Short Answer: First Tango Class/Event
Dress like you’re going to a cocktail party: For women, a knee-length dress. For men, business/dress trousers and a shirt with collar and buttons (tie and jacket are not necessary).
A few things to keep in mind:
- Regardless of the season, you are going to be very warm at this party, so don’t wear any wool!
- Girls: Don’t wear a very short or very tight skirt. You need to be able to lift or open your legs without showing your panties. Don’t wear a strapless dress or a very deep v-neck.
- Shoes: need to stay on your feet with strap or laces and no grippy rubber on the soles.
Long Answer: Building a Tango Wardrobe
I’m passionate about finding the best technique, but that’s not all I want for you! Another aspect of tango is the chance to express ourselves through costuming. While you’re welcome to dress as casually as you like for tango (and people do!), there’s always someone in the room taking up the invitation to express themselves aesthetically. Tango is a chance to maximize your masculinity, femininity, or general artsiness. There are only a few rules about what to wear. Whether it’s a formal milonga or a regular afternoon practica, attention to your clothing gives you power and delights your fellow dancers.
The main thing to pay attention to when shopping and dressing is how a piece of clothing makes you feel. Notice if you are smiling, notice if you are twirling or tapping your feet. If this piece of clothing gives you joy and makes you want to dance, then it’s a keeper. If you’re feeling doubtful or self-conscious, take it off! Your clothing needs to meet and elevate your mood. One day the red dress does this, but another day it just feels like too much. Respect the subtle reactions you have as you are dressing, and let your clothes and taste help you assemble something that works.
Definitely dress in a way that makes you feel sexy. One of the things I love about tango is that no one will ever say “you’re too old to be wearing that.” It is, however possible to dress too sexy.
What to wear is clothes and shoes that you LOVE, and buy any kind you want. They do not need to be designed for tango!
More about SHOES in a separate post.
I do not believe in buying purpose-made tango dance shoes, because they are so boring. You can read my rant about this here. Dancing technique is not in your shoe technology, it’s in your muscle control. Good dancers can dance in nearly any shoe.
Any shoe will do as long as it meets two criteria:
- It must stay on your foot in all kinds of action by means of a strap or laces.
- It must not grip the floor
Buy shoes you like. Try dancing in them. If they have leather soles you are good to go. Most shoes these days have rubber or plastic soles. There are thousands of different materials and some of them pivot just fine. But if your shoes are too slippery or too sticky, buy some scrap leather, cut it to match your shoe, and use contact cement to cover the front 1/2 of the shoe. (Any shoe repair shop can do this for you, but you can save lots of money by doing it yourself.) Some people like to have the shiny side of the leather in contact with the floor (use rough sandpaper to take off the smoothness), others prefer to have the suede side in contact with the floor. If you choose suede side for the floor, then don’t wear these shoes in the street or through rain. You can regularly restore the surface with sandpaper.
If you are a skirt-wearing person who dances both roles and doesn’t want to change your shoes after every tanda, consider wedge sneakers which give you sneaker stability as a mark while looking better than a flat sneaker with your skirt.
Clothing: Cautionary notes about what to wear to dance Argentine Tango
- Men’s clothing
- Make sure that your pants do not have a turned-up cuff. It’s very easy for a stiletto heel to get caught here and this is one of the few things that can bring both partners crashing to the floor.
- Women’s clothing
- Your skirt must not be tight at the thigh or knees as this will prevent you from moving your legs.
- Avoid handkerchief hems and dangling hem adornments as these can catch your heels which is disruptive for the Mark.
- Don’t . Wear . Strapless . It . Will . Fall . Down . No . Amount . of . Hollywood . Tape . Can . Save . You.
- Men and Women what to wear: Accessories
- Remember you are going to be dancing in close embrace, at least some of the time. Do not wear anything big and hard on your front side, because you will find it digging into your flesh (and your partner’s). And watch out for things on arms and backside that could catch and entangle with your partner’s hands or buttons during a change of embrace.
- Hats are ok if you are sure you’ll be taller than your partners. Women should be careful that hair style and adornments don’t block the view of their partner, especially on the right side of your head. If your hairstyle extends lateral of your face, wear a beautiful hairclip on the right side of your head to hold it away from his sightline.
Shopping and Dressing tips
*** Please arrange mirrors in your house so you can take a good look at the backside of your outfit before going out. This is what people see when you are dancing. Make sure you like how it looks. Use a hand mirror to have a good look at your reflection backwards; just twisting around does not provide an accurate view. Be sure to check what happens when you raise your arms and twist back and forth a lot! (Girls: short skirts may get too short, tops may ride up. Guys: jacket shoulders may get inelegantly bunchy.)
You may want to check out my notes on packing for a trip to Buenos Aires and what to wear there.
- Jackets are very elegant, but they are often HOT and they are stiff which makes it hard for you to move and hard for your partner to feel your body. Look for lightweight jackets and be sure to check how they look when you raise your arms in a tango embrace. Especially check out the behavior of the part of the jacket at your tail. Some flaps and pleats behave well and others don’t.
