I remember four years ago. My son was getting ready to compete at his first big regional Irish dance competition, an Oireachtas. He had always just worn the "school costume" for his Irish dance that consisted of a colored shirt that was one of the school's colors, a black satin tie with a Celtic trinity knot embroidered on it, and black dress pants straight out of a department store. That was what many of the boys wore. We knew that we would need to improve his costume a bit to compete at the higher Oireachtas level, by adding a black vest.
So, when he came out of an Oireachtas workshop class and shared with me that he'd been told he needed a black vest with rhinestone buttons, I was a bit shocked. Rhinestone buttons? As in shiny, giant, diamond-looking buttons on my boy child?? Ummmmm........ like a Liberace-esque, crystal, shiny, costume on my kid?
Yes, I know.
I look back and see that the costume slippery-slope began that day for us.
Rhinestones? WHAT!? On my boy!? Must be a joke, I thought. I went back into the dance studio really believing that they would tell me that my son was mistaken, had heard wrong. But no, instead, I was looked at a bit like I was an idiot for questioning the costume that my son was to have made to wear at the oireachtas.
Well, okay then! When I'm told what to do, I get a little rebellious and over-do things a bit. Not only did we have a friend custom make a black vest with rhinestone buttons, but we went one step farther and had it made in black velvet. We laughed about that vest. We watch a lot of kid movies, and there's a line from the Shrek movie where the gingerbread man says, "Not my gumdrop buttons!!" We found ourselves laughing and saying, "Not the rhinestone buttons!!" We're a slightly warped family as far as humor goes.
So, off we went to the Oireachtas, and he looked great!! He ended up qualifying for the World Championships that very first year, much to my shock. YAY!! Worlds was in Philadelphia that year. We got him signed up, and he practiced his little heart out. We kept the same costume. Afterall, the rhinestone buttons had served him well at the Oireachtas, so we figured that they'd fit right in, and so would he, on the World's stage.
We got there and got him checked in. Yes, there were costumes on par with his. However, as I looked around, my jaw about hit the floor! When telling my husband about all the boys' costumes I saw that day, I told him that I was to the point that I wouldn't have been shocked if someone had come on stage in a costume with light-up, Christmas lights similar to Robert Redford's character in the "Electric Horseman".
My son's rhinestone buttons paled in comparison to the sequins, embroidery, crystals, and colorful combinations of fabrics. I only saw a few that I thought were over-the-top, but most of them, although very shiny, were really quite amazing. The costumes helped the guys stand out and showed the different personalities of the boys. There was nothing mundane about the costumes I saw that day, and it definitely opened my kiddo's eyes up to what he could want for himself. I also would say that any of the costumes that I thought were a little over-the-top that day, I wouldn't even bat an eyelash at today.
It's been 4 yrs. The costumes that I saw that day on the world stage as being colorful and sparkly have definitely trickled down to the local feisanna (competitions).
If you've seen the dresses the girls wear once they become a prizewinner (or whatever level their school has as a determining factor for them to be able to get a solo dress), then you can understand how very unique the current boys' costumes are. Many of the girls and their moms design their unique dresses with much teacher input. The same thing is now a right-of-passage for the boys! Many of the boys now design their costumes with mom and teacher help or at the very least pick out the colors. The girls have done this for years, and it's nice to see the boys be able to share this same experience as they move to the higher competitive levels.
The first company that I know of that was on the scene with the embroidery on velvet waistcoats and crystals was Elevations Designs. When we first checked out their designs, they had maybe six waistcoats as examples on their site. Now, they have 7 pages of unique designs. They not only still make waistcoats, but they also make a one piece long-sleeved jacket that looks very streamlined and militaristic in appearance. the first I had seen those jackets was at Worlds in April. By the time the North American Irish Dance Championships took place in July, they'd become all the rage. Also, when we first checked out Elevations, they had waistcoats with mainly geometric and Celtic embroidery, now the embroidery has also become popular in very military designs mimicking military uniforms. That seems to be one of the biggest trends for this year, 2011- the military look for the Irish dancing boys and men.
Now, four years later, there are many companies making waistcoats/vests for the guys. Many of the vests are one-of-a-kind. The majority of them are velvet with a satin back. They are embroidered, and then usually shipped without the crystals. Moms of boy Irish dancers are pretty handy and creative at getting the crystals on-- which are usually Swarovski element crystals. Anything seems to go as far as color. The other big trend other than the jackets and military look, is that in giving the vests a very custom-looking, form-fitted appearance and embellishing the vests, many designers have opted to do away with the front opening with buttons and instead have gone to a hidden side zipper under the arm of the vest.
Here are some links to some popular Irish dance costume makers and waistcoat designers (there are wonderful pictures of the latest waistcoats/vests that they have made on the sites):
That above link is also the premiere source for custom-made, boys, Irish dance pants.
Where my son and I once said, "Not the rhinestone buttons!", we now say, "Bring on the crystals and color." For my kiddo and me, we both really love the current trends in boys' costumes. I will say, "Stop!" though if any electric lights go on the costumes. However, until that line in the sand is reached, I love all the fabulously unique and creative costumes the boys, moms, teachers, and designers are coming up with. I can't wait to see what the trends for boy Irish dance costumes will be come 2012!