From Leotards to Unitards: Cracking the Dancewear Code

From Leotards to Unitards: Cracking the Dancewear Code

Leotards and unitards are highly versatile uniforms used for dancing and gymnastics. Not sure what the differences are? Here’s the guide you’ll need to choose the right one and get your groove on!

The two skintight, one-piece garments have one key difference that sets them apart visually: a unitard has long legs and sometimes long sleeves, while a leotard is shaped like a one-piece women’s swimsuit.

But there’s more than just appearance that distinguishes the two! Keep reading to clarify common confusions and highlight other differences.

Wait, What’s a Leotard?

A leotard often leaves both the arms and legs exposed, only covering the torso, though some styles have short sleeves (often called “cap sleeves”) or long sleeves. Leotards are manufactured with stretchy fabrics since comfort and flexibility is key. In dance, leotards serve as a base for other elements of dress code, such as ballet skirts, ballet sweaters, and jazz pants.

What’s a Unitard Then?

A unitard, on the other hand, includes attached shorts or leggings. It is less commonly worn in ballet class. A unitard creates a streamlined fit from shoulders to legs and is more commonly worn in genres like modern, contemporary, acrobatics, gymnastics, and theater.

What About Tights?

Tights cover a dancer’s legs from waist to toe. They are thinner than leggings and thicker than pantyhose. Dancers wear tights to complement the streamlined look of their leotard or unitard. Tights allow dance instructors to easily see a student’s muscle use and leg placement. Look for products labeled as tights for dance class; other styles of tights may not have as much comfort or stretch.

Tips for Getting Your Child’s Gear

Your child’s studio will provide guidance on whether to choose a leotard or unitard for classes, and if tights are recommended or required. Whichever styles your child’s class requires, select products that your child can move comfortably and confidently in.

ballet dancer in a unitard
  • Have your studio dress code in hand and ready to shop? Start with your studio first! Studios often have supplies available for your convenience or you can order products to be shipped.
  • If there is no specific dress code, online retailers such as Discount Dance and Dancewear Solutions provide easy one-stop shopping.
  • There are many specialty dancewear shops available online as well. A quick search may direct you to popular brands such as Capezio, Bloch, Suffolk, Blendz, Elevé, and more!

Laundry and Maintenance

Once you’ve chosen products that work well for your child, you’ll want them to last as long as possible. After a hard day of dance and movement, here are some laundry and maintenance tips to consider:

ballet dancer in a unitard
  • Don’t let the sweat sit: wash items soon after use so sweaty smells don’t set in.
  • Turn items inside out before laundering.
  • Use only mild detergent without fabric softeners.
  • Opt for a cold water setting to maintain the fabric’s elasticity and color.
  • Use a delicates bag in the washing machine! Anything with clasps, zippers, or snaps should be separated so as not to cause damage. Or, opt for a gentle handwash.
  • Air drying dance clothes is preferred, but a low heat setting in the dryer may also work well. Check the garment labels to be sure.


Author: Kayla Powers

Kayla is a globally competitive and nationally ranked debater who is currently studying Writing, Rhetoric, and Media at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Kayla has work experience as a writer for the HWS Communications Department and has interned at multiple law firms, including Deloitte and Gusrae Kaplan Nusbaum. Aside from work, Kayla enjoys singing and found a love for musicals at a young age.

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