Globe Theatrical Supply Resource Center  712/255-0972

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               INTRO TO DANCEWEAR  <D>

By viewing the motion picture musicals of the 1930's and '40's it is evident that the 100% cotton (no nylon or Lycra blends), wool, and rayon leotards and tights, inflexible dance pants, and loose rehearsal blouses and shirts were long ago superceded by body contouring fabrics. The ensuing popularity of dancewear fabrics and styles as promoted by the streetwear fashion industry has led to ongoing misuse of terminology - a dictionary easily clarifies that a leotard is a torso, not a legwear garment, and that leggings protect the legs, below the fanny. Unfortunately, in an effort to obtain fashion sales, some dancewear manufacturers have resorted to equally confusing language. While there have been some dance bodywear innovations since the 1950's, the majority of items now being sold are functionally based on designs defined fifty or more years ago. The following information is offered in an effort to elliminate confusion generated by temporary fads, promotional hype, or "ad-speak". With rare exceptions, the terms here used are those originally established to describe a dancewear style or function - after all, until the human body radically changes, tights are still tights, leotards cover the torso, and pants pull up, at least, onto the hips.
Generally, the term "dancewear" includes various torso and leg-wear, footwear, costuming, headpieces, and other costume accessories. To simplify referencing, "dancewear" will herein categorize non-shoe bodywear primarilly designed for dance class and rehearsal use. Because the fundamental objective of all movement arts is the visual presentation of the human body, unless otherwise specified, all dancewear may be assumed to contour the shape of the wearer. Simply, dancewear is primarily a tool, only subordinately a fashion statement.


After World War II the commercial availability of nylon revolutionized the dance bodywear industry. Moderately priced form-fitting fully flexible garments permitted complete freedom of movement with clarity of body silhouette. Movies, television, and the growing availability of local dance instruction rapidly expanded personal theater dance involvement as students, performers, and participants in musical theater. Ease of dancewear manufacture and and the increased market resulted in numerous new style variations during the '50's, and with the introduction of Milliskin in the '60's, new styles (unitards and pants that held to the wearer's shape) radically expanded gymnastics, swimwear, and fashion applications (remember those disco leotards and skirts). Fashion variations continue to radically differ, but dancewear styles remain relatively traditional.


Although each manufacturer developes their own designs and patterns, the graphics below illustrate several common leotard, unitard/jumpsuit, top, and pant styles and a few variations. Keep in mind garments will shape differently to different bodies.

                Dancewear Garments

Unless otherwise noted, all dancewear garments are form fitting {see Dancewear Fabrics below}.
dance supporter
    men's front supportive undergarment
dance belt              dance supporter with wider, abdomen supportive waist band
support brief          women's abdomen supporting undergarment
dance trunk (or brief)  outerwear panty {see Trunks below}
tights                      light to moderate weight  leg covering from waist {see Tights below}
pants                      leotard weight garment from waist onto legs {see Pants below}
bra                          bust support garment (under or outer wear)
bra top                    bust length outer wear top (may be supportive)
topper (or top)        upper torso (usually above waist)
shirt                        upper torso to or below waist
bodysuit                  leotard with snapped crotch
leotard                    covers torso (like a lady's one-piece swimsuit) {see Leotards below}
unitard                     tight one piece torso and leg coverage without feet
leotite                      footed unitard
TCL                         Total Coverage Leotite including hands, feet, and hood (with or without face coverage)
jumpsuit                   partially fitted 1-piece torso and legs (usually loose legs)
skirt                         skirt (various open-bottom styles which flow downward from the waist)
calf warmer              below knee to top of foot heavier knitwear
leg warmer               thigh to top of foot knitwear
body warmer            unitard or jumpsuit knitwear
warm-up sweater     knitwear, usually long sleeved which wraps and has waist ties (wrap sweater)
                Trunks & Supporters
full-cut, SHCL, HCL, VHCL supporters: thong, men's full seat
While leotard leg openings may be varied, leg cut is usually a defining style element of dance trunks and support briefs. When leg opening is not specified, most manufacturers intend it to provide a full seat and contour along the front thigh joint. Remember, fitting varies with each body.
SHCL                     Semi-High-Cut Leg is about 1" above the front thigh joint as it contours toward the side pelvis
HCL                       High-Cut-Leg  is at the pelvic bone prominance, the back of the opening may be slightly higher on the buttocks
VHCL                    Very-High-Cut Leg is nearly waist high, yielding a narrow side waist band and substantial rear hips exposure
V-leg                      HCL or VHCL variation, side hips are inverted V-shaped
thong                      a narrow T-shaped vertical back strap, yielding buttocks exposure
Request information regarding Exotic costuming T-strap and G-string designs.


