Monday, March 30, 2009

Crystals: Are They Necessary for Figure Skating Competition Dresses?

Be sure to read the comments for this post. Many are from judges and give great insight into the world of sparkle and dazzle.

Flip, an ice dad, left me a comment about the influence of crystal-encrusted dresses on figure skating judges.

From Flip:

I didn't realize that there was a sparkle section on the judges’ scorecard. In my opinion a kid can skate in a burlap sack and as long as the criteria is there and they skate better, then why shouldn’t they win?

Flip makes a good point and I’ve been asking everyone I see for their opinions.

Here’s the consensus: Flip, you’re right. Good skating rules the day.

However, you should follow your daughter’s coach’s recommendations because she has your daughter’s best interests at heart. Let me give you an example from my past teaching career:

I taught high school and advised the student newspaper. Every year the guys on the basketball team would complain because Coach wanted them all to have short hair. They whined all the way to the barber and then for days after the shearing. I asked Coach why he did it.

Here’s what Coach said: I don’t want my boys to be memorable except for scoring. No piercings, no tattoos, no long hair. I don’t want the ref looking at some kid’s hair, making a judgment, and penalizing the team. I don’t want one of them sticking out and the ref to think, “Oh, that kid again.”

It made sense to me, but I still encouraged the kids to stop whining and write an editorial about it. They refused. It turns out, none of them wanted to stick out for special treatment from Coach. Freedom of speech issues aside, that’s some beautiful irony, isn’t it?

Anyway, crystals are a figure skating dress expectation, not a requirement. So, you’re right, Flip, but I think you should pop for the crystals anyway. Here are the reasons I’ve gathered from rink parents and coaches:

  1. Ice is very, very white. Crystals help audiences see the skaters better against the bland surface.

  2. Performance. At higher levels, programs have a performance component. Dresses should reflect the music.

  3. Judgments. Judges who rank kids in Basic Skills competitions often make little notes so they can remember which kid is which. Maybe a judge writes ballerina or blue dress next to your daughter’s name. Just be sure the judge doesn’t write burlap sack.

  4. Crystals are fun. So is sparkly hairspray. So is skating. It’s all recreational spending.

  5. Confidence. Your daughter will see that her dress matches those of the other skaters. Minimize the distractions on competition day. You don’t want her worrying about how her dress looks; you want her to focus on her program.

  6. Spend $30 or less. You can pick up some hotfix crystals cheap at JoAnn Fabrics – about $12 for a container of 200 or 300 Tulip brand crystals with glue on the backs (less if you have a coupon). You can use an iron to affix the flat back crystals to the figure skating dress, but I recommend using the hotfix tool (BeJeweler is best - $19) because you have less of a chance of ruining the dress with its focused heat.

  7. Coach said so. Part of the unspoken contract between parent and coach is that you will trust her judgment and allow her to guide you and your daughter through skating. You’ve paid her good money for her expert opinion; you should follow her advice.

I’m all for logic. I’m all for cutting costs. However, I’m also for spending money to make my daughter not just sparkle on the ice, but shine.

Best wishes for success, Flip!

Ice Mom

Update: Aaron over at Axels, Loops, and Spins wrote a great commentary: To Sequin...or Not to Sequin.


Galatea said...

It is not possible to compare a dress with crystals to one without them It is like to compare the night and the day.
Ice skating is not only a sport, is a show.
Music, lights, wardrobe and of course, skating...
(I´m misstress of wardrobe from an european iceshows company, and I love your blog :))) )

Ice Mom said...

Thank you for your expert opinion, Galatea!

HipSk8 said...

Here's one judge's opinion: I don't care what your skater is wearing as long as it's age appropriate, doesn't show too much real or fake "nudity," and fits. Anything way over the top as far as feathers, crystals, sequins and lame` actually detracts from most performances, unless the skater is an older teen or an adult and it's appropriate to the music. Ice dancers of course are exempt from some of these rules unless they are intermediate and below!

Most kids shouldn't be skating to stripper music or certain show tunes that I wish could be retired from the repertoire, and they shouldn't be dressed for burlesque. Tasteful and understated is really what we prefer to see. As for boots and tights, "clean" and "unripped" are goals to strive for.

Hair can be worn as desired, but best out of the face or at least controlled so it's not distracting.

Now, crystals. Look at Dorothy Hamill's Olympic dress, and Peggy Fleming's, and Janet Lynn's. Yes, that was another era in skating, but those costumes were beautiful in their simplicity. Fast forward to the '80's when crystal useage was over the top, along with big hair and even shoulder pads. Then look at Michelle Kwan's simple and tasteful costumes which complemented her music and programs. The point is, there are fashions in skating which come and go, just like in the outside world. The skater should wear what suits them, suits the music they are skating to, and makes them feel good about themselves so they can concentrate on skating their best. A burlap sack wouldn't preclude a high score from the judges, but might be difficult to move in unless it was burlap with lycra.

These costume fashion standards are not set by the judges, but by the skaters -- who, by and large, are impressionable young people, and let's be honest, mostly teenaaged girls, who like to look trendy and do what their friends do. I'm all for it as long as it meets my rules in paragraph 1 above.

The purpose of "bling" is for the skater to feel they are doing a performance, which they are. The costume can put the skater in the correct mood to express the music. Crystals do catch the eye, but certainly the skater with the most crystals is not the one who wins - unless their skating is as memorable as their costume. No judge will tell you otherwise.

(By the way, in addition to judging I also ice dance competitively, and I do put crystals on my dresses. Why? Because I like how it looks and it's fun. It indulges my creative fashion whims and allows me to wear things I couldn't get away with in "real life," since I'm not invited to the Oscars!)

Jillybean said...

(in my best Billy Crystal impression)
"You look maahhhvelous, you skate maahhvelous!"

