, you cannot just simply close your eyes to the results.  Number one, larger busted girls have the right to be modestly covered, especially to not be visually singled out.  And number two, large busted girls need to have a costume where they can use a supportive bra to keep them from bouncing, as this is both visually distracting, and MOST importantly, it is very bad for the bustline.

Does this mean, stay away from open backs?  You’re darn right!  Come on.  I have heard it over and over again, that an open backed dance costume is more beautiful and a closed back.  OK, fine, maybe it is, maybe it is not.  But when you have open backs on underage girls, sorry, you open up a big problem, especially with your larger busted dancers.

When girls are 18 and graduated from high school, it becomes their own responsibility to dress appropriately at the workplace, at college, out with friends during the day, and out in the evening.  They are seen as adults in the world.  Parents are no longer responsible for their actions, even though we certainly still worry that they make the right choices.

One really big issue, when you are discussing age appropriate costumes, is that FIT is a part of the equation.  A properly fitting garment can took tasteful, when the same garment worn way-to-tight, can look inappropriate or overtly sexual.  So please make sure that you are not creating little Lolitas, by sizing your costumes wrong.  Make sure that if you have a bigger, more developed girl, among your preadolescent dancers, you are not creating a more adult visual, simply because you did not choose a correctly fitting costume for her. Early developing girls feel awkward enough, do not make it worse, by trying to have them squeeze into a Large Child size rather than the adult size that they now are.

To recap, here are my suggestions for keeping all of your dance costumes Age Appropriate:

Do not use adult themed costumes such as lingerie

Do not show cleavage, on ANY girls

Do not use bare backs, if it means that there is no bustline support for girls who need it

Do not try to fit girls into too-small costumes

Do not use bare midriffs

Do not allow low-rise pants or skirts

Do not allow shorts or leotards that are cut too high

If your favorite catalog company does not carry suitable costumes for your dancers, maybe it is time to either switch to a company that does, or better yet, DEMAND, or at least strongly suggest that you would order more costumes from them, if they adapted their styles to be a little bit more modest.  All companies listen to what their customers are saying.  If you do not speak up, you will never be heard.  Maybe other studios feel the same way about the cut of certain styles, but assume that nothing can be done.  If no one speaks up, nothing will change.

At my company, Satin Stitches, we do not have a catalog of set styles, so we are able to create costumes that are as modest or as risqué as our clients wish.  And we do create some very risqué, but they are for adults, NOT young teenagers.  And because we work with many high school dance teams across the country, we need to be very creative with modest costumes, as most schools today require a level of modesty that is not seen in the studio world.

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