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How to Choose and Care for a Professional Ballet Tutus

Kate Swanson is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance.

Ballet tutus require careful selection and care

Ballet tutus require careful selection and care

Choosing a ballet tutu can be exciting because often, when you buy a tutu it means you've reached a landmark in your ballet career.

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!

A practice tutu

A practice tutu

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.

A white tutu is elegant and versatile

A white tutu is elegant and versatile

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.

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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!

A practice tutu with home-sewed bodice added

A practice tutu with home-sewed bodice added

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.

Further Reading

© 2009 Kate Swanson


Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 26, 2011:

Hi Angela, without seeing the tutus it's hard to say. I have a feeling it wouldn't work, but the only way you're really going to find out is to sacrifice one and try it!

Angela on November 26, 2011:

I am ordering costumes for our recital and found one that is a bell tutu. I always order bell tutu's for my beginning pointe students to hid some of their bent knees but this year they are dancing with my older students who have no knee issues... I was wondering if I could just trim up the romantic bell tutu to make a classic "pancake" tutu? Do you have any suggestions

indianapolis ballet on October 21, 2010:

Royal ballet video was entertaining but the Miss Kiki video is still disturbing--don't get me wrong. Great information but still disturbing.

Leslie on September 07, 2010:

Awesome...thanks for the info, Marisa. I'm going to check these out.

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on September 06, 2010:

Leslie, here is one manufacturer:

Leslie on September 06, 2010:

Hi Marisa,

I was wondering if you could tell me more about the tutu hanger you reference in your article. Do you recommend this product, and can you tell me where it can be purchased?

"You can store Russian-style ("pancake") tutus flat on a shelf, but ideally you should use special *tutu hangers* so the air can circulate around them."

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on December 31, 2009:

I'm not the best person to ask about lyrical. I haven't danced myself for a long time so I am a bit too out of date. Good luck with finding something!

? Person on December 31, 2009:

Just one more question- do you have any suggestions for good songs to dance to for a lyrical solo. Thank you very much, in advance. - ? Person

Sage Knowles on November 23, 2009:

there's nothing cuter than a toddler in a tutu!

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 13, 2009:

As a British dancer I know the RAD exams well - in fact I worked for the Royal Academy once upon a time. However I don't think they're all that important if you want to dance for a living. If you want to teach, though, they are very useful.

No you wouldn't have to start at the beginning.

? Person on November 13, 2009:

I'm not entirely sure whether you are a ballet dancer or not. I don't want to be annoying and keep asking questions, but I was wondering if you could answers this one for me. I dance at a small studio in MA. We do not take the RADs (I think that is what they are called), you know, those ballet tests, and so I was wondering where I could take them . I think the Boston Ballet does them, but I do not take classes there so I don't know if I could test there. Also. I have never taken one of these tests before, so I don't know if I would start at the beggining or what. Sorry to be a pain, but I was curios and thinking about taking them :~)

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 10, 2009:

Glad I could help. Clear straps won't be visible from the audience so if your instructor doesn't agree, she's being a bit unreasonable.

? Person on November 10, 2009:

Thanks! I think the ordinary bra with clear straps is SUCH a great idea- I never thought of that! I will need to ask my instructor if that is okay, but thanks for the advice. I might just wear a nude colored leotard-if that is okay.Thanks again!

Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 08, 2009:

It's very difficult to find a truly secure strapless bra that you can dance in!

Most strapless tutus have bra support built-in. If you feel the built-in support isn't enough, I find the stick-on bras give enough extra to make the difference.

If your costume doesn't have bra support, could you modify it so it does? You can buy sew-in bra cups at most fabric stores.

The other alternative is to buy an ordinary bra with removable straps and buy clear bra straps for it.

? Person on November 08, 2009:

Dear Marissa- I am a fellow ballet dancer and I was wondering if you could help me out a little. I need a tan strapless bra to wear to a dance competetion and to class that supports 36B breasts. I have tried , but have founf nothing that suits me. Sorry to be awkward. If you cannot or do not want to help that is fine. Thank you in advance!

castingcalls on October 14, 2009:

wow what a great hub.....!!

Random Person from San Diego, California on August 03, 2009:

I love ballet also! It is beautiful! I enjoy dancing and preforming!

Research Analyst on July 30, 2009:

Ballet is such a graceful performance dance that has made many young girls want to be a ballerina dancer, this is a nice hub,and lovely pictures, it surely made me chuckle that back in the days of Degas, men went to look up the dancers skirts, who would have thought of such a thing. LOL

balletomanehk on July 26, 2009:

Excellent article -- so much useful information! Thanks!

Kya on July 22, 2009:

What a sweet hub! (and what a pity that my daughter quit ballet.)

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