Personally, I think that if the skater feels good in what they're wearing, they will be more confident and skate better. A pretty dress makes the skater feel different than they do in an ordinary practice dress, and let's face it, crystal rhinestones are pretty! My daughter's dresses are always covered with them.

I appreciate the above comments from the judge, and I completely agree with her comments on "age appropriate" music, dresses and choreography. Nothing bugs me more than seeing some little girl bumping and grinding in a risque' costume to suggestive music. There are so many cute programs that can be done, why go there?

I once heard a judge say that a skater could wear a burlap sack and it won't affect the score they give them (I had to chuckle when I read your burlap sack comment, having heard it preiously from a judge) but I beg to differ with that opinion. I think the more polished the skater looks, the better the impression that will be made on the judges. I won't say that a few rhinestones will make up for a fall or a cheated jump, but the judges are human, and will look favorably upon someone who has an overall look that is nice.

Or you can look at it this way, you're already spending so much on the sport , what's a few more dollars?

Jessim said...

I've judged basic skills competitions and I much prefered seeing the girls without crystals on their dresses (or just a few).

I've done one costume and it had very minimal rhinestones (not crystals, plastic) on it.

At the lower level there are better things to spend the money on then bling. If you have the money to spend, and it's age appropriate, then I agree- it's fun to be sparkly. But if you a pre-pre skater, your dress shouldn't cost the same as a senior's.

Once you get to qualifying levels, you need the crystals. It doesn't add to your score, but it does add to your overall appearance, and you need to fit the part. It also makes you more appealing to the audience, who aren't scoring you, but are an aspect of the sport (just like football players showboat after touchdowns for their fans). Even still, I've seen lovely costumes on novice level skaters without any rhinestones at all.

Angela said...

Boy, oh boy! These comments are well-timed. My eight yr old is getting ready for a competition. She has a perfectly lovely, simple little dress she could wear, BUT MOMMA has fallen in love with another dress online. It's sweet with glittered flowers. I WANT THIS DRESS! But it's not "necessary." It's a bargain in the world of costumes - $70 with shipping. But is it worth it at the Basic 4 level? Daddy says no. It's so hard to resist the glitter! Thanks for the insights on judging. (Hi-ho, hi-ho! Off to Ebay I go!)

Angela said...

PS -- thanks for the original posting! I'm loving your site. I check every day to see if you've put something new on.

angel said...

I also agree with the dress should go with music and NO pre pre or lower kids needs a 1600.00 Tania Bass dress.I guess as a parent its not up to me how other spend money. But its not needed, looks over the top, and its not about the dress!!Same with over the top makeup and hair.
I have seen comments on tests about costumes and too much distaction. Even for a boy, too much is too much.
Kinda like parents that think that 500.00 boots will make them a better skater.Nope :P

Anonymous said...

Okay... So here goes a skater's point of view... The judge's opinions on your dress don't really matter as much as the other girls'. (It's a different story for your program of course.) It's not fun to be the only girl with no crystals, even at a basic level. But they shouldn't be crazy, a little goes a long way and I'm able to admit that. :) My own Ice Mom made my last dress with Wal Mart rhinestones and I still placed. This time we've gone for Swarovski, but I'm also competing at different level. So while I get spending 300 dollars on something you will not wear too much is not as good an investment as, say, ice time, it's still fun to be sparkly, and it's more fun to be sparkly like your friends.

Angie said...

I wouldn't say they are necessary but as others have said, they add a lot and are fun! My daughter LOVES the sparkle and for us, that is part of the enjoyment OF competing. It gives us an excuse to get something fancier then she would normally wear. It makes her feel special and it makes her look the part(so to speak). Not to mention, her coach likes the "bling" too! None of my daughter's dresses are over-done. They are simple dresses that are age appropriate and look fabulous on her. They have sparkle but they are not distracting. I don't want her in anything over-done, but we
definately want the sparkle!

That said, she also has used a very simple and undecorated practice dress for imrpov numbers. She still looked lovely. :) The dress had clean lines and fit her beautifully. I would imagine when it comes down to it, it really doesn't matter what they wear as long as they skate well! Yet... here I sit looking at various skating dresses and wanting to buy just one more dress. She's participating in an ice show next month so MAYBE I'll have a reason to buy a new dress?? :)

I think the bottom line is that the skater, their coach and their parent should do what they are most comfortable doing. I've seen a couple "over the top" dresses but for the most part, most of the girls around here wear dresses or costumes suited for their music and for their age.

Thanks for writing about this, I am finding the replies quite interesting!

katiedear said...

The costume depends on the age of the child; you should always have a sense of taste; you shouldn't put a small child in a Vegas show girl number.

Anonymous said...

Crystals can really make or break a dress. The key is knowing when to stop so your kid doesn't look like they borrowed an outfit from Liberace. Personally, I use a hotplate, hot fix crystals, and a pair of tweezers. I have much better control when doing an intricate design.

Lucy said...

hey ice mom, i like your blog :)
i wanted to now im an intermediate 2 skater, doing 2axel (working on it) and im from mexico, i wanted to know if you know of a good figure skating camp of affordable prices, and staying overnight to advance and do triples over there, any tips or ideas you have, id appreciate them, thanks

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Lucy.

Thanks for the comment! Feel free to e-mail me at and I'll answer your question.

Best wishes for success!

Ice Mom

Kohleen said...

Crystals are necessary.

Anonymous said...

You nailed that landing...of the importance of crystals. I love your blog and have already shared it with a couple of friends. I use to skate and now I get a few questions from friends on how to progress from group lessons into beginning competitive skating. I also love the whole skate costume thing. I use to come up with ideas to go with programs and my mom created them. Now I would love to start making outfits and your information is perfect on sewing dresses. Thank you!