- Safer than a jacket is a really great over-shirt. Maybe try some shirts more spectacular than your ordinary wardrobe… Color and self-expression are very attractive.
- Some men like to bring a change of under t-shirt or even a second dress shirt when they go dancing, in case the first outfit gets hot and wet from wonderfully energetic and passionate dancing.
- Wide . Legged . Pants . Make . Your . Ass . Look . Better .
- I prefer the leg to hang straight down to the floor from the outermost part of the ass and not to come in at the ankle at all. This is my personal preference for nice lines on all people at all times, and has nothing at all to do with styles of dancing tango. Since these pants are completely out of fashion and have been replaced with these incredibly unflattering tight-legged things, you’ll have to go to a hip hop store or a skateboard shop to find something attractive. Unfortunately, the US company Carhartt’s has changed the cut of the most fabulous pants ever made, washed duck work pants. I can now recommend the gorgeous pants from Doosh NZ. Recommended model is Roadrunner. Looks great for casual and dressy.
You may also want to check further tips in my guide: How to become a Hot TangoMan for secrets from the Tangueras who hope to dance with you.
- The base of my wardrobe is a collection of black cocktail dresses that look and feel great. These are for when I need to dress in 5 minutes, or in a car, or without a mirror…
- Legs are sexy. Wear a dress. Knee length or slightly above. Make sure the hem of the dress hits your legs above the place where your lower leg muscles start to curve inward. If your skirt hits on the wide part of your leg, even nice legs look matronly.
- If you are blessed with skinny legs, you have a real advantage. If you wear a miniskirt men will be absolutely blind to your dancing level. They are mesmerized by staring at the bottom of that miniskirt from the back, so they will want to dance with you regardless of any other shortcomings. Please get a girlfriend to check your miniskirt and make sure that no matter what movements are marked, you are not going to embarrass yourself by flashing your ass or more. Some kinds of elasticized ones stay put, others don’t. Make sure that your skirt does not restrict your movement in any way!
- If you are blessed with a great ass, you have a real advantage. Wrap it tight, but make sure you can still take big steps and make great voleos. Find a skirt that’s tight on the ass, but leaves your legs free to take a 70cm step if necessary.
- Cleavage. Cleavage. Cleavage. You will get more dances. (Don’t forget to smile.)
- You can’t have enough tango jewelry! It makes those black cocktail dresses sizzle and it can rescue bad necklines … But don’t spend a lot of money on it. Anything sparkly will do. Delicate jewelry won’t show in the dark so glam it up! Shop for jewelry in thrift stores and flea markets.
- I love A-line skirts and skirts with a yoke at the top. I’ve turned some favorite straight skirts into tango dresses just by carefully cutting the stitches in the side seam to a point where I can move my legs enough.
- When you shop, look first at the back of the clothes. Many dresses have all kinds of cute in the front and it all stops abruptly at the side seams. If the back is plain, move on. If the side seams are ugly, move on. People are basically going to be looking at your side and back. That’s where the outfit has to look good. Look for backs that have lace, openings, or something else interesting.
- A good place to focus your attention is on full-skirted party dresses with shoulder straps.
- The torso section of your dress needs to be fairly trim down to your hip bones. If it’s loose above the hip bones it will at times (when your hips are back of your torso, which will happen a lot) be hanging straight down from your breasts and this will make you look bulky or pregnant. Baby doll, tent/trapeze, and empire/high-waisted don’t work. Princess, basque, A-line, and halter often do fine. Sheaths are too tight in the legs. Drapes can look very bulky from the side when you’re twisting. Wrap dresses are cute in the front but often disastrous on the ass.
- What to wear under your clothes
- If your dress is short, has a slit, or if you do big motions with your legs, wear girl shorts. My favorite are Spanx.
- Backless or laceback tops and dresses are great for tango. Nobody wants to see your brastraps. Clear plastic bra straps are NOT after all invisible and they are ugly. This is my favorite backless bra from NuBra.
- When managing that cleavage with a deep-v bra, make sure to choose a bra that has some vertical hold, not just a horizontal push inward. Pushing them toward each other puts them at risk of jumping out when you twist. This might distract your partner, leading to a less artistic dance.
- Wear . A . Soft . Bra . Underwire and padding is ok, but when you press your tits toward your body, they should flatten softly. Stiff, unyielding bra fabric feels terrible pressed against the man’s chest.
I see dressing up as a gift to a milonga, like candles and flowers. We make the room more beautiful. But tango is also supposed to be creative, so it’s an extra contribution if you remind people about self-expression, by wearing something really interesting and unusual.
I love to dance in platform shoes.
I believe that any two pieces of vintage lingerie layered over one another makes a tango outfit. (Black shoes and lots and lots of jewelery ensures you don’t look too bedroomy.)
I also layer jewelery, from 3-6 short necklaces in a monochrome scheme.