About Irish Dance

What do Irish Dancers Wear?

Your guide to Irish dancing shoes, costumes, and more

When you are getting ready for your first Irish dance class, you might wonder what is appropriate to wear. There is typically no heavy investment in special clothes or shoes for your first class, nor throughout the early stages of your dance career. As you continue in Irish dance, you or your dancer will have the opportunity to explore the world of special Irish dance shoes, and eventually sparkly costumes, if you desire! Read on to learn more about some of the things Irish dancers typically wear. 

Irish dancing Clothes

Soft Shoes

As a beginner, your dancer will be learning the light shoe dances first. To start, teachers usually advise slip-on ballet slippers or sneakers. As your dancer progresses through their light shoe dances and becomes more proficient, girls will graduate to lace up light leather pumps  known as “ghillies,” “light shoes,” or “soft shoes,” while boys progress to light leather shoes with a fiberglass heel called “reel shoes.” These distinctive shoes provide support for the light and powerful moves of soft shoe dancing.

Irish dancing Clothes

Hard shoes

Once a dancer progresses they will begin to start learning hard shoe dances. These rhythmic dances require a specialized leather shoe fitted with fiberglass tips and heels. This is how dancers make the distinctive sounds made famous by Irish dance shows such as Riverdance. There are many outstanding vendors in Irish Dance, who with your teacher will help your dancer get fitted and ready to learn in safe and supportive shoe.

Irish dancing Clothes

Practice Clothes

Most dancers wear t-shirts, shorts, or leggings to class. The idea is to be comfortable and able to move without impediment or distraction. Some local schools may have a school t-shirt and shorts available for purchase, so that all dancers feel they are part of the team and are dressed for a great class!

Irish dancing Clothes


Dancers who choose to compete often choose to purchase an outfit that will enhance their stage performance. Schools typically have a simple and cost-effective option that dancers can wear on stage, especially for early levels and for team dancing. Those who progress in their solo dancing have the option to buy a bespoke – and often sparkly – costume: typically a vest or jacket to wear with pants for boys, and a dress for girls which is often enhanced with crystalled hairpieces and the wigs that are so distinctive to the Irish dance look. These options offer an exciting opportunity to dress up and get in performance mode, though they are not required, and many dancers choose to compete in simpler options, such as a leotard and skirt for girls, or a simple shirt and pants for boys.