Swing dance parties can seem like a big deal because of their dress codes, especially if there’s that one person who makes a fuss about it. The word swing has a retro or vintage sound to it (whatever retro or vintage may mean), so it’s very probable that the people who are into this will seem like a subculture (if not like a cult or a sect). Those things can make the beginners feel an unnecessary pressure. Of course, Facebook events with things like "wear a colourful little dress and get your dancing shoes on" in their descriptions don’t help at all.
Worry not, you insecure beginner. Relax.
You don’t have to wear anything retro or vintage (whatever that may mean). If you don’t have anything like that, don’t burden yourself, and splash out on new (but old-looking!) clothes. It’s okay to show up normally dressed, in jeans and a t-shirt. It really is. You’re here for the dancing (and the music), not for the fashion. While those things are not mutually exclusive, they’re definitely not dependent on each other, either.
How you feel, and what looks good, is a completely different matter. Maybe you’ll feel better if you wear a shirt, let’s say. "Nicer" clothes can give you a feeling of importance and self-respect. And that can help your dancing. Girls often find dancing with "put together" leaders more enjoyable (and vice versa, of course). A shirt or a blouse just feels nicer under someone’s hand than a t-shirt you got when you bought ten bags of crisps. The material
is just more delicate, and hence nicer. And if you do want to feel more confident, a man in a shirt looks far better than a man in a sports t-shirt. So, for those reasons, I’d say you need to get dressed up a bit, just so people can tell you’re going to a swing dance party, and not a jog in Hyde Park.
Even minimal effort - say, a shirt instead of a t-shirt, trousers instead of jeans, and non-running shoes - is enough to make you look put together. If you add a tie, a waistcoat or posh shoes, everyone’ll say that you’re a bomb. Or a hot shot. Or something.
The worst thing would be if, in your wish to look on point or just to fit in, you put every knick knack you own and borrowed on yourself - suspenders, a hat, a waistcoat, a tie, and so on and so forth. It can look good and stylish if you stick to some basic rules (and if you have a sense of style in general), but if you have no vision of what you’re doing, and end up pairing wide stripes with narrow stripes, or completely mismatching all the colours, you’ll probably
end up looking like a clown.
(For practical reasons, this has been written for men, but can be applied to women as well. Just substitute suspenders, waistcoats and ties for scarves, bows and polka dot dresses, and that’s it.)
Never go out of your comfort zone. If you don’t feel comfortable in a shirt or a waistcoat or suit trousers, that’ll show. Just wear a normal t-shirt then, or whatever you feel good in. A simple t-shirt can go a long way.
Find your style. If that’s not your thing, don’t try to wear vintage clothes. Wearing your grandpa’s clothes doesn’t instantly make you look great while dancing (or otherwise). Also, girls don’t have to wear dresses. More than a few girls in trousers have looked five times better than the most dressed up girls. Don’t force yourself to go all out with vintage make-up and hair if you’re not sure it’s for you.
Stick to the basic rules, and you’ll never go wrong. And the basic rules (for both men and women) are:
- Don’t wear clothes which are too big or too small.
- Colourful doesn’t go with colourful.
- Colourful items do go with items in one colour, but the colourful item has to contain a shade of the colour of the other item.
- Colourful also includes stripes (wider, narrower, closer together or further apart), dots, and all other patterns which the fashion industry has come up with, so the same rules apply. Stripes don’t go with stripes. Dots don’t go with dots, dots don’t go with stripes, etc.
- Socks must match your trousers. (Here matching has the same meaning as in the previous three points.)
- A shirt with short sleeves is only very rarely considered stylish. It’s better to roll up the sleeves on a shirt with long sleeves than it is to wear a short sleeved shirt.
Those were the rules for absolutely any occasion - from a day trip to the beach to a job interview. Here are the rules specific to swing dance parties (if you’ve decided to put in an effort, and if it’s a more special party than a regular weekly one):
- An undershirt goes under your shirt (duh!). It’s unfortunate that an undershirt can sometimes be seen under the shirt, but strictly speaking, you should be wearing a waistcoat and a jacket if you’re wearing a shirt and a tie (so there’s no way for the undershirt to show), but we’re not dancing for the Queen, and dance parties get hot. That’s why a waistcoat is quite practical - it doesn’t make you too hot, while concealing the undershirt and the sweaty shirt. From experience I can tell that it’s difficult to find a good waistcoat, but you can find sleeveless undershirts wi thout a v-neck, so they can’t be seen under the shirt.
- Make sure that you don’t look like a waiter, a chauffeur, or a doorman when wearing a suit or a waistcoat (and a tie or a bow tie), as they usually wear navy or black trousers, waistcoats and bowties with a white shirt. Choose a shirt which isn’t white, a waistcoat which is a different colour than the trousers, or find another way altogether to avoid this. Be careful with a tie or a bow tie (or suspenders). They don’t have to necessarily match the shirt or trousers - they often add a pop of colour to a combination.
- Be careful with tying your tie, as the tip of your tie should be sitting just on top of your belt. The bow tie shouldn’t be neither too big nor too small - look into this.
- Don’t use your head as a garden. One flower goes a long way. Sometimes even that one flower can get in the way, let alone ten of them.
- A lot of make-up melts quickly, especially when you’re dancing and sweating.
Here are a few additional things:
- It’s a good idea to bring an extra t-shirt. It’s hot, you’re sweating, parties last long. Change.
- Another good idea is to bring an extra pair of tights, as they can get torn easily.
- Don’t wear polyester or materials that’ll make you sweat more.
- Don’t wear things which are too tight from which other "things" can fall out of.
- Don’t wear trousers which are too stiff (such as jeans), it’ll give you extra freedom of movement.
- If you have a dress which will lift up when you turn, keep in mind that your knickers will show. It’s best to pick a simple and classic pair (which isn’t flashy or vulgar; maybe a black pair is the best), or an underskirt, or something similar.
- Try your dress out at home and see if the straps have a tendency to move, and if everything is in its place, because it’s a pain to try to dance in a dress that just won’t do what you’d like it to.
Of course, every rule can be broken if you have a clear vision, know what you want, and are sure that you’ll look good in that or that you can pull that look off.