The two styles of dresses worn in Irish dance are the school dress and solo dress. All dancers for public performances and team competitions wear the school dress, or team dress. The solo dress is a decorative competition dress worn by dancers who have achieved a level of expertise. This dress is made of varying materials, trims and styles and is a necessity for someone who is serious about Irish dance competition.
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Solo Dress History
The solo dress incorporates Celtic images from the Book of Kells -- an illuminated manuscript showcasing ornate designs of swirling and interlacing patterns that included humans, animals and mythology. Historically the dresses were made of a heavy velvet material with a soft shawl and minimal embellishment. However the style of solo dresses has evolved as the competitions gained in popularity.
The purpose of the solo dress is to make each dancer stand out and catch the judge's eye. The dress is custom-made for the dancer who has input into the style, materials, trim and accessories. The traditional design is a long sleeve princess cut bodice with a skirt that is at least 2 inches and no more than 4 inches above the knee as mandated by the Irish Dance Commission and North American Feis Commission. Solo dresses are now offered in a two piece look with the bodice being replaced with a jacket and the skirt attached to a cotton camisole that is worn underneath. Many dancers prefer this look so they can remove the jacket between events at competitions and still be modest. Skirt variations are gored, gladiator, cupcake, rah or ruffled.
Materials suggested to construct a solo dress bodice are taffeta, silk, satin or stretch velvet, and taffeta, satin, organza and lace for the skirt. A dancer can also choose to wear a tulle petticoat under a ruffled or rah skirt for added fullness. Trim material can be embroidery, lace, ribbon appliques, sequins and beads. A Celtic design is still desirable, but many dancers are moving away from the traditional in favour of a modern look using crystals and other gemstones for embellishment in no particular pattern. The detachable shawl is made of a contrasting colour and fabric from the body of the dress. Variations of the shawl are loose, ruffled or a stiff design taken from the dress.
The solo dress is the most expensive part of the Irish dance costume. New dresses, as of May 2011, range in price from £325 to £1,950. The cost is determined by the style, material, trim and labour costs involved. To help defray this expense, many dancers buy a preowned dress.
The price of a preowned solo dress can range between £65 to £975 depending on the condition of the item.
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