Dance fashion for the “mature” dancer

Drat, missed the deadline for Circle Time AGAIN!?!

No matter, I still like writing responses to the topic as my own personal challenge.

And I’ll admit that when I saw the October topic — Wardrobe Wisdom (dance costume or dance fashion tips/ideas) — I was a bit lost as to where to begin. I’m not sure that I’m the right person to be giving fashion advice. Nevertheless… I’ll give it a go because I see a lot of questions and comments both in the blogosphere and on dance forums regarding appropriate dance attire for the more, shall we say, “mature” dancer.

And yes, I’m using “mature” as a euphemism for adult, because in my experience there are a few children/teens whose maturity surpasses that of their elders. Heh.

I do want to touch on performance wear, maybe in a future post, but I’ll focus this one on classwear since that’s a bigger concern for most adults. A lot of times the guidance provided for adults is far more lax than that for younger students and can leave the newbie in the lurch when it comes to figuring out what to wear to class, especially if you’re brand new to dance, so here are my thoughts.


The most important aspect of dance class fashion!

First, find out what shoes are needed. For some classes this is going to be trés obvious, i.e., ballet slippers for ballet, but for others it may be studio-dependent. For example, my studio only allows jazz shoes for hip-hop, no dance sneakers. Maybe you’re taking a modern class, so you think, hey, I’ll get some of those cool foot thingies. But your studio might be strict on bare feet for modern or require a certain kind of footwear. So make sure you know what you need before you drop dough on shoes you won’t be allowed to wear.

Now maybe you’re saying, hey, I’ve never taken [ballet, jazz, pole dancing] and I’m not sure I want to spend money on shoes in case I decide this dance form isn’t for me. Understandable. Check with the teacher/studio to see if bare feet or socks are acceptable for the first couple classes. Many will allow this in these situations. Don’t be upset if they say no, though! Shoes can be a safety issue and Shoeless Jane of Hallowell, Maine might just not be a liability your studio/teacher is willing to accept.

For a cost-saving option, however, check to see if there is a shoe exchange box. Studios often keep something like this around for dancers (or their parents) to leave outgrown or unwanted shoes. These bins are usually full of tiny shoes that aren’t gonna work for the adult dancer, but you can get lucky. There might just be students like me who’ve experienced buyer’s remorse and were too lazy to return the unwanted shoes to the store.

Yes, I’ve dropped brand new ballet slippers in the shoe exchange bin.

Another word on cost saving: You may be tempted to go to a large discount chain (e.g., Payless or WallyWorld) for shoes or to order shoes online based on price alone. Avoid this temptation. I know, I know. I’m a cheap Yankee, I get the desire to save a few bucks. But if you’re a beginner you really want to stick with a reputable, bricks and mortar dancewear store. Dance shoes are often meant to fit differently than street shoes and the staff at a good dance store will guide you in the right direction. And while most online stores post size charts, they’re often confusing at best and manufacturers have been known to completely revamp their sizing methodology apropos of nothing (Bloch, I’m looking at you!). Unless you are legitimately marooned in no-man’s-land with no access to a dance store or you really love keeping the postal service in business by shipping shoes back and forth, go to a store where you can get the right shoe from the get-go. For aspiring ballet students, a few hints: full-sole slippers are generally less expensive than split-sole, and if you do decide to go with split sole, canvas is less expensive than leather.

By the way, just as you don’t want to sacrifice quality for the sake of saving a few bucks, the converse is also true. Do not seek out the most expensive or funkiest/most “technologically advanced” shoes you can find, either. An expensive shoe will not make you dance any better than an average-priced shoe and a lot of those “technological advances” are merely gimmicks. Find what feels and looks good on YOUR feet. Because no matter what you spend on shoes, at the end of their lifespan they’re all going to look about the same… as if they were run over by a very dirty truck and then given to a puppy to use as a chew toy!


Okay, both women and men seem to get really worked up over tights.

First off, tights are really just a ballet thing. Some modern classes might prefer tights and leotards, but for a lot of dance forms (jazz, hip-hop, lindy hop [okay, I totally made that last one up, I don’t even know what a lindy hop is, let alone the appropriate attire]) you’re going to be fine in pretty much any sort of workout attire.

