Category Archives: Jewelry

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

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Accessorize! Making Armbands and Stoning Tips

So here’s the second installment of the costuming post. My Latin dress looks like this, and it’s pretty rad: 

The body of the dress is covered in slung sequin fringe (basically fringes of different length in red and holographic orange made out of sequins). It’s crazy fun to dance in, because the movement is insane, and it makes cool noises. I was dance testing it the other night at the studio and when I was walking back to the teachers’ room to change, one of my co-workers said, “it’s like applause every time you move!” SO TRUE. And who doesn’t want to take their own applause with them?

I bought it used off the interwebs, and it’s been an interesting reclamation project. When it showed up, it was definitely a fixer-upper (and hence cheap, which is why I could afford it!) – there’s a funky sort of nude panel on the left hip that wasn’t fringed, but just left open. I suppose it might look cool on the right person, but it looked weird on me. Clearly it looked weird on the last girl, too, because she had hot-glued these giant orange bird of paradise fake flowers on the hip? It was a very strange choice, and the ass flowers did not enhance anything. The side cutout was also too high in the waist (granny panties height) and the minimal stoning on the dress was cheap plastic shit.

So after I ripped off the ass flowers and most of the cheap-o stones, I sent it to a costume alterations house to be recut (because you have to know how to keep correct tension in the bodysuit as you do it, and you have to be able to sew the right kind of elastic – far beyond my present skill level). But I did the cosmetic alterations myself, including:

  1. adding new fringes and filling in that strange open hip situation (friends, I just typed ‘open hippo’ by mistake which is awesome; the idea of a sparkly fringe-y ballroom dancing hippo reminds me of the hippos in Fantasia who were my FAVORITE*)
  2. Pulling off the ugly cheap plastic “stones” and re-rhinestoning in the only acceptable choice, Swarovski
  3. ACCESSORIZING!
I mostly want to talk about #3, since you can save yourself a LOT of money if you know how to make your own ballroom jewelry and accessories. Last time we talked about how to do those fancy rhinestone bracelets you see all over the place; today we’ll talk about how to do armbands.
Like basically every Latin costume ever (and a lot of the smooth ones, too) comes with armbands. They’re super easy to make – exactly the same premise as costume straps, just with wider elastic and stoning.

Anastasia Trutneva rocking some armbands.

First, go ahead and sew a long piece of one inch elastic inside a lycra casing that matches your dress. (Don’t know how to do that? Learn here!)
Figure out how much you’ll need and then just add like six inches and do the whole damn thing at once, it saves time. After you’ve got your big giant lycra elastic snake, feel good about yourself for a minute. You did it! Yay for you!
Okay, now GET REAL. This is where there is high potential for you to fuck it all up.

Figure out how many armbands you want – I did three. An upper arm, an elbow, and a wrist (the wrist one being essentially a bracelet that does not move). It is important that you figure out how tight to make them: tight enough so that they stay in place when you dance and don’t move BUT not so tight that they cut into your arm and make it look weird and lumpy. Not even rhinestones will fix that.

The way I did it was to guess as closely as I could, leave an extra inch of elastic or so, cut the piece off from the snake, and then just futzed with it on my arm until it stopped looking weird. This is SCIENCE, people. It is SUPER precise. Even with all the futzing, my elbow one still sometimes slipped. But fortunately this costs you like six bucks so if you totally blow it or you need to make different sized ones later, it’s not the end of the world.

When you have the circumference of your arms figured out properly, pin those bitches and then sew them closed. I decided to sew the upper arm and elbow ones closed completely, but to put a hook-and-eye closure on the wrist one. It doesn’t make any difference – I could have sewn that one shut too. But don’t hook and eye the bigger ones; if you need to make them open and closeable, use velcro. (I’ll probably do that next time anyway, since it gives you more flexibility on the sizing. But I was concerned that my stupid dress would get stuck to the velcro, so. We all make life choices.)

Next step, try not to be a huge idiot and sew your hook and eye on backwards.

Oops, is it too late for that?

Well, I guess you can try just leaving it and hoping.

No? That didn’t work? It flew off your stupid arm every time you extended it? Well, then, dumbass, looks like you better re-do it the right way.

