Human Growth, Growth Pleats, and Dance Parents: A long, Expensive tale of Tartan and Teen Angst

Note: This post is a rewrite of one that I had written a number of years ago that is no longer available online.

I dress many Highland dancers in the course of a year.  Highland Dance is a competitive sport, and the dancers tend to be girls from the age of 4 or five up to adults, although boys do compete along with them.  They wear kilts and either a velvet waistcoat (vest) or jacket, and matching tartan hose.  These outfits really need to fit correctly for the more advanced Premier dancers, and I spend quite a bit of time with my dance clients, getting the kilts to fit just right.  Unfortunately, with young dancers, the minute a perfect fit is achieved, the girl (or boy) grows, upsetting all of the plans.  Here’s the usual scenario:

A dance mom calls, and orders a kilt for her daughter or son.  She asks, “Can you leave room for growth?” to which I reply, “Yes, but within limits.”  I understand why moms want the outfit to last.  These things are all made-to-measure, and a full new outfit will set them back over $1000.  It’s as bad as hockey equipment and ice time.  It does depend on the dancer’s age and physique, but at some times in a dancer’s growth and development, if they can get 2 years out of an outfit, they’re doing well.  Here’s why.

Young girls have physiques that are pretty straight up and down.  When they reach the age of 9 or 10, they begin to change into young women, and it starts with the dreaded “growth spurt.”  In humans, the long bones grow first.  For both boys and girls, they get taller first, and then their shapes begin to change.  For girls, it starts with the hips.  The hips go out, then the waist either stays the same, or in the some cases, gets smaller.  When I measure a 10-year-old, I can tell immediately if she has already started this change.  If so, she has begun a process that will take 4-6 years and at least 3 kilts.  Sometimes these changes are remarkable fast- I have seen girls grow a couple of inches in the space of only a few months. This makes having an outfit that actually fits a real challenge.

A kilt for a dancer has to be a snug fit, and it needs to be hemmed to the correct length, just at the top of the kneecap.  If it’s too loose, it will sag or move as the wearer dances, which is not a good thing.  When I plan a kilt, I can leave a deep hem, and I can allow for growth by putting in what is known as a “growth pleat,” which usually takes the form of an extra fold of fabric under the left side of the kilt apron.  This additional fold can be used when the kilt is altered to make the aprons wider.  The other approach is to make the overall kilt just a bit large, usually at an inch or so, and wrap it a bit farther than I would normally do to make it snug.  Either way, there are limits to what can be done as a dancer grows.

So, when I get that call and the inevitable question, I try to answer honestly- No, I cannot make a kilt that will fit your 10 year old for the next 5 years.  However, I can extend the useful life of each kilt that I make by careful planning.  Luckily there is a ready market for used outfits, and kilts retain their value if they are well taken care of.  So, dance moms have my sympathy.  As the mom of a dancer who began at the age of 10, and who was on her 5th kilt at  the age of 16, I get it.  Now you know why I make kilts.