For ballet, honestly?… very few studios will require tights (pink or otherwise) for adults and even those that claim to (my studio being one of them) will likely not enforce the issue. Studios want their adults to feel comfortable and confident in class. If the idea of throwing on a pair of tights makes you want to run for the hills, then don’t give it another thought. Here’s what I will say, though… scary though it may be, you need to wear form-fitting clothes. I know a lot of ballet dancers wear sweats and flared yoga pants and baggy t-shirts and stuff. I’m a little more forgiving of this for the experienced dancer. But if you’re new, try to stick to things like yoga tanks, compression tees, leggings, etc. Your teacher needs to be able to see your line and baggy clothes hide a lot of sins. You might think, SCORE! I want to hide my sins. Yes, of course. We all do. But some of those sins can lead to injury or simply bad habits that will be hard to unlearn later. Better to let the teacher see what you’re doing. Plus I’ve been known to get my feet tied up in loose cuffs just walking down the street. Add jumping and turning into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster.

Now let’s say you are thinking of wearing tights, but you feel a little self-conscious. Maybe you admire the look but you’re not sure you want to put everything on display. My hint is to work up to it. If you’re used to wearing black leggings, switch em out for some black tights. Or ladies, go for the pink tights and invest in some warm up booty shorts to provide a little coverage.

For men, well, I actually saw a question on a ballet forum from a man who preferred to wear tights but was worried that the parents and young dancers at the studio he attended might look askance at him. Um, what? Okay, actually I can see where he’s coming from. This seems to be a cultural thing, and I don’t mean ethnic, I mean what kind of ballet school you attend. If you’re taking classes at a school that is pre-pro then most boys/men there will be wearing tights as a requirement, so you won’t be out of place at all. For more recreational studios tights might be uncommon for men. As for offending people, well, the snarky part of me says, how many of those people who are potentially “offended” by a male ballet dancer in tights go home and watch football on TV all weekend? I mean, those uniforms aren’t any less revealing than tights and we don’t seem have an issue with that (as a female, the uniforms are about the only thing to entice me to watch football!). But I guess people get all bent out of shape when a man’s “manhood” is, er, front and center, especially in a female-centric environment. Obviously you don’t want to be disrespectful, but as long as you’re not stuffing your dance belt I say wear what makes you feel comfortable… physically AND psychologically!

From a fashion sense… well, when it comes to pink tights, your skin color will come through the tights somewhat, so find something that complements your skin tone. Every brand seems to have their own version of “pink.” Some have a yellow-ish tone, others a blue-ish tone, others more red. I think “complementary” is in the eye of the beholder, but find something that you like the looks of with your skin.

Also, find the right fit. Use the size guide on the back and, if you’re on the line between two sizes, don’t be vain… go for the larger size. Seriously, nothing is worse than feeling like a little kid wearing tights with the crotch hanging down by the knees. Plus, when you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of a sweaty class/rehearsal, the last thing you want to do is try to pull too tight tights over your sweaty backside. Also find tights with the right amount of stretch both in the overall material and in the waistband. This can be dependent on your shape. I have a high, well-defined waist, so I’ve given up on low-rise tights (they make me look ridiculous) and go for something that hits me at my waist and has a wide but soft waistband so it doesn’t roll up on itself when I cambré forward. If you’re one of those no-butt chicks, a low-rise may work better for you. Experiment until you find something that feels and looks good on you.


Okay, the topic of whether to wear a leotard or not is pretty much addressed above, so if you skipped the Tights section, go read that.

I love leotards. I mean, less-than-three, flowers and rainbows, kitty-cats and unicorns, love leotards. And I feel kind of silly about this at times, but you know what, no. Leotards are one way of expressing your personality in dance class and I am all for that, especially in ballet.

One thing to be aware of with leotards (especially as an adult) is that sizing can be a bitch. I’m lucky to have a lack of boobage and to be of an average height and weight with an average length torso. If you happen to be long-torsoed or have a rack that Pamela Anderson eyes with envy, well, you might not find leotards nearly as much fun as I do. Admittedly I don’t have a ton of advice for such ladies since my personal experience is lacking, but some general thoughts:

Know your girth. Jeezus, get yer minds out of the gutter, people, we are no longer talking about man-tights and dance belts! Girth is the measurement around your torso (the long way) and it’s probably the most important measurement on the leo manufacturer’s size chart. FYI, they rarely buy into vanity sizing, so you’ve got to accept that straight up and not try to squeeze yourself into an XS leotard because all your other clothes are a 00 (and we all hate you, FYI…). You might be skinny as a rail, but if you have a long torso an XS leotard may leave you uncovered in all the wrong places.

