Blog post by Mandi Gould. Cover photo from the 2019 ILHC Fashion Show taken by Alain Wong.

This original blog post was written August 30th, 2010. I’m working on an update as of February 2020. Stay tuned for updated information!

 So, you’re looking for a fabulous swing dancing dress that you can Lindy Hop the night away in – in style?

There is something so classic, nostalgic and inspiring about the fashion of the Swing Era. If you’re anything like me, the clothing of those past decades evokes a certain spirit and charm that draws me in and gives me the feeling that I was born in the wrong era. The tasteful tailoring and elegant styles of the 30s and 40s is pretty hard to beat. And as a swing dancer, by dressing the part feel that I’m able to paint a picture of where the dance came from historically. I feel that it’s important to pay tribute to the era that has shaped who I am today.

When I first started the Lindy Hop dancing at the very beginning of 1998, the few of us who were dancing at that time all made an effort to dress up. But later that same year the Gap commercial launched with the Khakis Swing campaign and within a couple of years the trend in the Lindy Hop world edged toward wearing sporty clothing. First the khakis and eventually more of a skater or hip hop influence. What were we thinking?!

Well, there was the comfort factor, but it was also our attempt to be cool and to modernize the dance. We started to shift toward dancing to more contemporary music as well, usually with more of a bluesy influence. There was no Charleston to be seen, and the dancing didn’t much resemble the dance that I had originally fallen in love with. However, within a few more years the consensus seemed to be that we missed what had drawn us to the dance in the first place. The nostalgia, the fashion, the historical value of preserving a lost dance.

Thank goodness the days of Modrobes (a Canadian brand of clothing inspired by medical scrubs) and visors is behind us!

Though I started out by wearing original vintage swing wear now, other than accessories, I only wear new clothing made in a vintage swing style. I like to call this re-creative clothing. New materials in old patterns. No more actual vintage pieces when going out dancing; unfortunately the vintage fabrics don’t hold up for dancing. They age poorly and consequently rip very easily. Many a beautiful dress has been ruined when dancing. Usually it’s a rip under the follower’s right arm as she passes under a turn but disaster can strike at any time.

So now it’s always re-creative clothing; attire made in the fashion of the swing era but freshly tailored with new fabric. And the trend is spreading! Many dancers are starting to dress up again and I feel that it really adds to the experience and enjoyment of being a Lindy Hopper.

Of course, I didn’t acquire all of this clothing over night. It’s a collection that I’ve built up over time.

Tips on picking out the perfect swing dance dress for dancing the night away!

Pick sturdy, flexible material. Something with some stretch is definitely best.

If the dress has a pencil skirt, check the leg flexibility. Make sure that you’ll be able do a comfortable Charleston kick, or even an A Jump.
Check the care instructions. Is this a very ‘dressy’ dress or something that you’d like to wear on frequent rotation? Consider how often you’ll be willing to have it dry cleaned.

Pick something that you’ll feel comfortable in. You don’t want to spend the night worrying about how your tummy looks; the point is to wear the dress, let loose and DANCE!

Consider how much skin you feel comfortable showing. Keep in mind that anywhere with exposed skin, like your back, is liable to become shiny and visibly sweaty once you get going.

Give some thought to what type of bra you’ll be able to wear with the dress. It’s important to be able to wear an excellent bra for a night of real dancing. THAT is so important that it warrants a whole other blog post. But certainly, a dress with spaghetti straps or that’s strapless will present a lot more fuss and fewer bra options than something more covered.

The style of dress, particularly a skirt with flare vs. an A line skirt vs. a pencil skirt will really effect the way that you swivel. All of these styles can be fun, you just have to pick what’s right for you. I love a fitted pencil skirt which can really show your swivelling hips though a circle skirt with a lot of flare can be terrific for performances.

How dressy will you feel in the dress? Is it appropriate for the types of events that you usually attend, or will you feel over dressed? Encouraging the people around you to step it up a notch is something I feel is important, and I don’t mind being the most dressed up person at an otherwise casual event, but make sure that you’ll feel comfortable wearing the dress under the available circumstances.

But above all else, pick something that you love!

Don’t be afraid to make an online purchase. Most of the re-creative clothing companies offer excellent return policies (check first) and it’s worth the gamble to send away for something that is potentially fabulous. You just have to budget in the cost of the shipping in to your overall purchase but it’s absolutely worth it!

The other thing that’s very important is investing in a good tailor. There are plenty of items in most people’s wardrobes that fit them fine, but they could fit perfectly with a little tweak here or there. At the very least, consider having the hemline of your skirt adjusted. I find that a flare skirt in particular can look frumpy if it falls too long, but with just a little shortening to just below the knee can go from frumpy to fabulous!

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Lindy Hop Frocks & Swing Dance Fashion