What Do You Need?
First things first girls, what dress do you need? Make a list of all the absolute requirements, which could include such things as the dress length (figure skating or ice dance?) cut, colour, and overall look of the garment (perhaps best to steer clear of a tribal outfit when skating to Romeo & Juliet!). Once you have an image of the dress you need, you can begin your search with a goal, which is going to be instrumental in finding something in a timely manner which best fits your needs.
If you just decided to sign up for that local competition as a pre-season warm-up, you don't necessarily have time to wait for a dress to be custom made. Time frame is going to be a key factor in finding your perfect dress, so be realistic in your expectations and work to fit your diary.
Where To Start
Several options are open to you. Having a custom dress made for you, using either designs by the seamstress or yourself, will undoubtedly give you the most liberty and personal expression over the finished product. But this isn't always a viable option, in terms of budget, and time-scale. Don't panic though. There are other options open to you! Read on.
Buying off-the-peg dresses is a great way to enjoy a top-quality item at an affordable price. The affordability will of course depend on where you buy the dress from, and often, how many crystals are attached to it! (More on how to cut the costs of crystal decorations further down this article). I would say the single most important thing to watch out for when buying online is to make sure you are realistic and correct in your sizing and measurement taking. I once ordered 2 dresses from the USA (to Europe), paid not only for the dresses, but also importation tax, only to find the dresses impossibly tiny. I had to send them back at my expense, then pay more shipping and tax for the correct sized garment to arrive! What a waste of time and money! Bottom line: measure twice (with help - don't measure yourself), and ask the manufacturer if their garments run small.
The above issue of sizing can be contoured by ordering custom-made dresses, in a pre-designed, well, design. This skips the hassle of any sizing issues but keeps the costs lower than hiring a seamstress to work with fabrics from scratch (moreover, retailers offering this service have negotiated savings while buying bulk fabrics, passing on the savings to you). These items will run a little more expensive, but they are a great intermediate option. You won't have control over the pre-determined design, but you can be confident the sizing will be adapted to your body.
If you do have the time... Custom-Made
Here you'll have a skating designer and seamstress make a dress from scratch.
Every rink I've ever skated in had a sort of "resident dress maker" - ask around (coaches, other parents) for information on who is the Queen (or King!) of the sewing machine at your club.
They will usually be more than happy to talk informally about designing your dress, and give you a quote, free of charge. Remember to respect that at this stage, the person isn't getting paid: don't ask him/her to go fabric shopping with you, give you opinions of designs/fabrics/embellishment, etc., if you haven't even hired them yet.
Make Your Own!
One other possibility is open to you: make your own dress! I cannot tell you how fun and rewarding this is. Obviously it requires for you to have a sewing machine, or access to one. If you decide you're serious about making your dresses, then the investment will be worth it. It's really not that hard to make a dress from scratch, and once you've made a few simple-patterned practice dresses you can advance to modify patterns to suit your needs (e.g., I modified a simple halter-neck pattern into a sweetheart neckline, then added black-glitter mesh into the shoulders, and it was much easier than I thought it would be!).
If you're interested in learning more on the subject of making your own figure skating dresses, please feel free to check out this blog post I wrote on the subject: http://figureskating-howto.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/how-to-make-your-own-figure-skating.html
A List Of Useful Sites
Here are some good sites for all of the above-mentioned methods of buying skating costumes.
Jerry's (you cannot order online from their site, you must locate a local dealer)
Sharene Skatewear (I have ordered dresses from these guys, and are they are beautiful)
The Ice Dress Company
World Figure Skate Wear
Tania Bass: Ready-to-wear (Tania is a celebrity skating custom costume designer, now offering off-the-peg outfits at high-end prices)
Ice-Dancer.com (offer a range of dresses starting with simple lycra for ~$40)
Apparel Ice Skating
You can also browse eBay for shops which sell off-the-peg skating garments, such as this one:
Many of the sites listed in the section above also offer custom sizing options. Explore the websites as you browse to see who offers what.
eBay is a huge source of custom-sizing pre-determined designs, especially via stores which are based in China. I suggest you take some time to browse through the site and create an account, if you don't already have one, in order to save your preferred sellers and styles. Below are a few eBay stores I found offering the custom-sizing option:
Lilachelene's Leotards & Skatewear
Again, this is going to depend on you finding the right person for your budget and needs in your geographical location.
There are designers who you can hire who won't necessarily be in your area (Tania Bass takes orders this way, creating and making gowns and costumes), and these people usually have a reputation. Do a Google search or simply ask around at your ice rink for the low down on who does what, where (when I was a kid, there was a woman based in Wales who designed and sold dresses to the whole of the UK).
For obvious reasons thus, I don't have any sites to recommend you.
Make Your Own!
Here are some websites that can get you started with patterns, fabrics, etc.:
Jalie (great patterns I have used in the past, nice and easy to follow. The site also has useful videos!)
Kwik Sew patterns @ Sewingpatterns.com (I used 3445 to make a French can can dress that turned out great!)
A cute pattern for leotards, skirts, and a dress by The Green Pepper @ Sewingpatterns.com
Fabricland (UK): an amazing UK based company who sell a plethora of fabrics at low prices (beware, the website may give you a migraine however. Don't be put off by the fact they don't have online-payment, I've ordered heaps over the phone with these guys and have been thrilled every time)
The Fabric Warehouse Limited @ eBay.com: I've bought stretch velvets and lace from these guys and the quality is top-notch.
A quick Google search for fabrics will yield stores that are geographically appropriate to you.
For embellishments, I have had great success ordering on eBay from both the UK and Hong Kong (I even bought Swarovski crystals from HK for my bridal accessories this summer, and they were stunning). Here are a few of the stores I use:
Rubys Craft (UK)
Bookee 235 (Hong Kong)
Crystals R Us (UK)
Whatever route you decide to go down to obtain a dazzling dress, don't forget to ooze confidence and you'll always look the part!
Happy skating (and sewing!)
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