Boys' Irish Step Dancing Costumes: Descriptions and Comments

Figure 1.--Often the younger boys doing Irish dance wear long black pants or during the summer short pants.

Parents and Irish dancers have described or commented on the boys' dancing costumes:

Question: What do the boys in dance groups/schools wear for performances?

I'd love to have find a vest for James to wear. We are thinking an Irish style/cut vest in black velvet with either quilted/embroidery knotwork in gold thread or some simple appliqué work.--Jacki

A few of the younger boys wear simple kilts as their parents still dominate how they dress. As they grow older and become more aware of things they start to rebel against wearing a "skirt". They then graduate to black slacks and a white shirt with a green vest which mimics out male adult dancers. A couple of the older teens have gone back to kilts for competitions, more adult in nature, but as gaudy as some of the solo dresses.--Roger

At my school, the boys wear black pants, a white shirt and a red and green plaid wool vest. That's the school costume, anyway, and those that do solo dancing usually wear black pants and a bright rayon shirt with an embroidered cummerbund.--Meighan

The Bracken School in Arizona just has the boys wear collar-less white shirts & black slacks, but the last thing I heard was that they were going to get embroidered cummerbunds.--Sharon

Well, the guys at Heritage and the Denver Ceili Club wear the off-white shirt (collarless, slightly foofy sleeves, sort of the riverboat style shirt in cotton), a dark green Pendleton wool kilt with their choice in silver pin, black socks and shoes and of course a pair of flashpants (Molly's husband Bill is known throughout the area for his tiger-striped flashpants). The younger boys have been told that they may wear white shirt and black pants; however, after a while of watching the adult men in the kilts, they generally seem to ask to wear a kilt as well. (For some inexplicable reason, we've always had lots of men in the DCC -- which is nice for "kilt points".) For casual shows outdoors, they generally wear a tweed cap, especially at Estes Park, where you're alternately fried by the sun and liberally doused by the afternoon storms. Of course they never wear them for competition. I've also seen blazers in the school colors which always strikes me as a good way to die of heat prostration. Vests seem a nice compromise if they're wearing pants. St. Brendan's here in town wears white shirt with tie, purple vest with black back and black pants.--Molly

The boys in our school wear either black pants with a black long-sleeved button-down shirt, or a white long-sleeved shirt with a black or green tie and black pants. Very simple, very nice!--Pamela

Figure 2.--These dancers wear their school uniforms for dancing pairs. They are watching other dancers perform. Many dancers get new ideas for their routiens by watching the other dancers. The solo costumes that they will soon qualify for can be quite expensive.

Question: For folks who aren't into big investments for costumes, where do they turn?--Paul

Paul, it also depends on how traditional a costume you want to have. At Heritage, the decision was made that it was 1) more important that we have a costume quickly, 2) that it should be inexpensive, since everyone is still buying first and second pairs of hardshoes, etc. and taking full loads of classes, and 3) it should be attractive but not necessarily completely traditional, as we will do that later when we have more time and cash available to us.

So at Heritage, we have the women in green stretch velvet leotards (we had them made by a company called Pumpers ( -- they're great, they gave us two-toned, long-sleeved leotards, the stretch green on top and white to match the linings of our skirts on the bottoms) with white crocheted lace collars, we had skirts of green peachskin and white satin linings and gold "belt" made, and we now have white capes lined with gold that Molly's company, It's Knotwork To Me, embroidered for us. (Molly has a page at We wear poodle socks rather than tights, since black tights with the white linings would look awful. (Molly's company also makes lovely dresses, but her waiting list is very long, as her dresses aren't as expensive as the imported ones. If you're willing to wait, I'd take a look at her web site.)

The boys wear a white shirt and green wool kilts with black socks. We have a contact at the Pendleton wool factory who gets us the green wool from factory ends, and we have a local kiltmaker make them up for us. Adults have a lot more latitude than the kids do for non-traditional, Riverdance style costumes.

Of course, all dance costumes for competitions have to meet the basic rules -- no skirts more than four inches over the knee, no necklines lower than the collarbones, etc. I've been thinking, as a former theatrical costumer, of drafting patterns for Irish dance dresses and selling the things. They're not particularly easy to make, but they're not as tough as, say, sewing tutus. There seems to be a market for it. Someday when I have the time, maybe.--Zina

Figure 3.--Initially younger boys danced in pants until there parents were sure that they were serious enough about dancing to justify the purchase of an expensive kilt. American dancers have increasingly performed in pants during the 1990s.

I am wondering if my son could wear his Highland kilt outfit in Irish competition?--Mary

In IRISH DANCING magazine I saw photos of (father and son) competitors dressed in kilts that looked like what boys wear in Scottish Highland dance. Most Irish kilts for boys I have seen are a solid color like beige, gray, etc. Are tartan kilts allowed? Also, I heard that kilts are not really in, that most boys /men wore pants at the Worlds and a bright shirt. Your thoughts?

Well, I don't know whether you could wear a tartan, but pants are historically more correct (don't argue with me; argue with photographic record and Dr. Culliane), and are indeed becoming more popular among advanced boys. The two boys who went to worlds this year from our school both wore pants, with button-front shirts and school cummerbunds. Although it would be far more cost-effective to use the tartan, I have never seen it done (this does NOT, however, make it an intrensically wrong or disagreeable thing to do!), and, if it is not appropriate, I'd reccomend the pants instead, as they seem to be far less expensive, as well as more stylish.--Elizabeth

Christopher Wagner

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Last updated: May 20, 1999