We set up this site to support and encourage young men who do ballet
and demystify the world of ballet for those who don't.

No-nonsense: Tights

You don't have to wear tights to do ballet! You can do class in shorts (tracksuits aren't so good) - but...

Trouble with tights?

At BDB we believe that if a boy enjoys a particular activity (whatever it is), there is an accepted dress code for that activity and all the other boys are following that code - then boys will gladly wear anything. Club swimmers, for instance, wear trunks that are far more revealing than ballet tights but no one thinks twice about it.

Younger boys at the San Francisco Ballet School
© Alexander Reneff-Olson

Boys want to wear tights!

In fact, we think it's often parents who worry about their sons wearing tights and their worry rubs off. Here are some anecdotes which might surprise a parent who thinks their son would never want to wear tights - in fact, the very opposite may well be the case:
The Susan Handy School of Dancing is a well-regarded ballet school near London in the UK. They run a very successful boys programme with two large boys classes, split by age. The boys in the younger class all wear shorts - the boys in the older class all wear tights.
Mrs Handy says that the younger boys cannot wait to move into tights; it makes them feel like the older boys and highlights the fact they are growing up and getting better.
Older boys at the San Francisco Ballet School
© Chris Hardy

As soon as you make it normal for boys to wear tights, they all want to! And all boys know that professional ballet dancers wear tights - those who want to be taken seriously will probably want to follow suit. I know that from first hand experience:
When I was about 11, I was preparing for a tap exam (the only boy in my class). At the end of one lesson, the teacher gathered us together and said: "Look, you've got to start taking this seriously. There's no point coming to class wearing baggy tracksuits because no one can see what you're doing with your legs. I want you all to be wearing tights next week or you may as well not come." Then she looked at me, "Of course, you don't have to, Richard." 
It's clear she was only trying to be thoughtful but at the time this comment really took the wind out of my sails. It made me think that I was just an add-on to the class of girls and that she did not think I was worth bothering with. And, naturally, I did not dare tell her how I really felt - instead I learnt I was meant to think that tights were scary.
The truth is tights are by far the best thing to wear for nearly all physical activities - and other sports are only just catching up with dance. You now see premiership footballers, olympic swimmers and stupidly fast runners all wearing tights to train and compete.

Even basketball stars had caught onto tights until
the NBA banned them - they thought they gave an
unfair advantage and are now only allowed for
medical reasons.

10 years ago lycra was out of fashion for men in the UK - but go into any main stream sports shop now and you'll see racks and racks of lycra tights for men and boys with brands like Nike, Under Armour and Skins all competing. We used to call these products leggings and they were hard to find - but we've got over that now, and tights for men are on the up!

And of course, everyone knows Robin Hood, Batman and Superman wear tights, too...



So for the rest of this article, we'll assume that tights are a given for boys...



Are boys' tights different?

Absolutely, categorically yes. Boys' ballet tights are thicker than girls' tights and completely opaque.

Any decent dance supplier should carry some boys' tights but you will probably need to shop online if you want any choice. Just look for the men/boys' section. Although 'choice' is probably the wrong word when it comes to male dancewear.

Wear Moi is a rare company that
offers more than just tights for boys -
but they are very pricey.

(The sports tights we mentioned above can be worn for dance but teachers may see the branding as a distraction - and many studios stress the importance of a uniform look for their students. I think this route is worth promoting, though, so maybe ask at your school.)

Brands for men's tights

Most schools have a dress code specifying boys' uniforms at different levels (any school which doesn't mention boys on the dress code deserves a thunderbolt). This should clear up what style of tights to buy and what colour, but here's a quick run-down:

- The majority of schools in England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand follow the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus. The RAD recommends tights (worn with white socks) for boys from grade 3. The RAD has branded navy stirrup tights manufactured and these are the only boys' tights that are carried by most shops in the UK. They are available at many online shops including the RAD's own shop here.

Mixed reports on these tights. They are widely available which is a plus, and they are also durable. However, they have a low waist which makes them tricky to hold up with an elastic belt (see below) and they are only available in the stirrup style (so have to be worn with socks) and in one colour (navy).

