What to wear?


For the men, a note from David:

Since the revival of interest in swing dancing in the 1980s, men’s fashion has gone through a number of shifts. Many early adopters saw swing dancing as something of a sport and wore shorts and T-shirts accordingly. But by the 90s and the American neo-swing craze , dancers were taking their appearance seriously and flamboyant zoot suits were popular. As smoother jazz conquered ballrooms in the early noughties, dancers began dressing down, with jeans or combat trousers de rigueur. Currently vintage suits are in fashion for sharply dressed leads – scour the second-hand shops on Brick Lane or get one made up on the cheap by a Vietnamese tailor.

While an open necked shirt might be more practical for swinging out in stifling dance halls, a tie is an essential accessory for the well dressed lindy hopper. Current trends are for vintage silk ties with bold designs, secured with a tie pin and hanging an inch or so above the waistband. Bow ties are a stylish alternative: ready-tied versions should be avoided in favour of self-ties – it’s not hard to learn to tie one and there’s a certain charm in the inevitable imperfections.

Real men sweat profusely on the dance floor, which often leads to unpleasantness in partner dancing. An effective solution is to wear a T-shirt or vest underneath, as this will soak up the moisture and distribute it before allowing it to dampen the shirt above. Some complain this makes them hotter, but dancing is always going to make us hot, so we may as well make it as enjoyable an experience as possible for our follows.

A handsome pair of shoes is the cornerstone of an elegant outfit. Plimsolls may save your neck on a slippery floor, but no lead looks finer than in a pair of leather dress shoes. Brogues are currently popular on and off the dance floor, and dancers also favour cap toes and snazzier two-tone models. A leather sole is essential to allow freer footwork, and make sure they are Goodyear welted so the entire sole can be replaced when it’s worn through to the sock.

Details. Men are generally limited in what they can wear on the dance floor, with trousers and shirts forming the backbone of most outfits. This means it’s the little details that provide leads with a chance to shine: a pocket square, a well-tied bow tie or some eye-catching cufflinks. Touches like these will always be appreciated.

For the Ladies, a note from Chloe:

The key to looking well dressed is always to dress appropriately. In the context of a swing ball this means avoiding anything that will decrease your enjoyment of the dance or that of your lead. Top of the dress code sin list: the backless dress. Stick to styles that are not too restrictive, hems that won’t cause you to trip, and don’t even think of doing strapless – it’ll only end in peers!

Coco was right, less really is more. When the word goes out about class colours, no one is expected to go top to toe in it. The sensible option is to stick to the colours that you know suit you and accent your outfit with accessories of that colour. For girls that might be a flower in your hair, a pin brooch or rosette of ribbons, while for boys – as David pointed out – socks and bow ties are the places to go wild.

Movement for period panache. Make no bones about it, the way to get noticed on the dance floor is to do like our predecessors and make your outfit a part of the dance. In the twenties it was fringing and layers, in the thirties they worked ruffles and bias cuts, the forties economised with pleats and billowy sleeves, while in the fifties it was circle skirts and petticoats that mesmerised. Whether you take yourself off to vintage heaven or recreate a look from the high street, take a leaf out of dance history and try to work movement into your outfit.

A word on hair and make up. The best investment you can make towards a night like the swing ball is a trip to a vintage hair salon. While I’ll be busy turning my bob into a sweaty mess, those gals with fancy up dos will all be ending the night looking fabulous. (Note: If you’re brave, YouTube has much to offer the intrepid DIYer). And when it comes to make up, nothing beats a period eye (and eyebrow don’t forget) plus slick of lip stain – which I’ve found to be the last word in all night lip colour, no matter what.

Shoes, glorious shoes! Vintage shoes may look nice, but as any of the follows that danced on Call The Midwife will tell you, they are friggin’ a nightmare to dance in. With the ball and ‘that balboa resolution’ you made, what better time to treat your feet to a pair of comfortable dance shoes? If you’re thinking ‘Investment’, then go for a pair in buff or skin colour as these will go with everything. The web is of course your oyster, however nothing beats being able to try before you buy.

Looking for inspiration? Check out our options available at the Swing Patrol online shop.




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