A little while after we hired our managing editor, Colleen, she told us that she used to be a competitive Irish dancer. I knew about Lord of the Dance and Riverdance, but I quickly discovered that was just the tip of the iceberg. She told us how she competed all around the world with it, and that there are different level competitions from Regionals to the World Championships (Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne). So, that was already pretty mind blowing, but then she got into the dresses…
Some of these dresses can start at over $1000. Their styles have changed dramatically over the years, from traditional to verge on pageant dresses. In just ten years families can spend over $20,000 on dresses in order to keep up with the changing styles. They are completely handmade, and for most of them, no two are exactly alike. It’s all about showing your individuality, and most importantly, getting noticed on stage.
Get an inside peek on The Crazy World of Irish Dance Dresses here…
The Crazy World of Irish Dance Dresses 1 of 11
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Photo credit: Torrey Lee Photography.
The School Dress 2 of 11
Traditional school dresses, like this Aniar Academy school dress, are a lot like uniforms. Most of the kids in the school have one and they all look identical. They are usually hand embroidered by parents within the school and take from traditional Celtic knotwork.
The Solo Dress 3 of 11
The bling starts with the solo dress. You typically get a solo dress when you start to move out of the beginner levels. They are completely custom made to fit the dancer and have totally unique designs. When the dancer starts to pick out her dress she will start with the fabrics she wants, then move to the design, and any extras. These dresses can usually fall around $1000, you better really be sure you want to dedicate yourself to this.
It All Started with Velvet 4 of 11
Solo costumes started to gain attention when they were made with velvet fabric and began to incorporate a hint of rhinestones. Velvet made sense if you lived in Ireland, but as Irish dance gained popularity around the world, many dancers couldn't quite handle the ten pound dress of velvet in the heat.
Moving to Sequence 5 of 11
That touch of bling caught on and soon you were seeing dresses that completely lost the velvet in exchange for sequence and lighter fabrics. Hand embroidery got the boot and larger Celtic knotwork appliquÃ© came in.
Colors and Flowers 6 of 11
It wasn't long before geometric shapes and patterns were taking over. They were easier to create, since the demand for dresses was becoming a lot higher. With simple patterns that could be recreated over and over, girls started changing up their dresses with flowers, ruffles, and bright neon colors.
The More Bling the Better 7 of 11
If you keep an eye out for what the most recent winners of the World Championships are wearing, you can usually spot the next trends based on their dresses.
Velvet and Tutus 8 of 11
Just as it goes with fashion, the Irish dance dress trend is drifting back to classic. You're seeing a whole lot more velvet, mixed with modern patterns. In the old solo costumes, girls typically had a three board panel skirt. This skirt was incredibly heavy, and have now been changed out for a tutu style with lots of frill. This makes for a lot lighter dress and doesn't have the boxy shape like the older style.
Surprise Inside 9 of 11
Many girls like to get a fun print on the inside of their dresses, and often have their dress come in two pieces so they can easily take off the velvet half while they wait to do their next dance.
Surprise Underneath 10 of 11
You will also see a fun print on the dresses that continue to use panel style skirt.
Taking it to the Stage 11 of 11
Here's a photo of Colleen competing in the dress above. Next up, let's talk about those wigs!
Jaime Morrison Curtis is author of the bestselling book Prudent Advice: Lessons for My Baby Daughter (A Life List for Every Woman), follow up fill-in journal My Prudent Advice, and founding co-editor at Pretty Prudent, the premier design and lifestyle blog providing inspiration and instruction to help anyone create beautiful things, food, and experiences for their friends and family. Follow Jaime on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.