Key point #1 in fashion… it doesn’t matter how cute something is if you spend all your time tugging at it (a lesson I’ve sadly learned, many times, the hard way).

Oh yeah, and kind of like dance shoes, every manufacturer seems to have their own size quirks, so you might be a small in one brand and a large in another. Read the size charts!

Now, adult size leotards usually come with some sort of “shelf lining” which, for people like me, is sufficient support. If you happen to have a bit more up top, you may need to wear a real bra under the leo. This can cause some weird layering issues and might limit the styles of leotards you can wear. I’m sorry… My only thought (and this is totally off the cuff, so don’t quote me on this) is to look up some of the women’s athletic stores (I’m thinking Title IX sports or Athleta or Lululemon) which carry a pretty wide variety of sports bras and see if there are styles which are more amenable to layering under leos. They have some bras that are super-cute and come in various colors that I could see working very nicely layered under a leo. But again… I just made this up, so my hypothesis could be all wet.

So now that I’ve gotten that stuff out of the way… dudes, there are some seriously cute leotards out there. I’ve got more than enough, but still want more. Some days (usually cold winter Saturday morning classes) that I crave my 3/4-sleeve low backed leo. It’s elegant and warm and somehow soothing when you’re not sure if you want to get out of bed. Some days I feel kid-ish and I have a short-sleeved gray leo with a V-detail in the front and back which is fun. I have a few that I call my “pin-up” girl leotards because they’re a little sassy and edgy without being trashy (avoid trashiness in ballet, dear reader… it’s never in style). Then I have a couple ballerina-school leos (both from Capezio’s discontinued ABT line) that make me feel very studious. I like having a variety of styles to suit my moods. Find leos that fit well that make you feel beautiful and elegant and dancer-ly. It may seem small, but it adds something to class, I swear.

Oh, and along those lines… sometimes you buy a leo that seems to work for a time, but maybe you notice that it cuts into you uncomfortably or you’re always tugging at it because it likes to migrate towards your ass crack or it’s made of some weird material that insists on stinking no matter how many times you’ve washed it. GET RID OF IT! I know, I hate getting rid of a serviceable leo that I’ve spent good money on, but it’s not worth the annoyance. If it’s still useable, just doesn’t work for you, maybe you can gift it to a fellow dancer. Don’t do that if it’s intractably stinky, though… those get tossed in the rubbish, tout suite!


This is where you can have some fun with fashion. Keeping in mind the advice above of not indulging in anything too potato-sack-ish…

Warm-ups: I really admire warm-ups but don’t own many, largely because it seems a waste seeing as I usually start stripping them off between sides on pliés. But I love the way they look. I have a shrug which I find useful since it doesn’t cover too much. Wrap sweaters are just darling and I’ve also seen some longer sweaters with deeper v-necks that look nice. I also have a thing for long legwarmers, the kind that come up to mid-thigh or so. They just seem terribly professional. Oh, and currently I’m crushing on the Bloch overall warmup, mostly so I can wear it when I’m in break during rehearsals.

The warm-ups I’m not so keen on (for myself): booty shorts (I know, I just endorsed them up in the tights section, but again, I’m just talking about what works for me)… I have a curvier lower half and booty shorts just seem to announce to the world, “Whoomp, there it is!!!” There is no need; the badonkadonk makes a statement on its own quite nicely, thank you. I envy you skinny-hipped ladies that can pull this look off. Short legwarmers (that hit below the knee)… I dunno, I just associate them with the 80s and scrunch socks and such. I prefer the longer line of an above-the-knee legwarmer. And arm warmers… I just don’t get them.