All tights are form fitting. Most children's and ladies' styles are seamless, translucent, and of moderate weight fabric allowing, under strong lighting, skin tone to affect fabric color. Men's tights are heavier, thus more, to completely, opaque. The original dancewear design covered the body from the waist downward and the feet. Other stock variations are noted below.
footless                    waist to ankle coverage
stirrup                      footless tights with and under-the-arch strap
open-sole (or "convertible")  footed tights with a partially "slit" sole
"body-tights"          a currently popular term for a camisole leotite undergarment
full fashioned           leg-shape-cut tights with wider thigh and calf, narrower knee and ankle, requiring a back seam
"over-boot"             a currently popular term for tights designed to fit over skates



The following descriptions usually reference the shape of full length leg styles. When exact leg width is required, the measurement is made of the extended pant leg folded flat on a table.
bloused                     very loose with open or bound cuff
wide                           upper thigh size or wider  (usually straight cut)
straight                      tight through mid-thigh, then the same leg width to the bottom
flared                         widens, usually from near below the knee
bell                             wide flare near bottom
tapered                       leg narrows downward, usually from below knee
slouch                         a narrow straight or tapered over-length leg which piles on the top of the foot
The following styles are generally form fitting and vary by length.
stirrup                         tight or tapered ankle length with an arch strap
tight                             top of ankle length
capri                            calf length
pedal-pusher               knee length
bike (or bike shorts)   mid-thigh length
shorts                          upper thigh length


Common waistline variations, usually lowering the top of the pants.
                        front tapered to a lower center
low-rise                       alligned approximately near the top of the pelvis
hip-hugger                   generally alligned at the maximum hips measurement


Leotard styles are generally described by sleeve, front neckline, back, and leg opening {see Trunks & Supporters above}.


camisole                    narrow shoulder straps
tank                           1" - 2" shoulder straps
sleeveless                  2" - 4" shoulder straps
cap                             extends over top of shoulder
petal                           variously appended  (usually ruffled) cap, draping onto upper arm
short                           form fitting down onto upper arm
¾                                 form fitting down to mid-forearm
long                             form fitting to wrist
puff shoulder              with bloused shoulder, usually long sleeve
puffed                         long sleeve with puffed upper arm
bloused                       full length bloused long sleeve
Additional variations exist; e.g., multi-strap camisoles or 1-shoulder styles.


turtle (or T-)             extends up neck, zipper back
round                        circles base of neck, zipper back
high                          scoop down to sternum
boat                          wider scoop onto shoulders
scoop                        dip to top of bust
V-                             dip between breasts
adjustable                drawstring adjustable from scoop to V-
sweetheart               slightly V-neck camisole
halter                        ties behind neck


hole                           usually below a turtle-neck
square                       less rounded
cross (X-)                  straps cross
Y- (or racer)              Y-shaped
V-                              V-shaped
low                             below bra-line
deep                           scoop or V- to near waist


princess                    various (mostly vertical) seam designs intended to better pre-shape (full-fashion) the bodice and waist



wrap                          wrap-around with waist ties    
elasti-waist               pull-on with elasticized waist
mock wrap                elasti-waist with overlapping skirt end-layers representing a "wrap & tie" effect
zippered                    non-elastic waist-band with fastener above side or back zipper


Common patterns.
demi                          short wrap style with curved bottom corners which leave a center-front lower opening when worn
circle                         when laid flat the skirt hem descibes a full circle
tapered                     assymetrical hemline
petal                         assymetrical hemline longer in back
cascade                     layered style with shorter outer layers, commonly assymetrical
handkerchief            multi-pointed hemline, frequently with the points offset by layer
paneled                    similar to handkerchief with multiple square-bottomed hemline
scarf                         handkerchief-like skirt composed of several separate scarf-like drapes attached to the waistband

                Dancewear Fabrics

The 1950's began with most dancewear made from nylon; then followed nylon/rayon, nylon/polyester, nylon/Lycra, cotton/Lycra, poly-velvet/Lycra, and several variations. The 21st Century has seen a gradual fading of  simple nylon and the addition of more Lycra blends: micro-poly/Lycra, Tactel/micro-nylon, Supplex/micro-Lycra, Sensura/Lycra, Meryl/Lycra, Coolmax/bonded poly-cotton, Modal/rayon-cotton and other variations and Spandex blends; as well as, various acrylic blends for warmups and many stretch "glitz" fabrics for costuming. In an attempt to simplify the fabric descriptions, most GTS listings will be categorized "nylon", "Lycra", "cotton", etc. as described below. If, due to known allergies or other requirements, compositional specifics are required, telephone 712/255-0972. If a nylon allergy exists, be aware that many of the above trademarked names are variants of nylon.
Because many of these blends function similarly, the following nomenclatures will generally be used.
Nylon for 100% simple nylon, nylon/poly, and nylon/very low % Lycra blends. These fabrics tend to contour around body shape and have a matte to low sheen finish.
Nylon/Lycra for most nylon and or poly-nylon blends with minimum 7% Lycra or Spandex. These blends tend to be tighter fitting, yielding a more accurate body shape, with low to high sheen.
Cotton/Lycra for combinations dominantly of cotton. These usually yield the softest contours and are a matte finish.
Stretch velvet has some degree of distinctive velvet-like, relatively matte nap.
Special costume fabrics will be elsewhere separately described.


Simply listed, basic dancewear sizes range from child Tots, Small, Intermediate, Medium, Large through adult Petite, Small, Medium, Large, eXtra-large. Additional sizes include several expansions of X (XX, XXX, etc.); as well as, special cuts (child teeN, adult lonG, outsized, men's sizes, etc.). When in doubt, or if you have special fitting requirements, telephone. Individual manufacturer size charts are available on request, with some currently included with dance costume information.


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A portion of this file was last updated 9/22/10.