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Dance Costumes: Buy Online, 'Off-the-Rack', or Custom Created

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Tue, Sep 03, 2019 @ 10:09 AM

Online ShopWe march forward with more and more options for online shopping. Traditional brick and mortar stores continue to fade away and disappear. Yes, many ‘big box’ stores are trying to hang on – some with success, some not. Unfortunately many small, mom-n-pop stores are going out of business, although some are surviving because of their internet presence.

Even though we still fear that our personal credit card information may be compromised, we, as a society, are shopping more and more online. It is a blessing and a curse!

An additional shopping option is to shop with vendors that set up at dance competitions and display their ‘off-the-rack’ options. These costumes are generally ‘one-of-a-kind’ and you should ‘buy if you like (if they fit)’.  If you don’t work with a local or national dance costume designer/manufacturer and you need to see a style rather than order from a sketch or idea, keep in mind that they may not duplicate their stock ‘off-the-rack’ items. However, they may be open to create something similar for you.

But when you order anything that involves fit considerations, you may still end up with needing minor or major alterations to ‘make it work’. Altering a completed competition dance costume that is already embellished with minute details, beading, appliques, and rhinestones, can be extremely difficult. It is much, much easier to alter a costume during the custom, creating process. Especially when you can get the fit right BEFORE adding the embellishments.

I’ll say it again: Ballroom and intricate studio competition dance costumes are VERY difficult to alter. Depending on the costume, some fit options may be relatively easy to do, but many seemingly simple things are in fact, very difficult and/or time-consuming to do. Someone who can shorten a pair of pants or make a quilt, may not have these special skills.

Additionally, when you are enlisting the skills of a costume alterations professional, you must keep your expectations realistic. Your costume alterations professional is the expert, who can inform you if your desires and expectations are realistic. Never assume that a specific alteration is ‘easy’ (and therefore do-able and inexpensive). Forcing spandex to lay perfectly flat, when performing all your technical dance moves is totally unrealistic. A ripple here or there is a reality.

Many dance costumes are created mainly with stretch fabrics. Stretch fabrics can ‘misbehave’ and are difficult for the amateur sewer to work with. Additional fabrics may not be stretch but can also ‘misbehave’ because they are also difficult to work with, with perfection. These fabrics include slippery satins, shifty chiffons and awkward organza.

Yes, ‘off-the-rack’ designs are generally less expensive than ordering a custom dress or costume to be made specifically for you. BUT, keep in mind that if it needs extensive alterations, you may be paying more. Bridal alterations establishments may have set rates for wedding gown alterations, but not set rates for dance costume alterations. Alteration pricing is based on the amount of labor-time that is involved in a procedure. And ripping things apart is more labor-intensive than sewing things back together. Ballpark estimates should be given on what a particular adjustment will price out for the labor-time.

With online costumes, you do not have the ability to try on, to see, to feel what you are getting.
‘Off-the-rack’ at a dance competition, you can see exactly what you are getting. Even if you do not purchase any one of these ‘off-the-rack’ costumes. Theoretically you can ‘see and feel’ what you might get if you order a similar dress to be made for you. Hopefully the vendor has a handle on sizing, so by trying on what you see on the rack, you hopefully will get ‘a leg up’ on getting a good fit.

The old adage: ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably IS too good to be true” should influence any online purchasing! We should all know by now, that just because something looks good in a photo in a Web Store, it may not be a true representation of what the garment really is. There is Photoshop and there are ways to pin a garment in the back to make it look good on the front.  It remains ‘buyer beware’ in all online purchases unless the very same item is available for viewing (such as at a vendor’s booth, set up at a competition).

Let’s face it…online buying has gotten easier and easier.  I internet-shop whenever I can for products that I am sure of, such as my favorite coffee and my favorite office supplies (yes, I have favorite office supplies!) and such.