T-shirts: Okay, I actually really like t-shirts in a way. Not the way they make me look, necessarily (unless they are slim cut… I like those), but for the fact that pretty much everyone who wears tees in my classes has a dance-related tee that advertises our studio or one of our past shows, or one they got when they went to see a show, or one that’s just funny and tangentially dance-related. There are weird occasions where nearly everyone coincidentally wears the same tee on the same day. And there are some that spark conversations.

Wrap skirts: I have a love-hate relationship with these puppies. I want to like them. I gravitate towards the floral patterns, the ones that you can coordinate with all different leotards. And I love them on other people. But see above where I discuss my high-waisted, curvy-bottomed figure. They just look… odd on me, though I’m sure I’ll persist in trying to find one that works. These are great for people working up to feeling comfortable in the tights and leo look, though, as they give a bit of extra coverage. They also add an extra degree of femininity that can be welcome, especially on days when you might not be feeling particularly graceful.


By which I mean the stuff on your head. For the rest of it, well, keep in mind what your leotard covers and what it doesn’t. I don’t wish to cramp anyone’s style or sensibilities, but at least in ballet there’s a certain aesthetic to be upheld and braided pit-hair is not part of that.


For most dance forms ponytails are acceptable for class. Ballet, though, there really is no getting around some sort of twist or bun (unless you’re a guy or you have very short hair). Now, I’ve taken ballet with a ponytail, and I’ve also done the messy, loopy, half-ponytail and stuff. Honestly… in ballet it’s kind of distracting… mostly to myself. If I ponytail, my hair is in a big, frizzy pouf sticking off the back of my head. Lovely. The loop thing is slightly more controlled, but invariably it starts to escape control at some point during class. I really don’t want to be distracted by my hair, so I’ve embraced the ballet bun, usually complete with hair pins and a hair net (and you thought hair nets were just for lunch ladies!).

Oh, but ballet buns do not have to be boring, my friends. No! There are some fun tips I’ve picked up from some of my young friends as well as good ol’ YouTube (TwinsTalkBallet is one of my favorites for hair tutorials) involving twists and braids that keep the hair bunned up but adorable at the same time.

Along with that I’ve discovered the joy of flowers! I found a few pins/hair clips (yes, they can double as either one) at H&M a few months ago. I can wear all three or just pick one to slip in next to or underneath my bun.

There are also bun covers/snoods, but I’m not really a fan… they look like the toilet paper roll covers you find in old ladies’ houses. I don’t want old lady toilet paper covers in my hair… gross! Some of the wraps that go around the bun look nice as long as they aren’t too overdone. If it looks like it belongs to a dance costume, it’s overdone.

Headbands can be fun, but kind of finicky. Some of them are just too slippery… cambré back and it slides right off your head and onto the floor. Grr. Others can make your ears a little sticky-outie and you look like you’re channeling Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle. The right one can look quite darling, but if you find yourself constantly fiddling with it, save it for out-of-class time.


As I was writing this I realized that the crux of all my thoughts on dance class fashion came back to the same themes.

First off, find dancewear that is appropriate. Can never go wrong with appropriate.

But beyond that find things that make you feel comfortable and like a dancer. This might change over time. You might start off feeling most comfortable and able to dance in a yoga tank and capris and two years later find yourself a pink tights and leo devotee. Evolution is fine! But wherever you are on the dancewear continuum make sure that when you look in the mirror your attire adds to the dancer effect rather than diminishing it. If you walk into class feeling dowdy and frumpy it will bleed into your dancing. But if you walk in feeling elegant and polished, that too will influence your dancing.

And finally, don’t be afraid to ditch things that aren’t working for you. If your hair looks cute and your leotard is darling only when you’re standing still, well, what’s the use?! You can’t dance and be a statue at the same time. Find things that look good but aren’t distracting (either to yourself or others!).

[Hot damn, for not having anything to say on the subject of dance fashion I sure managed to ramble on! Thanks for reading if you made it this far!]


17 thoughts on “Dance fashion for the “mature” dancer

  1. BeautyGraceStrength says:

    Dance wear sizing is the worst! I’m 5’6″ and a size 0/2, but my leotards and tights are all XL. Totally weird, but it is what it is. And I would rather wear clothes that are comfortable than worry about the label inside.

    Great advice about dance class fashion. Thanks!

