Ballroom Dress Rental: A User’s Guide

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Ballroom Dance Dresses.

Ballroom Dance Dresses who — wait, are you kidding me? You cost HOW much? Bwahahahahahaha, NOPE.

(just a joke I hear a lot)

This beauty is a stunning and different ballroom (Standard) gown.

This beauty is a stunning ballroom (Standard) gown. She can be yours for only $3600. (Which is a very fair price.) Dramatic Jewel available at Vanda Dance

Love ballroom dancing but dismayed to find that you can get a used car for the price of a competition or performance dress?*

Thought about gluing rhinestones to crap you already have?

Considered buying a knockoff dress from some shady dressmaker in Hong Kong through EBay?

Honey, we’ve all been there. Don’t feel bad.

Fortunately for dancers ladies**, the world of insanely expensive dresses has experienced a slight improvement in recent years, and that is the emergence of the RENT-A-DRESS. (It’ll pick you up! Hopefully. If the bodysuit fits well.)

So now, rather than spending two grand on a dress you love but might wear three times a year, you can spend two hundred to five hundred dollars to rent a gently-used fancy gown that only a few other ladies have sweated their fake tan into will look great on you.

I’m a huge advocate of ballroom dress rental. Firstly, it’s a super cost-effective way of getting out on the floor in something that makes you look like you belong there, without sinking tons of dough into a dress.

It also lets you change it up a lot more than you would if you had purchased a dress – so if your body changes, or you dance different material, or you dye your hair a really fun shade of fuschia, you aren’t locked into a dress. Plus it’s fun.

* Seriously. On Craigslist right now I could get a pretty solid early 2000s Lincoln Navigator, a tow truck bed, a super nice 2003 Ford Focus, or a creepy 1998 white van to commit all my serial killings in. Each for $3600.

**and honestly, how much does it suck that this is exclusively a lady problem? Dudes can just buy whatever they need and go to town. No big deal. I swear to God, once my partner bought an entire competition outfit AT THE COMP the day we were dancing and had the seller hem the pants. Good to go. About $800 – WITH new shoes! Jesus.

So! Let’s get started! How do you rent a dress?

STEP ONE – Open up a bunch of browser tabs

That’s right, this is an entirely online experience. So get thee to a rental website. I recommend the following (basically in order of my own personal, for-whatever-it’s-worth preference):

  1. Encore Ballroom Couture – I love these guys. Beautiful top end dresses that look up to date and are in great condition, fabulous photos, easy to use, and great service. For my money, they have the top-end-iest dresses (their European collection makes me drool). Not cheap, but worth it. And they have the option to buy many of the dresses.
  2. Vanda Dance – a new venture from Ballroom champ Victor Fung and family (I have a suspicion that the name is V&A, as in Victor and Anastasia, his lovely dance parter and fiancée). They are the nicest folks, and although I haven’t used the rental service yet, I’m planning to! They operate out of Orange County which is super convenient for me, and I have seen the kinds of dresses they rent hanging around (har har har, hanging around) their studio many times. As soon as I’ve rented from them I’ll let you know, but I am confidently recommending them to my own students. You can rent or buy virtually all the dresses, AND they rent accessories! Super cool.
  3. RentBallroomDresses.com – a huge selection. Worth it when you can’t find anything that looks good or that you like. I’ve also found that they have a wider range of dresses for ladies who need a larger size or who want more coverage than you get with a spandex handkerchief and 2394829384902834 rhinestones. Dina, the owner, is a pro-am dancer who wanted more options, and her business partner designs all the “Mimi G” dresses. I’ve had great success having students rent from them in the past, and their customer service has always been just epic.
  4. Rhinestone Dress Rentals – these guys almost didn’t make the list, but I checked them again and they’ve upped their game. They used to have a pretty sad selection but I see a lot more options from actual dress designers, but I’d still go with one of the top three unless you really can’t find anything.
  5. Rhythmic Rentals – I’ve never used them; haven’t ever found anything that I was crazy about. I don’t know about their customer service.

STEP TWO – Go shopping!

But, but, but…what do I pick? Well, first off, narrow it down by style. Are you doing Latin, Smooth, Rhythm, Ballroom, or something else? (If you don’t know, ask your teacher.)

LATIN/RHYTHM

There’s no real difference between Latin and Rhythm costumes. Not really. The big question is, what are you comfortable wearing, and what will enhance or detract from your movement quality? Here are some general guidelines that I’ve found from my own personal experience of looking at people wearing dresses AND trying on a bunch of dresses over the years and going, huh…well, that’s appalling. Please don’t take it personally and don’t believe me too much.

  • Long skirts work for long legs. Shorter skirts work better for shorter legs (which I am the proud owner of).
  • Butt ruffles are rarely a good idea.
  • Midriff-baring costumes require a high degree of confidence in your midriff and the ability to contain your core pretty much 110% of the time.
  • Bare arms are not as bad as you think.
  • Long fringe makes you look slow, short fringe makes you look fast.
  • Big pouffy skirts also make you look slow.
  • Asymmetrical hems can be pretty cool.
  • Unless you’re Yulia in this actual routine, don’t wear fringe pants.

