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General Styling Tips

by Christine Griffiths

One of Melbourne swing dancing’s original style queens, Christine Griffiths gives you the low down on all the do’s and don’ts for looking the swingin’ part.

 

Why Dress Up?

Helps you ham it up and keep a smile on your dial.
Helps an audience place the dance in history (i.e. not Rock n’ Roll!).
Gives a sense of spectacle.
Puts you in touch with the era of the dance (1920s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, naughties.)
Lets you know you’re in ‘Fun Mode’, not Work Mode, Family Mode or Tired Mode!
Being in costume allows your Dance persona to shine! New outfit, new personality!
They were damn stylish eras! You’ll never look so good!

Vintage shopping tips

Look outside your size.
Keep in mind folk were different sizes back then. Most ’40s girl stuff is current day 8-10.
Check out the weight, seams and cut of an item for ‘danceability’.
Remember the 1970s and ’80s had ’40s revivals.
Look for colours/patterns that suit you, and are ‘vintage’.
Never walk past an Op Shop or Designer Recycle Shop. Don’t wait till you need an outfit.
Check out Army Disposals for uniforms.

Internet shopping tips

Know your sizes in inches AND centimetres. Buy a dual measuring tape and get measured up professionally!
Postage from the US costs about $15 AUD for 1-2 pieces, so factor it in.
Let eBay be your friend – see search terms below, and start slow! Try a tutorial first.
Bookmark an International Currency Converter and Clothes Size Converter for quick reference.

Tailoring

Make friends with a dressmaker. One that can reproduce clothing without a pattern.
Men’s suits (buy big, take it in at the waist to get a vintage look).
Women’s pants (buy big, take it up at the groin/waist to get a vintage look).
Warning: don’t mess too much with true vintage gear if you want to re-sell it!
Zoot chains (Spotlight)- not recommended for aerials, though!
Emergency Performance/ Ball Kit essential! Include: safety pins, small stapler, bobby pins, double sided tape.

Make it yourself

Vogue and Butterick pattern books still have great ’40s & ’50s patterns in the Vintage section.
Crochet a Snood for your hair (for girls mainly, but if your beard gets out of control…?!)
Add vintage buttons to a new shirt or fat buttons on wide-legged pants.
Find a good Sailor collar, sew it on a t-shirt. Voila, vintage Repro!
Embroidery/ iron on Swingy patches. Loads on the internet and some at Lincraft/Spotlight.
Hemming tape is your friend too, use it for cheap quick alterations to hemlines/sleeves.
Use part of the fabric design to make accessories.

Modern Swing style

Sports shoes – go with ’50s style, rather than Space Aged (i.e. Dunlop volleys.)
Vintage swimsuits as tops.
Babydoll dresses with dance pants as tunics.
Cheerleader (’60s) panelled dresses worn as tunics.

Tips for the fellas

KEY PIECES
fat ties (4-4.5″ wide), abstract & geometric patterns, high-waisted pants, high-waisted vests, 3-piece suits, button braces, military uniforms (or parts of), thick white t-shirts, bowling shirts [daddyos.com], flat caps & fedora hats, cufflinks, 1950s “Hollywood Styling”.
FABRICS
light flannel, light new wool, rayon (shirts), and gabardine.
COLOURS
Hawaiian, contrasting panels of colour, grey, navy, black, red, white, pink, plum, burgundy, hunter green, bright blue/azure, butter yellow, army/navy/airforce colours (not camouflage!).
DESIGNS TO LOOK OUR FOR
argyle patterns (diamonds), Hawaiian, geometric prints, Vargas girls (pin-up), Martini & cocktail glasses, vertical stripes, guayaberas (mexican 50’s shirts), pinstripes, plaid (checks).
AVOID
clip braces, skinny ties, sports socks, pocket chains (DANGEROUS!), wearing runners with suits, designs with flames (too Rock’n’Roll), boots, hats during performances- unless you practice a lot!
KEY SEARCH WORDS
guayaberas, swing tie, wide tie, 40s, bowling shirt, Dean Martin, Zoot, Hollywood, cufflinks, plaid, pinstripe.

Tips for the Gals

KEY PIECES
puffed sleeves, swishy skirts, ‘gored’ (panelled skirts), halter tops, sweetheart necklines, just-below-knee skirts, skorts, high-waisted/low leg knickers, mary-jane shoes, saddle shoes, fabric flowers, rhinestone brooches, high-waisted vests, blouses that tie up, bows, playsuits, bobby socks, tennis/cheerleader outfits, drop-waisted 1930s fashion, ‘do-rags’, sailor collars, cardies, peplums (tops that flare), tight pleats (accordion/kick/sunburst pleats), seamed stockings, bib-front overalls.
FABRICS
rayon, crepe, jersey, argyle, jersey, crepe, cotton, polyester blends, light tweeds.
COLOURS
navy, black, red, white, pink, plum, burgundy, bright blue/azure, butter yellow.
DESIGNS TO LOOK OUR FOR
plaid (checks), small florals, polka-dot, cherries, butterflies, gingham, Hawaiian, Asian/oriental prints.
MAKE-UP & HAIR
Stick with smokey eyes, a little rouge on the ‘apple’ of your cheeks, and blotted red lippie. Not much make-up was available in wartime! For Hair, check out snoods (crocheted hair nets), and hairdressing methods like rolls, pincurls, ringlets and low pigtails. Jewelled combs, too.
AVOID
silk, taffeta, off the shoulder anything, hipster anything, tight sleeves, weak seams, jewellery, seamed stockings with flat shoes or runners, stiletto heels.
KEY SEARCH WORDS
1940s, lindy hop, wide leg*, puff* sleeves, WWII, hawaiian, flapper,halter, pin up.