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How to Choose and Care for a Professional Ballet Tutus
It may be as simple as your first school performance, or as special as your first dance competition or ballet school tryout. Or perhaps you've just reached the stage in your ballet training where you're ready to wear a tutu in class.
Whatever the reason, congratulations!
The Practice Tutu
The practice tutu usually has no bodice - it looks rather like ruffles stitched on to a panty.
In fact, the cheaper versions are just that: a pair of stretchy pull-on "granny pants" with a frill attached. Don't waste your time with these - they don't give a smooth line, and the ruffles are floppy.
Some cheap practice tutus have no panty, and are stitched on to a stiff hip band. That may look fine while you're standing still, but the frill will lift and bounce around when you're dancing. It's very distracting to find your tutu up around your armpits after a jump! If you've already bought a tutu like this, pin the lower edge of the band to your leotard every time you wear it.
In a proper rehearsal tutu (like the red one in the picture), the panty is made up of two sections. The top section - the part that's visible above the tutu frill - is called the basque. It's firm and fitted, which gives the frill support so you get a better shape to the tutu. This kind of professional practice tutu is unquestionably your best choice. Not only does it look better, it feels and behaves like a performance tutu - which means you really get the feel for dancing in costume.
Practice tutus are usually black, but this Benefis rehearsal tutu comes in several colors. It's also good enough quality to wear on stage with an added bodice, so it's a good investment.
Don't think a bodice/rehearsal tutu combination is "make-do" - some tutu makers make all their professional tutus with a separate bodice.
The bodice to match the rehearsal tutu. This is a plain bodice - you can add your own beading, lace or applique.
The Performance Tutu
If you're ready for serious performance - perhaps you've made a competition final, or have a big audition - there's no substitute for a custom-made tutu. While the prices of cheap Chinese tutus may be tempting, the fit and finish are often disappointing - and it's vital to have confidence in your costume when performing.
A white tutu is the best choice for your first professional tutu, because it will work for any of the classics, and can dress if up for other roles with colored overskirts or trims. White doesn't have to be boring - you still have many opportunities to make your tutu unique. For instance:
- Bodice - boned or not boned? Low back? How many panels?
- Neckline - V? Sweetheart? Plunge?
- Sleeves - Ruffle? Puff? Flutter?
The downside of a custom tutu is that costs can easily spiral out of control. That's why I particularly recommend Tutu Etoile, because they break down and price every option separately, which makes it much easier to control cost while still getting a good result. It also helps that they're US-based and all their costumes are made in the USA, so no language barriers!
How to Carry & Store a Tutu
The best way to carry a tutu is in a proper tutu bag. Otherwise, it's easy to crush your tutu when carrying it.
Be sure to check the size when buying a bag - it may not be wide enough for your tutu! Tutu Etoile make a wider version (46 inches) which is also water resistant.
If you absolutely cannot transport your tutu flat, always fold it upside-down. Pick the tutu up by the crotch so it hangs upside down, and slide it into the bag in that position. You'll find you can compress it in this position for a short period, without spoiling the lift of the ruffles.
Warning - if you pack a tutu "right way up", with the frill hanging down from the basque, the frill will flatten and you'll ruin your tutu.
Tutus are also best stored hanging upside-down, ideally on a proper tutu hanger. Otherwise, you can use an ordinary hanger - but be very careful, because you can stretch or tear the panty! Peg them by the sides, not the crotch, to avoid stretching. If the tutu has a bodice, it won't get much air circulation in this position so make sure it's cleaned, or at least well aired, before storing.
Hanging tutus takes a lot of space, because you have to keep other clothes well separated so they don't squash the tulle. For most students, the most practical alternative is to store them in a cotton bag under the bed. Stack the tutus upside-down on top of each other, with a piece of cloth between each to stop the embellishments of one catching on the tulle of the next one.
If you have to pack tutus away, put a dessicant in with them. You don't have to buy dessicant - just save up all those little packets you get when you buy vitamins.
How to Clean a Tutu
You can clean a plain tutu by washing it in lukewarm water with a small quantity of mild detergent. To avoid crushing, wash it in the bath!
If your tutu is beaded, or if it has a metal hoop, cleaning is more of a headache. The hoop will rust, so it has to be removed before washing. If beads are glued not sewn, they may come off in the wash. Both beads and sequins can bleed color on to the fabric. Unfortunately, dry cleaning isn't a solution, as chemicals will ruin the frill.
This is another good reason for designing your tutu so the embellishments can be removed before washing!
Some dancers simply never wash their tutus. Instead, they spot-clean the areas most affected by sweat, and keep the rest fresh with odor-removing sprays such as Febreze. If you're going to use Febreze, leave the tutu to air after treatment, and make sure it's completely dry before packing it away.
Not washing your tutu will certainly shorten its life because sweat, body oils and make-up will eventually rot the fabric - but in some cases, that's preferable to the risk of losing the whole tutu if it doesn't survive washing!
Sew It Yourself?
Making a proper tutu from scratch is a highly skilled operation and I would never suggest anyone attempt it - unless you're making one for your two-year-old!
If you're a dressmaker, or used to altering your own clothes, you can save money by buying a standard "off the peg" tutu and altering it to fit - but be prepared to take the bodice to pieces!
For the less experienced, a more practical option is to buy a plain custom-made tutu and add your own beading, sequins, sleeves etc. - or add a bodice to a good quality rehearsal tutu.
A good tip is to sew your decoration on a separate overskirt and bodice trim - or (cheat!) make overskirts and trims from material that's already beaded. That way, you can create several different looks with the same tutu. A bonus is that you can also clean them separately, so there's no risk of transferring color from beading and lace to the fabric of the tutu during cleaning.
If you can't sew, most tutu makers will make removable skirts and trims for you, though it will cost extra.
- Classical Tutus, Romantic Tutus - Class Act Tutu
Class Act Tutu provides ballet costumes and tutu costumes that can be embellished and enhanced to your liking. Also available are tutu skirt separates in a variety of classical tutus, romantic tutus, professional tutus and more.
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© 2009 Kate Swanson