Photo by Brendan Lally
Photo by Brendan Lally

Updated February 2017 Today we’re talking about style within a sphere that I feel passionately about–Irish dance. If you’re interested in reading about Irish dance dress trends through the ages, please read this post first.

Now let’s talk about current trends in Irish dance dresses. If you’ve been around the Irish dance world for more than a couple years, you’ve undoubtedly seen how quickly styles can change! Love it or hate it, it’s definitely something interesting to watch.

When fluorescent neon brightened solo dresses in the 1990s, that was a huge change. When crystals upped the cost of dresses by hundreds of dollars in the last decade, that was a painful yet beautiful change. As someone who remembers what dancing in a velvet dress was like in the summer, the evolution of Irish dance dress styles to incorporate lighter fabrics was welcome!

What do you think have been the most dramatic changes in the evolving Irish dance dress styles? What do you love and what do you kinda wish had never come into style? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Want to learn more? These are two of my favorite Irish dance documentaries. They’re full length, so don’t feel like you have to sit through the whole thing to get the gist of what it’s about but also don’t be surprised if you can’t stop watching!

Jigs and Wigs

This video is part of a six-part series showing different aspects of the Irish dance world today. This episode highlights dressmakers and the importance of style in Irish dance.

All six episodes in the Jigs & Wigs series are available on YouTube. Each one focuses on a different aspect of Irish Dance and I highly recommend them all if you want to find out more about the history and evolution of Irish dance (or just want to see some more cool costumes and dancing).

Strictly Irish Dancing

The following documentary, “Strictly Irish Dancing,” is also worth a watch. The second section takes a look at the glitzy appearance aspect of Irish dance. The extreme costumes of Irish dance champions have been the subject of many debates and exposes. In the Irish dance world, it’s a heated debate and bans against younger dancers wearing makeup and sparkly costumes have gone into effect. “The irony of the situation is, they all want to stand out but they all end up looking exactly the same,” former Riverdance start Breandan de Gallai says in the video, regarding the fake tans, stage makeup and extreme sparkle.

But in the film, multiple-time World Champion Claire Greaney defends her sport against those who call it a beauty pageant, saying, “People are so quick to judge and are always judging Irish dancing more like judging a book by its cover, not really taking the time to get past the exterior of us and getting into actually understanding what we do and, like, the work that goes into what we do.”

Claire contends that although top competitors spend thousands to stay on top of trends, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s about the dancing. “In Irish dance, the makeup, and wig, and costume and everything is literally for first impressions. Your result has nothing to do with how you look and it’s about your talent, the technique that you’re doing onstage, your performance.”

I love seeing the different costumes, each one totally unique. Yes, styles change and many people lament how far Irish dance costumes have fallen from the traditional designs and simple cuts. But sometimes that’s a good thing. The older, stiff-paneled, velvet dresses were heavy, hot and hard to dance in. So some of the changes aren’t purely for aesthetic purposes. If dancers don’t like the highly made-up, extreme-costumed look, they can always design a look that works for them. That’s what I love about Irish dance–there is freedom for a dancer to choose what to wear for a dress and hair, how much they want to compete (or if they just want to perform or dance recreationally). There really is room for everyone. And that goes beyond style–there is room for people of all ages and sizes to take part, but that’s a whole other post in itself.

What do you think about the evolution of style in Irish dance? And if you find any Irish dance videos you love, please send them my way as I love to watch them.

10 Comments on The Evolving Style of Irish Dance Costumes

  1. Hi! I am an Irish dancer & I love this post! It has evolved so much, I’ve been dancing for 11 years now and I remember the hard paneled dresses being so annoying! My school dress is super plain, black velvet because it is easy to move in and then we each get to individually design our solo dresses.
    Thanks for writing this!
    Haute Table

  2. I haven’t danced for close to 2 decades, and I miss the older/traditional style of dresses immensely. They were a picture of elegance and just the right amount of flare. The new ones are a too ‘barbie’ for me and I don’t know that the changes do the sport/style much justice.

    • I think the styles will cycle back to a simpler, more traditional silhouette and embellishment. Everything comes back around!

  3. Great post. People ask me about the evolution of the costumes all the time and compare it to Toddlers in Tiaras. No, my daughters are athletes and train hard. A few Swarovskis shouldn’t take that away. I would like a return to something more traditional, but if they’re happy dancing out there with the bling and the wigs, good for them.

      • I can tolerate the bling though I would like a return to simpler dresses. I wonder how many talented dancers drop out because they can’t afford a new dress? But, I absolutely hate the wigs, they add nothing to what your feet are doing and I think they are what makes a great dance style a cause for ridicule.

  4. As the mother of a Open Champion dancer, I have to call malarky on the idea that it doesn’t matter what you wear, that all of the make-up, spray tanning (just the legs!) until one looks like burnt toast, $2500 dresses with an additional $500 worth of Swarovski crystals, and wigs is “just for first impressions”. If that were true, everyone would dance in black leos, skirts and tights and let their posture, smiles, and lead off make the first impression.

    I design and make my daughter’s dresses, and have since her first solo costume, and my philosophy has always been less is more, and simpler is more elegant. My first design for my daughter, was, in fact, criticized as *too* elegant by her dance teacher. I added some bling to satisfy her, but kept it to a minimum. I can’t tell you how many times I was told how lovely that dress was and asking who was the designer. 🙂 I have kept to that creedo ever since, and I believe the simplicity has helped her stand out in a sea of flash. It *is* important to get noticed on the stage, but I’d rather it not be for the judges wincing in pain at the clashing colors, busy designs that look like everyone else’s and the pounds of Swarovskis which add immense weight to the dress at the expense of free movement.

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