But clothing is another animal – I am particular about the exact fit of a shoe or a garment, the construction of a shoe or garment and the feel of the materials that are used. Of course I’ve been obsessed with these features since I was a child, paving my path into getting educated in college about fashion and clothing design (I have a BFA in Fashion Design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) and my career as a fashion/costume designer.

Shopping for me, is a ‘touchy-feely’ expedition in addition to searching for a proper fit on my particular body. So, if the feel and fit (and drape) are important to you (they should be) you need to investigate the return policy of ALL online clothing and costume purchases.

Of course for dance costumes, you will find a multitude of options available online from around the globe. And pricing extends from extravagant to downright cheap. If cheap is what you want, you are ‘living the dream’ with so many options. But keep in mind what ‘cheap’ gets you. It generally gets you cheap fabrics and trims, cheap construction, and cheap fit. If you can afford cheap, then my advice is to be aware of return policies, in case you change your mind.

Also develop a relationship with any particular online costume purveyor – get to know what to expect from their quality and fit. The more you know about any product you consider buying, the less you will be disappointed.

Things to consider or look into, when considering ordering ready-made dance costumes online:

  • Thoroughly read the guarantees and options for returns, in case your costume order disappoints you in any way.
  • Be aware of where the costume is shipping from, and if it comes from overseas – how long is shipping time. And then consider the time it will take for any returns or exchanges.
  • Study the posted photos and descriptions to determine exactly what you are promised (do they post photos that are exactly the costume or sort of like the costume?)
  • Be aware of what different fashion/fabric/costume terms really mean, and figure out if the company is using those terms correctly.
  • How reputable is the online shopping site?
  • Does the company ever send out costumes ‘on approval’ with an easy return policy?
  • Does the company ever display or sell their costumes at an event, so you can actually see and feel their quality?
  • Are there any options for testing the company’s sizes? (There is NO standardization of sizing, by the way. Every manufacturer/company has different sizing.)
  • Do the size charts really represent what the sizes are, and how they fit?
  • Be aware of your actual measurements (not ‘hoped for’ measurements) when picking your size.
  • Try and figure out if the costumes are expected to fit tightly or not, and be aware of your preference of how you like something to fit.
  • Is the costume displayed on a person, on a dress form or just on a hanger? It is best to know what the measurements are, for the person or dress form displaying the costume.
  • Ask your peers if they have tried (successfully) ordering from a website you are considering. Did they have a good or bad experience?
  • Are there ratings or comments by customers? If there are, please read and determine if trying this company is a wise gamble. Be aware that there may be a negative comments that should be discounted. (We’ve all read restaurant and/or hotel comments that could have been posted by competitors or people with unrealistic expectations.)
  • Develop your imagination as to how to jazz up a lack-luster costume with adding some features or lots of additional glitz (everything looks better with more rhinestones, right?)
  • Have a plan B…have a talented alterations professional that you can call to ‘fix’ your costume. Or have another costume that you can wear instead, if your Online choice doesn’t work out.

Satin Stitches currently has a selection of basic styles in our Web Store, in addition to  fabulous ‘designed by our professional fashion/costume designer’ styles – check them out! We keep adding more styles all the time.

If you are local, we have generic Sizing Samples that you can try on to figure out what size works best for you. We offer SHORT, MEDIUM and LONG torso, sleeve and skirt/pant lengths. And if you are not local, this also might be an option for you (we ship across the country)!

We are also available for your custom needs, as well as being that talented alterations professional to help out with your custom or customizing needs. Other blogs and articles that would be helpful include:

Ten ‘Secret’ Undergarment/Foundation Alterations To Make Your Costumes And Gowns Fit Better
Taking Your Costume to ‘The Next Level’
Creating Danceable Holiday Looks
Shopping Online Dance Stores Versus in a Real Shop
Hot Costume Care Tip: Last Minute Sizing Alterations

©Deborah J. Nelson/ Head Designer and President of Satin Stitches Ltd.
(as published in Minnesota Dancer Magazine September 2019)

Tags: Minnesota Dancer Magazine, Ballroom Dancing


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