Published on October 7th, 2013 | by beauty international


Secrets behind strictly come dancing dresses

Since it’s revival back in 2004, Strictly Come Dancing has become something of a Saturday night institution for millions of us, and one of the BBC’s most popular television shows. The eleventh series is set to start this weekend, and I for one can’t wait to see the dazzling tans, fluttering eyelashes and sparkling dresses once more! We’d bet that most people watch the show for the glitz and the glamour, so thought we’d do a little digging behind the scenes and find out some secrets behind the costumes used on the show.

image: Nancy Dell’Olio, Strictly Come Dancing series 9 (from strictlycomedancing.tv)

The costume-making process begins in the summer each year, where the Head of Costume at the BBC meets with the programme’s Head Designers to discuss possible styles and outfits for the professionals’ dresses that series. The team talks through everything - colours, shapes, fabrics - with the professionals, and then meet with the celebrities to discuss their outfits. It’s important that the celebrities are completely happy with their costumes, since many of them aren’t used to wearing such revealing, sparkly outfits!

image: Alesha Dixon, Strictly Come Dancing series 5 (from worlddancemanagement.com)

Two different companies - Chrisanne in Mitcham, and DanceSport International in Croydon - work on a freelance basis to create all the costumes for the celebrities and the professional dancers, overseen by the BBC’s Head of Costume. In the beginning, three or four dresses are designed and created in advance for each celebrity, but as the series progresses everything is done on a week-to-week basis. As the elimination process heats up, dresses can be designed and created in as little as two days, with last minute hemming and strap adjustment made during the dress rehearsals on the Friday before the live show.

Dresses can’t be made until the designers know which dances the celebrities will be showcasing that week: dances such as the waltz call for floaty, soft princess-like gowns, while the tango demands a more weighty dress to cope with the dance’s staccato movements.

image: Chelsee Healy, Strictly Come Dancing series 9 (from buzzmag.co.uk)

Bizarrely, all the female dancers foresake underwear. Each dress is constructed on top of a leotard, which eliminates the need for underwear. The design and manufacturing teams have a number of tricks up their sleeve to help the celebrities and professionals feel more comfortable in these daring outfits: they can increase the size of small busts with padding or ‘chicken fillets’, they can support larger busts with underwiring, and elasticise the waist to create a slimming effect.


You might notice that at the beginning of the series, the celebrities’ dresses are longer and more modest, getting progressively shorter and more daring as they progress. As they train more and more, they lose weight and become more confident in their abilities - the designers say that the celebrities often ask to make their dresses shorter and more revealing!


image: Aliona Vilani, Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special (from telegraph.co.uk)

The BBC don’t buy the dresses outright - they hire them from DanceSport International and Chrisanne, who then go on to sell the costumes to other dance professionals, performers and competitors, and even members of the public who like to wear them for special ocassions or proms.


Each dress is passed through the hands of different specialists; designers, pattern-cutters, seamstresses, beaders and embellishers all play their parts. And each dress can take between 30 and 50 hours to create - that’s just the physical making of the costume, not taking into account the design process!

image: Alex Jones, Strictly Come Dancing series 9 (from digitalspy.co.uk)

All these skills and techniques add up, meaning each dress can cost up to around £2000. Of course, the price depends on the techniques needed to make it and how many sparkly Swarovski crystals are used to embellish it - the average dress is embellished with a staggering 10,000 sequins, rhinestones and crystals!

Next time we tune in to Strictly Come Dancing, we’ll be paying even closer attention to the costumes and dresses now we know some of the secrets behind their creation.

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