Okay! So you’re looking at what appear to be a bunch of swimsuits with flappy bits and rhinestones sewn on. What size should you get?

Well, ballroom dresses are actually pretty forgiving in the size department. Usually they’ll stretch a good two, sometimes three sizes in either direction. So if, for example, you wear a size 12, you could probably order a medium or a large, or anything in the 8-14 range. (In fact, many sites will give you a range of possible sizes.) It will depend a lot on the dress – sometimes you can get away with a totally ludicrous size, sometimes not. It’s worth emailing the rental site if there’s a dress you love and asking how much flexibility you have. I have done that many times – and they’re usually very forthcoming and honest. They want you to find a dress that fits as much as you do!

The other consideration is cup size, since costumes have built in bodysuits. Not a big surprise here, but if you are boobs-lite, you can order whatever you want. If you are boobs-classic, pay a lot more attention to the cup size indications. Sometimes it may be possible to wear an additional bra underneath your costume, if it’s a really closed in design, but I don’t recommend it. It adds lines and creases and bulk. A well-fitting bodysuit should give you enough support – and I say that having helped many ladies of very generous bosom select dresses.

STANDARD/SMOOTH

To float or not to float? That is the question —

Whether ’tis nobler in the arms to flutter

The chiffon and shine of outrageous ballroom,

Or to take arms as yet by man unfetter’d,

And not, by choreography, get stuck to your partner.

(It’s a work in progress. It was good up to the end there…)

So, yeah, the big difference between Standard and Smooth gowns is, you guessed it, FLOATS. That’s the name for the extra drapey fabric dangling from your arms in a Standard dress – because you’re in closed position for your entire dance, it’s not a problem. But because Smooth can open up, you can just imagine the infinite ways to have costume fails.

Rare anymore are the dresses with full attached floats (like the one above). Instead, most dresses now have removable floats or armbands that you can wear or not wear, so it isn’t a huge deal. Beyond that, Standard dresses tend to have fuller skirts with more layers (more classic ballgown-y) and Smooth dresses tend to be closer to the body and to be sexier (because of all that on-your-own shimmying you do).

The big consideration on Smooth or Standard dresses, besides sizing, is length. You don’t want the hem of your dress dragging on the floor, or up around your calves. Dresses should fall to the top of the foot at their longest – you want them to graze your shoe tops but not to touch the floor. (The judges will have a hard time judging your footwork if they can’t see it, and you’ll step all over the hem and rip it out.) Sometimes the dress site will tell you, other times not. If you’re tall or short (basically outside the 5’3″-5’8″ zone), email before you rent and verify that the dresses you have selected will work for your body.

Okay! So you’ve picked out some dresses! Yay! On to…

STEP THREE – Try that bad boy on

Usually renters will allow you to request one to three dresses for try-on at a time. There’s typically a fee for this, as well as shipping, but honey, it’s WORTH IT. Read the rental agreement at each site to make sure you get the picture, and be aware that you must return the dress undamaged and unaltered. No pinning or hemming or anything. A stone or two might fall off, no big deal, but it better look exactly like it did when you got it.

When your Big Box O’ Dresses arrives, it will be heavy. The dresses will be shoved into bags inside that box, and you’ll think, that seems like a totally crazy way to store them…until you try to fold one. Then you will understand.

Try on your selections with your dance shoes, and a friend. A friend who really likes you. A Dress Buddy.

If everything you ordered looks like total dog vomit, then join the club! That happens a lot! Good thing you did not buy any of these dresses! Ha ha, dresses, you are stupid and now you are going back to dress jail.

STEP FOUR – Find a winner

When you’ve found a dress you like, send it back to the renter and request the rental for whatever future date you’ll need. Obviously, dresses are hard to come by around big competition dates, so if you want something for Emerald or the Ohio Star Ball, think ahead and reserve that dress well in advance. For studio showcases or smaller comps that don’t fall during major events, you should have less trouble.

Typically you’ll get a dress for three to five days, which should cover the getting it, wearing it, and shipping it back. If for some reason you need longer, contact the renter and explain your special circumstances. Again, the same rules apply – don’t damage, stain, alter, or otherwise screw up the dress. If you do, they will happily charge you the full amount and you will own it, which totally defeats the purpose of this whole renting scheme in the first place.

If you DO end up loving your dress, and can’t imagine your life without it, contact the renter to see if you can buy it. Usually, if it is for sale, they will apply the rental and try-on costs (less shipping) towards the purchase of the dress. And when you want to change it up, you may be able to consign it right back to them.