Other tights are available from suppliers so don't get put off if you find the RAD tights uncomfortable - and you do not have to wear the RAD own-brand tights even for exams.

RAD uniform
(you can see the logo on the waistband)
© Brian Slater

- In the USA, there is a little more variety but boys wear black tights almost universally. Stirrup tights are largely unheard of and boys either wear footless tights (sometimes cut off below the knee) with or without socks or plain footed tights.

There are lots of brands out there and all are available on the Internet. The brand recommended the most often for boys is M Stevens (only available through resellers like Discount Dance Supply). Their tights (made of a modern material called milliskin) are brilliant. They are thinner and stretchier than the RAD tights - and just as opaque. This makes them very comfortable. They have a much higher waist, too, which gives you options for holding them up. What's more, they also come in grey and white - and the white is easily dyeable to any other colour. The milliskin material is quite shiny - but there are non-shiny brands out there if this is a problem (Mirella, Wear Moi, BalTogs).

Many suppliers in America carry Capezio tights. Word on the street is, avoid these like the plague. They do not hold their form well, are uncomfortable and often come apart at the seams (literally). Capezio have just released some new men's tights in response to feedback but we have no reports on these yet.

Boys from the Raleigh School of Ballet
wearing cut-off tights.

- In France, most boys wear light grey tights. It's very different from most other countries but makes a lot of sense: black and other dark colours absorb light and make it hard to see muscles but light colours show up what's going on much better. Grey tights are starting to catch on elsewhere and are now worn at the Washington School of Ballet and also at Canada's National Ballet School.

Boys at Canada's National Ballet School.

The two most popular French brands for boys are Repetto and Degas. The M Stevens brand also supplies boys tights in grey - however, the M Stevens grey tights are really very pale and have the typical milliskin shine - the French-made grey tights are slightly darker and have a softer texture.

- In Japan, they go a step further than the French and you might find a whole class of boys in white tights. Our team member Hans says he always used to take class in white tights whenever he was allowed since it made it easier for him and his teacher to see what was going on.

Tights for performances

Whoever's designing your costume will let you know what tights are needed - and will probably be able to get hold of them for you. Remember that if you need a colour other than black or white, white tights can easily be dyed - or you can buy from a company like tutu.com who will dye your tights any colour for $7.

Pedro Pires Neto @ YAGP 2010
© VAM Productions

White tights are often worn in performance - for the reasons which also make them good for class (see above). However, white tights do risk being a little more see through than black tights and even the excellent M Stevens tights are not perfect after a wash. Two bits of advice, then, on white tights:

- you may feel your tights are a bit see-through while you're peering at them from a few inches away - but once you get on stage with all the stage lighting they won't look anything other than opaque to the audience.

- if you're still worried you can always wear two pairs of white tights (or a pair of flesh-coloured tights under the white ones) to beef up the thickness a bit. Plenty of professionals do this.

And remember, always wear a flesh-coloured dance belt under white tights, not a white one (see the dance belt post here).



A few practical points...

Holding tights up

There's not much more annoying than having to keep pulling up your tights during class (and you can't pull them up on stage!) There are two main approaches to prevent the downward drag: suspenders and belts.

Suspenders need to be sewn directly onto your tights. Some suppliers will do this for you (like tutu.com) but it can easily be done at home. Typically suspenders for tights go straight up at the front and cross over at the back. You just need some wide elastic (c.2cm) which you can sew into place.

Kiril Kulish, former US Billy Elliot:
white elastic suspenders = very high tights.
© K.C. Alfred / Union-Tribune

Suspenders are ideal for costume tights when you will be wearing some kind of jacket/tunic. They keep your tights up high which means even if the jacket rides up, everything's still covered. For class many people prefer the belt solution because they don't want their tights floating around their nipples. An elastic belt (made from similarly wide elastic) can be sewn even more easily. It needs to be just comfortably tight. You put your tights on and pull them up as far as they'll go. Then step into the belt, pull it up to the top of your tights, fold the tights over the belt and roll the whole lot down together until you get back to your waist.

