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Fashion lessons from Strictly Come Dancing: sequins, superheroes and skin-tight trousers

At first glance, the clothes on Strictly Come Dancing are even less suitable for translation into real life than the clothes on the catwalk. All-over tassels that shake and shimmy like a drive-through car wash in full flow, floor-length gowns with feather trims: these are not looks you can pull off at work. Actually, never mind work, these are not looks you can pull off even at parties. I am all in favour of dressing up but I cannot pretend you are not going to feel you’ve nailed it when you are in a room above a pub drinking gin and tonic with friends who are working a Céline vibe in, say, a below-the-knee skirt and a chunky heel and you’ve got marabou bobbing around your ankles like a cuddly jellyfish.

But cuddly jellyfish notwithstanding, there are indeed pearls of fashion wisdom to be found on Strictly. Here’s what we’ve learned in 13 series of sparkly Saturday nights:

Sex sells – but not in a sexist way

There is an enormous amount of what is perhaps best described as good-natured perving on Strictly, and the clothes are specifically designed to enable this. “Dresses” is a term used only in its widest sense for some of the outfits worn by the female professionals, since they are actually swimming costumes with dangly bits. But the good-natured perving is, it must be said, heartening in its gender equality. Men were the subject of most of the opening weekend’s thigh-rubby moments, from Craig Revel Horwood saying Danny Dyer could iron him out any time – I have no idea what this means, but Craig managed to make it sound utterly filthy – to the audience swooning so loudly over new-boy Gleb Savchenko that Claudia Winkleman felt compelled to direct the cameraman to his wife to dampen the nation’s lust. On Strictly, no man’s shirt is buttoned higher than his bottom rib, and the trousers are always tight – as Anthony Ogogo can vouch, after Friday’s wardrobe malfunction. This is in direct opposition to every menswear label except possibly Julien Macdonald, but the question is: can 7.68 million viewers be wrong?

You can dress up to the nines and still be the boss


Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly, the grownups. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC

Two women in party dresses run this show. Gravitas may not be a term that springs to mind when you think of Strictly, but it’s all relative and in this context Tess Daly is the boss. She does not signal this by dressing like David Brent. She shows it by being really good at her job while wearing red-carpet gowns by Antonio Berardi or Victoria Beckham. For the contestants, glamour is all part of the game: two hours in the makeup chair is the final push after a week’s sweaty work in the dance studio. If you are playing to win, you need the right frock. In fact, you have to be pretty hard to wear most of the sequinned stuff. Revel Horwood in his black tie is Cruella de Vil for a new generation – but he is pantomime-scary, while it is Tess and Claudia who are the actual grownups.

You are never too old for a superhero costume

Contender for the best quote of the opening weekend came from Olympic sprinter Iwan Thomas, who said of his blue sequin polo shirt: “I put this top on, I zip it up, and I become Glitterman.” This is the new gold standard for party shirts. If it makes you feel like you are basically going to win Saturday night, then wear it.

You can have too much of a good thing

As a fake tan addict – I am convinced that if you wear enough, it keeps your legs warm in winter – I am grateful to Strictly for a weekly fire-and-brimstone warning of the dangers of overindulging. Ditto, hairspray. Elnett is possibly my favourite smell in the world, for the Proustian associations – with cocktails rather than madeleines – but hair that doesn’t move when you jive looks a bit weird. Everything in moderation. Everything, that is, apart from Strictly, of which I can never get enough.

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