So there you have it! Go forth and rent, my lovelies – and tell me in the comments about your dress renting experiences! (Or disasters. Or ask questions. Or WHATEVER, it is open season down there.)

polar express

Please don’t buy this dress, because I love it and someday it will be MINE. (Polar Express at Encore Ballroom Couture)

Related: The ALOD Guide to Ballroom Practicewear

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4 thoughts on “Ballroom Dress Rental: A User’s Guide

  1. Sylvie says:

    Sort of a tangent, but there’s at least one more example out there of good use of fringe pants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQplSlQ0pfY

  2. “Butt ruffles are rarely a good idea.”

    …. *damn*.

  3. Margo Badman says:

    Hello There,
    I came across your blog and this post and first wanted to say kudos to you on the great information here! You really did a great job at providing a detailed, step by step guide to renting ballroom dresses. It can definitely be an overwhelming process for beginning renters, and you provided a lot of information that is incredibly helpful and not usually discussed in other similar articles that I have read.
    In addition to telling you what a great job you did, I also wanted to make another suggestion for you to consider in your list of ballroom dress rental websites. Though it may be new to you, being that it’s a fairly new website, Classic Ballroom Elegance is another dress rental website that is new to the scene. They have been on the internet since this Summer, 2014 and have been in business since 2011 operating just locally.
    My name is Margo, and I am actually the manager for Classic Ballroom Elegance. To tell you a little bit about us: We do offer dresses for both rent & sale, as well as take dresses on consignment. Being a new company, I know that many are very cautious (as they should be). There are lots of people out there that are renting and selling dresses, but the dresses that arrive don’t end up being what they were claimed to be. Or new dancers that get fooled into renting or buying the dresses that are made by the mass, by the unknown foreign designers, and are made with the Korean Stones and not Swarovski. So I can understand the apprehension with new companies that you may not know much about.
    So here is a little more information about us at Classic Ballroom Elegance. First, we are both dancers ourselves. We are mother and daughter. My mother, Cindy Brinkmeyer is the owner and then as I mentioned, my name is Margo Badman and I am the manager. Both of us have been actively involved in dance, in some form or another for our entire lives: From Ballet, Tap and Jazz to Ballroom and from Performing and Competing to Teaching, Choreographing and Owning and Working In Dance Studios. But enough about us; what about the dresses?
    First, all of the dresses in our inventory are made only by high quality designers. Most of our inventory of dresses are made by only the very top designers! We have a very great working relationship with many of the designers, as well as many sponsored professional couples. Therefore, a large number of our dresses come either straight from the designer or from a professional. For example, we work a lot with Dawn Smart from Dore Designs. This can be seen when looking through our inventory on our website, as about 75% of the dresses are Dore’. They are also really great in supporting us! This can be seen by visiting our Facebook Page and noticing all of the times our posts mentioning Dore’ get a like or share from them. (www.facebook.com/cberentals)
    We are also based in Scottsdale, Arizona only a few blocks away from Julia Gorchakova’s “Artistry In Motion.” As well as the home of “Randall Designs”, here in Phoenix, Arizona.
    Julia is wonderful and always helping us out. Whether it’s needed bra cups and swarovski stones one day, to dress alterations another day or even making the youth dresses for our little ballroom dancer, “Maxie.” Maxie is Cindy’s daughter, my little sister, and a great help here around Classic Ballroom Elegance. Maybe even an aspiring dress designer herself, as she is always putting together different looks on our mannequins.
    In addition to our inventory of dresses, you can also find a ton of other fun or informative stuff on our website. From Hair and Make-up Tips, Tanning Tips, Competition Packing Lists to our most recent interview with the lovely *Julia Gorchakova. If you like Julia Gorchakova and Bob Powers, you should definitely take a look at this interview. We got a really great story from Julia on how her and Bob came to know each other and then dance with each other.
    Classic Ballroom Elegance may be new, we may not be as well known as some of the other rental websites yet, but we are definitely gaining some popularity fast….especially on Facebook. Right now our inventory is smaller in comparison to some of the other rental companies. But we are constantly going to be growing and adding dresses. We just purchased three more dresses from Dore’ yesterday that will be up on the website in the coming month. As we continue to grow we also plan to be adding a VIP section, a showcase dress section, youth and junior dress sections and practice wear for purchase. Also coming very soon will be accessories for an add on with your dress rental!
    So again, I wanted to say really great job with this post and I love your blog!
    Consider checking out Classic Ballroom Elegance and see what you think!
    We always love to hear feedback!

    – Our website is: http://www.cberentals.com
    – Dress Sections At: http://www.cberentals.com/ballroom-dance-dresses.html
    – *Julia Gorchakova Interview: http://www.cberentals.com/julia-gorchakova-1214.html
    – On Facebook At: http://www.facebook.com/cberentals

    Thanks So Much!
    See You On The Dance Floor!

    Cha-cha-cha,
    Margo Badman
    Classic Ballroom Elegance LLC
    margo@cberentals.com
    http://www.cberentals.com
    480-584-6513

Cha cha cha.

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