by Karen White
Costume day can be the best of days—so many jubilant students! But if the costumes don’t fit, it can become the worst day. Students are sad, parents are frustrated, and studio owners face the nail-biting uncertainty of getting the right sizes in time for the recital.
Erika Duszny, product development manager at the Pennsylvania-based costume company A Wish Come True, spends her days thinking about costume sizing. Getting it right means a lot, says Duszny, who grew up assisting her mother in making costumes for the studio where her two sisters and brother danced. “Dance costumes have been my entire life,” she says. “I’d get excited to see a costume of mine on stage, but if someone missed on the sizing, even a great style won’t look good.”
Sizing dance students of so many shapes and, well, sizes, can be a tricky process. Duszny shared some tips teachers should consider when they’re making those all-important size decisions.
Consider the costume’s style. The traditional rule of thumb for sizing dance students is to go by the girth measurement. Girth is still the most important measurement when you’re sizing costumes built with length, Duszny says, such as a unitard, leotard, or shortall. But for two-piece costumes, girth takes a back seat to the width measurements of hips, waist, and bust.
Will the fabric stretch? Duszny says costume companies can’t control how much stretch fabric manufacturers put in the cloth they make. But generally, a velour or spandex blend will stretch, while a tightly tailored silk ballet bodice will not. Sequins are often sewn on with thread that doesn’t stretch—which means that pretty sequined neckline might not stretch, either. When in doubt, Duszny advises teachers, call the company’s customer service representative, who can describe the fabric’s stretchiness or mail out a swatch.
A size chart is just a guide. If a student’s measurements all fall close to or hit the upper edges of a size according to the size chart, choosing the next size up is a safe choice. But be aware that the costume may need to be altered, Duszny says. If a student’s measurements fit within a size except for girth, the teacher might need to make a judgment call after considering both the costume’s style and the student’s body shape.
What about growth? Who will know if a student measured in October will still fit in that size by the June recital? “This is the hardest question,” Duszny says. As a rule, girls will sprout quickly during the middle-school years, with their growth slowing as they advance though high school. Boys’ growth spurts, though, hit at around age 15 or 16. Duszny says A Wish Come True’s intermediate small child and intermediate medium child sizes are for elementary and middle-school students who gain height (but not weight) quickly.
Not all students progress through sizes in order. For girls’ costumes, the cut of a child size is straight, while adult sizes are cut with a female curve. This means the next size up for a large child might not be small adult (with its tiny waist) but medium adult. Duszny says the next size up for a double extra-large child is extra-large adult.
When in doubt, call the costume company and ask. “If you have two or three girls who are splitting the sizing, or who are super tall and skinny and you can’t figure out the size, call us and we will help you,” she says. “If your student is OK with a tighter fit, we’ll advise this, or if you are OK with having alternations done, we’ll advise that. But the decision is really down to the teacher. You know your students, and that’s better than any chart.”
DSL associate editor Karen White, a former newspaper reporter and freelance writer, has taught dance in private studios and choreographed musicals since age 17 and has no plans to stop.