Once you’ve done that, stone the shit out of those armbands. You will lose a little elasticity with the stoning, but not too much. If you’re super concerned, stretch it out as you stone and then release it to dry.

I elected not to stone them solid because I felt like it would be too much and take too long and I would run out of stones and I did NOT want to go back to the fashion district and buy more. So I did mine like this:

Then, of course, after they were dry I was like, needs more stones! And I went back and glued more on. Which was obviously the right decision.

And that’s it, really! Not tough – the hardest part with these bitches is sizing them correctly so they don’t look stupid.

* NB the ballet hippos from Fantasia are a future post for sure; it turns out there is all SORTS of interesting shit to be said about them.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Accessorize! How to Make Ballroom Jewelry, Part One

As promised, here’s the next installment on costuming, as I learn to replicate expensive ballroom costume crap in the comfort and fabric-scrap-strewn luxury of my kitchen. Last time, we looked at how to make the straps that hold costumes together – today, it’s bracelets and armbands!

An essential component of any costume is bling. You have to accessorize your dress, or it looks half finished. The costume department on Dancing With The Stars has buckets of them so Karina can stack them up her tiny arms every week.

Trouble is, those accessories can end up costing as much as the dress – mostly because high quality Swarovski rhinestones are expensive, and gluing those little bastards onto things is a time intensive process.

At my most recent competition, I checked the price on regular bangle bracelets with a couple vendors, and the average market price these days is about $50-$60 per bracelet. That seemed pretty steep to me, so I decided to try making my own. I already had to make armbands for my Latin costume, so what the hell, right? I had taken the time to check out the bracelets and it seemed like it was just lycra wrapped around a stiff material to give the thing structure, and then stoned.

I decided to use 1/2 in plastic dress boning (hur, hur, BONING) as the stiff material (I know, I know). I cut it to size in strips and then ran a line of glue down the center of the boning strip so that when I rolled the lycra around it, it would stay put. I did the first one with E6000, but that was a little too much firepower, so for the second bracelet I used Gemtac and that was fine. I only needed enough glue to hold the fabric in place for a bit while I wrapped the lycra, not enough to permanently secure it through the zombie apocalypse.

I hand-sewed through the lycra and the boning along the inside of the strip, just to make sure that it stayed attached.

After I ran the stitches all the way down the strip, I cut off the extra lycra and figured out how to make the strip into a circle.

The first thing I tried was just joining the ends together and whip stitching it closed. But that did not work at all because the boning sat in a teardrop shape instead of the circle that I wanted. So I pulled it all out and figured that I needed to have some overlap of the two ends in order for the circle to stay intact once I sewed it shut.

I overlapped the two ends about 1/4 of an inch and hand sewed (hand shoved my needle – that was a lot of crap to sew through!) the thing closed, which ended up giving me a pretty satisfactory circle. I tried to keep everything as tacked down as possible so that when I was ready to stone the bracelet, there wouldn’t be any extra fabric or thread or loose ends of things fouling up my stoning.

Then I stoned it with Swarovski – I ran a line of Crystal AB 20ss down the center and filled it out with Crystal AB 16ss on either side, which fit just about perfectly. The 20ss go much faster, but the 16ss give more sparkle, and also I had more of them, so that’s what happened.

I’m really happy with the way they came out – they look exactly like the ones the vendors sell (except that mine are slightly different colored lycra and the stoning is better). And God knows I saved some money! It literally came out to about ten percent of the cost. If I had more ambition, I would do some bracelets and sell them. Maybe a summer project?

Total cost for 2 bracelets – $11.95 (versus $110.00)

4 way stretch lycra – $1.05

Plastic boning (ha!) – $0.40

Gemtac, stones, thread – $10.50

Total time – about three hours (but only because I was learning – the second bracelet I did in about an hour start to finish)

The finished product, shown here with Latin fingers so you get the full effect. (You will also note that I have not one but two different kinds of fake tan in the background – that’s ballroom for you, baby. You can also see the plastic boning strips in their raw form on the left – they worked really well, and I have a giant roll of the stuff that only cost $20. It would probably make about 23948290384023 bracelets.)

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,