Stanford Quads

Square Dance Club

Square Dance Attire

by Bill van Melle, October 23, 1994

Traditionally, men wear long-sleeved shirts (I think the theory on long sleeves is to avoid grossing people out on Left Allemande on a warm day). Women wear frilly skirts with petticoats, though in recent years, "prairie skirts" have come to be acceptable square dance attire.

However, the Quads is an incredibly casual club. Few people come in square dance attire regularly; pants on women are fine, and unless you tend to sweat profusely (be you male or female), short sleeves are okay. If you go to another club, however, be aware that women will look very out of place in jeans, and men should wear long sleeves no matter how dry they are. If you go to a hoedown, virtually everybody comes in square dance attire. In fact, at some hoedowns and festivals, it is required--meaning that there's a good chance they'll not let you in if they don't like your clothing, or at least will hassle you. Fortunately, at most beginner hoedowns they do not expect you to be in full square dance attire, so you don't really have to worry about this for several months now.

But where do you get those funny clothes anyway? Men can get western shirts a number of places, including Sears. Some "western wear" stores have a square dancing corner. But there are also stores, whose number is unfortunately declining in our area, that specialize in square dance clothes. They sell dresses, petticoats, patterns to make your own dresses, western shirts, hats, shoes, all sorts of things. Many offer a discount to newer dancers. Just say this is the first time you've bought any square dance clothes and that you just started a class recently.

  • SDS Western Wear (formerly Sherry's Dance Store), 2468 Almaden Expressway, San Jose. Open Mon 11-7, Tue-Thu 10-5:30, Fri-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-4. 408-267-2333.
  • Malco Modes factory outlet, 1596 Howard St, San Francisco. Open Mon-Fri 8:30-4:30, occasional Sat (call first), 415-621-0840. Heavily discounted seconds and factory overruns.
Many square dance festivals have a hall (or more) of vendors from a much wider geographical area, a good opportunity to shop around.

Vaguely related tip: if you're in a strange city, the square dance stores are often a good source of information about local dances. Try looking in the yellow pages under Square Dance. If you know your plans in advance, you could also consult the National Square Dance Directory, a copy of which we have at Quads.

If you're interested in making your own dresses, Pat Ho and Charleen Bunjiovianna may be coaxed into sharing their experience with you.

More About Square Dance Attire

by Charleen Bunjiovianna, March 5, 1995

Square dance dresses are unreasonably expensive at retail (expect to spend $60-$150), so if you have any sewing experience at all, you may want to make your own. The big names in the square dance pattern business are C&C, Authentic and Kwik-Sew. Avoid Kentucky Ruffles and Shirley's patterns unless you enjoy pain and anguish. You can get square dance patterns at the Dance Store, or mail order them through a couple of companies that advertise in American Squaredance.

"But I can't sew!" I hear you wail. OK, all is not lost. You can wait for one of the infrequent sales at SDS Western Wear (formerly Sherry's Dance Store). You can try the thrift shops (don't laugh, some perfectly nice WSD apparel turns up there). Or you can take a chance and try the Malco Modes outlet up in the City.

Malco Modes is the world's largest manufacturer of square dance apparel. They also make country and western clothing, as well as bridal petticoats, though you don't see that in the outlet very often. Garments consigned to the outlet almost always have some kind of flaw, except for packaged men's shirts, which are often in discontinued colors. Sometimes the flaws are tiny or invisible and can be concealed with judicious use of appliques or lace, sometimes not. But the best news is that the prices are about half of retail. And they pay the sales tax. (Malco Modes, 1596 Howard Street, 415-621-0840. Call for hours and directions.)

You've found a nice outfit to try on. Now what?

You're looking for a fit that is flattering as well as comfortable. Make sure the waist is at your natural waistline; do a few sample Star Thru's and twirls to make sure it stays there. The fit in the waist should be snug but not suffocating. If it's too loose, you'll be tugging your dress down all evening. If you can, take along the petticoat you'll be wearing with your new dress, or find one of comparable length and fullness. You shouldn't be able to see your petticoat hanging down past your dress; the dress length should match it, or close to it. Does the dress have high tight puffed sleeves? If so, you might find the elastic starting to cut off your circulation after an hour or so on the dance floor. Consider something closer to elbow length.

Shoulder seams should fall naturally at the edge of your shoulder, not flop over onto your arm.

Twirl once more with dress and petticoat. Does the skirt fall back into place, or does it hang up on the petticoat? Now you know why many skirts and dresses have ruffles along the hem.

Pettipants. Most women like to twirl while swinging or promenading and guess what happens then? Your skirts take flight. So we have pettipants, for aw-shucks modesty.

They're available in nylon or batiste and in various lengths, from short "sissy" pants to mid-thigh to ankle-length bloomers, if you're so inclined, and in an array of colors. Most women like their pettipants to match the color of their petticoat; pettipants aren't really meant to be noticed.

Shoes. Some people will try to tell you that you need square dance shoes, which start at about $40 a pair for ladies' shoes, $60 a pair for men's. Don't believe it. Sure, there are some dance floors where you must bring non-street shoes, but in this area most dancing is done on cement floors at the various local schools, where no one's too concerned about damaging the finish. Anyway, many women I know wear sneakers because they're comfortable and give good support; as far as I'm concerned, any shoe is okay as long as it won't come off in mid-tip and it gives you decent traction.

Some of the off-price stores, like Ross, currently have pretty embellished white sneakers in stock that would do nicely as "dressy" square dance shoes for hoedowns...for a fourth or a third of what you'd pay at a square dance shop.

About Petticoats

by Charleen Bunjiovianna, January 15, 1995

You don't have to worry about "square dance attire" yet, but before too long you will be full Plus level dancers and might want to partake of some of the events outside of Quads. Thankfully, the definition of acceptable square dance attire for women has been evolving in recent years to include the loosely defined "prairie skirt" (most any sort of long, flowing skirt), which gives you a lot more choices. However, given how recent this development is, you'll still find the majority of women at area hoedowns in the more traditional 1950's party attire, and many of them profess to prefer it. So for those of you interested (for whatever reason) in learning more about this fashion, Charleen has written a series of articles, of which this is the first. --Ed.

Probably the first time you saw one being worn you thought, "How the heck does she get through doorways wearing that thing?" But besides being showy, square dance petticoats serve a practical purpose: they stabilize you when you twirl.

Modern square dance petticoats, in ascending order of cost, are generally made of net, tricot, organza, woven polyester, crystal organza, and tissue lame. You can get them in just about any fullness you desire, from barely noticeable under a skirt, to so voluminous you could put out table settings for four on one.

Tricot "softie" petticoats, a good choice for beginners, are comfortable, inexpensive, and don't make you feel that you resemble the Liberty Bell on the dance floor. Organza is less comfy, holds a more rigid silhouette, and depending on how it's stored, may compress and flatten out over time.

Crystal organza, a sparkly translucent fabric that comes in many wonderful colors, is the choice of most veteran dancers because it packs well, machine washes (on the delicate cycle), dries quickly, retains its shape and wears like iron. It is also not cheap: square dance shops typically sell 50 yard crystal petticoats for about $80. Ouch.

You're going to hear petticoat fullness referred to in terms of yardage, by the way. 50 yards doesn't mean that 50 yards of fabric were used in the construction; petticoat yardage is determined by measuring the bottom edge. You'll also see them referred to by length. Common lengths are 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23 inches. Length is measured exclusive of the waistband.

How long a petticoat you should wear is up to you; try several lengths to see what looks good. But the smartest people I know choose one length and stick with it, so they never have to worry about matching skirt and petticoat lengths.

Last updated Wednesday 8 August 2007