Convertible tights

Convertible tights are tights which have a small hole in the bottom so you can wear them as footed tights for ballet but roll them up to make footless tights for, say, dancing contemporary in bare feet.

Unfortunately, no one makes convertible tights for boys - but they can be made easily at home by cutting a slit in the sole of a pair of ordinary footed tights. If you do this on M Stevens milliskin tights, the slit will not run but this is not guaranteed to work on other brands.

Any more question on tights? Any further advice? Leave a comment below or send us an email...

8 comments:

  1. Two thoughts:

    1. I couldn't agree with you more about boys *wanting* to wear tights! My son was only allowed to wear "bike shorts" when he was young, and he couldn't wait to graduate into the full-length tights like the big guys wear. He started full-length at age 11-- perfect timing as many of his female classmates were starting to go on pointe. It was helpful to him to have this rite of passage in dance, just like the girls do.

    2. Here in the US, it's easy to find black footless tights for boys-- just look for stretchy black leggings in any girls department.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Slhogan, and welcome to the site.

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  3. This is well written and sensible article. The author has taken care to highlight latent issues in an informative and thoughful manner.

    Having formally started dance class late in college and as a young adult, I have a few observations and comments. A more universal and strict a studio's dance code is actually better than one that is loose. Flexibility in dress might be used as means to recruit or encourage more male dancers but it the end it seems to unnecessarily attached a stigma to traditional
    male dance attire such as tights.

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  4. My 7 year old enjoys watching videos of Kiril Kulish after visiting our downtown dance school in search of other boys who dance. Kiril's early teacher Max teaches there and noticed that my son is built/looks very similarly. Unfortunately the SD Dance Academy is too far for us to drive right now. But after that and watching a "big boys" class, wearing the "right dance clothes" was important to my son, even though his studio is rather lax because he is the only boy. In fact, his school had no boy's dress code when I enrolled him. I asked if he needed tights or bike shorts. They said "oh no, we wouldn't make him wear THAT! Just, um, some black jazz pants maybe... and a black t-shirt?". I decided to go online and see what he SHOULD wear. I realized that in loose pants, his teacher would have no way of telling weather his knee was even straight, much less correct his turn-out!
    I live in San Diego, CA. It's a large city, but I have yet to find a store that carries little boys ballet wear. Online stores are just so expensive, and the fit is often far from conventional sizing. I got creative and here's what we've found after a year. For boys under 10 years-
    K-mart's black girl's leggings are always in-season in the sock section for $5. When they got too short I cut them off and hemmed them for summer classes. If you don't have a sewing machine, pay a seamstress a couple bucks and ask for a 3-4" inseam.
    H&M has wonderful inexpensive white tees that are slim in the torso and arms just like Body Wrappers at 1/3 the price. Target also has nice tees in the girls athletic area in both crew and v-neck. You may find rash guard/sports tops in the boys section too without too much logo showing, stock up in the summer.
    Don't forget thrift stores, if you have a big one near you. We've found a nylon tank, nylon/lycra leggings and a boy's gymnastics leo hanging in the girls section!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for this advice. My son just started, too, and we got the same thing about dress - "comfortable black pants and white shirt". I did get him girls' black leggings, but I didn't know about shirts. He's wearing a baggy white undershirt.

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  5. Hi! I live in San Diego,too! And my boy is about to begin his dance class in a month. May I ask where those stores are located? Is K mart at Irvine? H&M at Fashion Valley?
    Thank you so much and nice to know that my son is not the only boy who take ballet class.

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  6. I finally bought jazz-pant-like black elastic pants at old navey, fashion valley store, which are at girls' department, and white long sleeve shirt at the same store.
    Cater's have better white short sleeve T, high quality and higher price than walmart's.

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  7. Hi,
    We live in Australia, and my 8 year old son's dance school requires black cotton lycra footless tights for his ballet class. Thus far We've used the K-Mart $5 girls' tights option, but my son is tall and thin, and currently needs to wear size 6 girls' tights, which are still too loose, and now too short in the legs. Seems I'm going to need to bite the bullet and buy him tights from a dancewear store. Boys' dancewear is sadly limited here ;(

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