4 July 2011

Irish Dance Dresses: A Review

High-kicking the feis into fashion

Yesterday, I was officially introduced to the world of feis (pronounced 'fesh'), the world of Irish dance competition. Having been educated in the goings-on and customs of such contests by my friend, Aisling, I had a fair idea of what to expect, but despite this prior knowledge, those few hours at Salesian School in Chertsey were a surreal experience.

The principle reason for attending the Emerald Championships was to support Aisling at her first competition in two-and-a-half years. The fashion element - aka the dresses - was purely a secondary interest. Nonetheless, the various designs and colours of dresses were, shall we say, interesting...


Aisling had already shown me a few Irish dance dresses on the world wide web - some good, some bad. The same could be said about the dresses at the contest, although such a statement is completely due to my personal taste and not expert opinion. In modern feiseanna, it seems traditional to wear lucid colours and lots of sparkles, but from an outsider's perspective such as my own, many of those dresses wouldn't look out of place in a fancy dress shop.

Neon green, fluorescent orange, bright pink - I may own ties in these colours, but a slither of material isn't as shocking as a whole dress' worth. Many of these dresses were also glitzed and glamoured with hundreds of fake jewels, which made some look even tackier, even if they do have a £1,000+ price tag. And I suppose it didn't help either that most of the young dancers had applied a fair amount of fake tan and glittery make-up, which made the whole shebang seem very similar to a teen beauty pageant.

Aisling's dress, however, was one of the prettiest dresses at the contest, and that's not a biased opinion. Although adorned with fake diamonds, the dress itself didn't look at all tacky in its beautiful colourway of black, white and sky blue, complemented by the subtle use of blue in her make-up. The only downside of the dress' design was that the black velvet made it stifling hot for Aisling, but though my friend perspired, she did persevere.


However, more amusing than some of the dresses featured at feiseanna are the curly wigs perched atop most of the dancers' heads, which bounce animatedly as the contestants dance about the stage to a merry jig. And when I say curly, I mean curly - pretty much springs. Before attending the contest, I already thought the wigs looked ridiculous, and yesterday only confirmed this. They might be traditional headwear for Irish dancing, but watching those locks of hair jiggle will always make me want to giggle. Yes, that rhymes.

So all in all, what was originally just showing my support for a friend turned out to be an experience I won't forgetting any time soon, especially when the synthesised Irish music is resounding in my head. From a fashion perspective, all I can say is the world of feis is a weird world indeed. Brightly decorated dresses, hairdos that resemble nests of bouncing Slinkies, and too much fake tan for fifteen-year-olds - apparently all normal according to Aisling. When I see my friend dance again, maybe I'll have better luck at finding more aesthetically pleasing dresses, or perhaps I'll just grow to appreciate the lucidity and glitter of the feis fashion. I'd rather it not be latter.

(If you have a strong interest in Irish dancing and feiseanna, do subscribe to Aisling's Irish dance blog, 'Rince', for news, reviews and useful advice - just click the link in red)

© Joseph Kent / www.unlimitedbyjk.com

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