Swing dancing came about in the late 1930s and had a revival in the 1990s. Many continue to swing dance and love to dress up in vintage styles. Clothing styles from the 1940s and 1950s have the most appeal to swing dancers and lindy hoppers, whereas Charleston dresses are ideal for ’20s dances. These two eras have iconic clothing styles that are easy to recreate using repro or vintage inspired clothing. Since they were born from the “swing era,” the clothing is designed with dancers in mind. This quick guide will get you started on choosing swing dance clothing that is both vintage in style but with all the modern conveniences we expect to have today.
1940s Swing & Lindy Dance Clothing
1940s Dress: For women, the 1940s style usually consisted of a dress with a fitted top, a small collar, and an A-line skirt. A shirtdress (button down dress) is a good choice. Dresses with buttons that go down to just the waist are fine, too. Even a wrap dress is a 1940s style. A signature color combination to try to look for is an all black, navy blue, or other darker colored dress with a white collar. Dresses with floral prints continued to be popular for casual dances. Shop 1940s style dresses.
1940s Blouse: An alternative to a dress is a blouse and an A-line skirt. The blouse should be button down, fitted and have a smaller point collar or Peter Pan collar. The signature look to both 1940s blouses and dresses is puffy sleeve caps. The extra room makes a big difference when swing dancing with arm raises.
Keep the blouse buttoned all the way up and tucked in. For a more accurate feel, the dress or blouse should be simple, with little to no ruffles, lace or bows. Stick to plain solid colors, plaids, or small flower patterns. Consider Hawaiian prints, which were in style in the later part of the 1940s. A thin belt that is the same color as the dress is a nice touch. Try to keep the necklines up and more conservative.
Shop 1940s style blouses here.
1940s Skirts: These were an A-line shape – not too full, but with some flair to make them easy to move/dance in. As the decade moved on, they became fuller with pleated skirts and wider A-lines with a modest crinoline slip underneath. The length of 1940s skirts is ideal for dancing – right below the knee. Anything shorter can be too immodest, and anything longer is too difficult to move in. Learn about 1940s skirts and shop vintage inspired styles here. (Tip: For comfort and modesty, be sure to wear tights, shorts, or vintage style tap pants under your skirt.)
Shorts and pants: An alternative to dresses and skirts are a pair of vintage shorts or pants. Judy Garland in the topmost picture is dancing in a pair of high waist shorts with a nautical stripe on the side. These are very popular style shorts today, but be sure they don’t come up too short in the leg. 1940s pants had very wide legs that had a swing movement all on their own. They were also high waisted. Wearing shorts and pants may be comfortable to practice in, but they are not period correct to performance dance in. It is up to you on how “vintage” you want to be.
Swing Dance Shoes: Proper swing dance shoes are a must! This is one nice advantage to modern technology. We now can make vintage style shoes that are made for dancing. Suede soles made spinning easier. No slip insoles absorb sweat and keep your foot in place. Mesh and cutouts help your foot stay ventilated. Hard toe caps protect your toes from the accidental miss-step.
1950s Swing Dance Clothing
1950s swing dresses expanded in width with multiple layers of petticoats underneath. Fuller, longer skirts, matched with tighter tops, made vigorous swing dancing a thing of the past. The new 1950s swing was much more mellow to dance to. If you want to dance without the major workout, a 1950s swing dress or skirt and blouse is ideal for you.
1950s swing dresses today don’t have to be worn with a crinoline. They look better if they are, but are more comfortable without. The choice is yours. The full skirts should end around mid-shin and won’t fly up as much as ’40s styles will. The trend for halter neck or other sleeveless styles also makes them cooler to wear. The colors and large prints offer a lot of variety to choose from. Don’t dismiss the plain colors, either. When you add in jewelry, a vintage hairstyle, and a cardigan sweater to wear to and from the dance, the whole outfit will shine with ’50s perfection.
1950s skirts were just as full as the dresses. A circle skirt is the most fun to wear and has the most movement. Twirling on the dance floor is a lot of fun in a ’50s circle skirt. The original poodle skirt was a circle skirt. While felt is a nice lightweight material, it is also HOT. I don’t recommend dancing in a felt circle skirt. Cotton is best, followed by blends, or a sheer chiffon layered over a light petticoat.
1950s Blouses: 1950s blouses were even more fitted than 40s styles and lacked puffy sleeves. Sleeveless styles were very common along with short cap sleeves. Both styles were ideal for dancing – no arm restrictions! The rest of the blouse was fitted very snug to the body and tucked into the skirt. There are many repro ’50s blouses with an edgy rockabilly feel. These might have motifs of skulls, roses, music, tattoo art, or animals. Otherwise, a simple button-down blouse with or without a collar and cap sleeves will work well with your skirt. Shop 1950s style blouses.
What about men’s swing dance clothing? My husband wrote an article on how to dress for swing dancing that helps you beat the sweat. Read it here.