  2. Loved the post! Lots of great tips, I wish I had these when I first started 😛 As for sizing, it can get super crazy. Girth is the golden key! Sizing can be very difficult when you have a long torso.. or so I’m finding, great post! Thx! 🙂

    • roriroars says:

      I know some companies do make “tall” leos and some make plus-size leos, but it seems like most of those are very plain. Someone needs to catch on that there are a lot of adult dancers (truly adult, not simply children who have outgrown children’s sizes!) who want nice, flattering leos to wear to class. Maybe I should start my own company!

  3. Nellie says:

    Great post! I too embrace the hair net most firmly – gallingly I realised I’d put a hole in both of mine last week so had to go hair net less for class, not a plan, not a plan! There is nothing worse than that moment when you feel your bun begin to collapse…

    That said, hair is the least of my worries. Dancewear, y u so impossible?! Amazing and the source of all my spending, but impossible.

    • roriroars says:

      Ugh, I don’t even want to think what I’ve spent on dancewear… I’ve been good and haven’t bought anything significant in a few months, but oh, so tempting! Actually, that’s not true, I bought two leotards that were on clearance, but when I tried them on, well, they were clearly meant for someone with more chest that I have! I gave them to a fellow dancer.

      Oh, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know about using hair nets and those wide hair pins for buns until a couple years ago. I could never understand how people got them to stay. Duh… now I don’t know how I ever survived without them!

      • Nellie says:

        I definitely spend vastly more on dancewear than ‘normal’ wear and then on yarn to knit warm ups… and then, of course, I wonder why all my work clothes are falling apart at the seams. But it’s to try and prevent the galling day when all my leos are in the wash bar the one I hate most of all (why do I always have a lurking leo that I hate hanging around for that occasion?!).

        Also, do you find hair pins in random places? Even though I know eight go into my bun and I count eight out again and swear they go back in my tin, I keep finding them in weird places about my house/workplace…

  4. Allison says:

    This is an AWESOME post. I am fascinated by different viewpoints on dancewear, and appreciate your perspective. I currently dance in a black leotard and pink tights with a little pair of shorts over it. I’m trying to work up the courage to “graduate” to a ballet skirt but I don’t feel like my dancing lives up to the prettiness of a skirt quite yet.

    • BeautyGraceStrength says:

      I totally understand your shyness about a ballet skirt. I don’t feel like I “deserve” to wear one. It’s silly and I know I’m being ridiculous. Maybe some day…

      • roriroars says:

        If it makes you feel better, I still feel a little silly when I wear a skirt, but I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t care… I’ve danced with these people for 2 years and they have plenty to ridicule me on besides my skirt… like my excessive sweat production! But I also have dirt on them! Ha!

        Seriously, though, if you start with a plain wrap skirt in a color that matches your leotard it won’t look much different than shorts as long as the fabric is fairly opaque. Just a thought!

      • Allison says:

        Thank you, I appreciate the empathy, and knowing I’m not the only one who feels this way about skirts! I bet we’re all more critical of ourselves than others are. I mean, if I saw another student in a skirt who was clearly still a beginner, I wouldn’t think, “Who is she kidding with that skirt?” I would think, “Oh, look how serious she is about ballet- that’s so great!”

        Thanks for the encouragement, ladies. I am going to SKIRT UP.

  5. You’re right on the money for the bra situation for bustier ladies. My favorites are from lululemon. Don’t underestimate the support needed… Seeing your chest gallop to its own beat in the mirror is distracting and takes away from the aesthetic.

    • roriroars says:

      Oh, phew, I’m glad I offered some good advice there! And bwahahaha!!!! “Chest gallop to its own beat…” Hilarious. I would add (and I’m sure you can back me up) that this is even more relevant if you happen to have had children (especially recently!).

    • candice says:

      The TitleNine ones work pretty well, but they’re so big I usually put them under a tank and wear high-waisted shorts over tights.

      Also capezio and mirella are both known to make leotards with bras in them that actually work — one of mine gets lots of compliments!

      (not just that the bounce looks silly, sometimes it hurts!)

  6. Nichelle says:

    Hey, Rori! Don’t worry, I’m late with my post so you’ve made it in! 😉 You can feel free to submit even when you’ve missed the deadline – it’s a good way for me to find it and share!

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