Tango originally started in Buenos Aires, only spreading internationally after the local ‘porteño’ middle and upper classes became aware of the phenomenon and incidentaly exported it during their travels to prominent cities across the globe – London, Paris, New York and Berlin, amongst others.
By the 1910s, tango dresses had started to become much lighter – made primarily from satin and more spacious to allow for a much closer embrace, with legs entwining almost constantly. Women soon couldn’t get enough orange and yellow satins. Three years into the “satin tango phase” dresses became shorter (mid-shin – cheeky!) with transparent panels, which were labelled by designers as: “tango visite”. Many people thought the shortening of skirts and dresses was to allow more freedom to move, however the reason is actually believed to be that there became a shortage of fabrics!
Tango clothing had such a huge impact on society and culture that tango fashion, in particular corsets, even influenced everyday clothing. The corsets were designed to make upper body movement much easier and less restrictive for women, especially when dissociating. This was an incredible juxtaposition to the fashion of the time – lengthy, loose skirts with a tight waistline – making tango all the more exhilarating and rebellious.
When the Great Depression struck, tango was also hit hard. The number of people dancing tango declined. Then during the 1950s, rock and roll started to make an impression and soon became the new big craze, overpowering tango and hindering the development of tango fashion – at least for a few decades.
Tango made a courageous comeback internationally in the 80’s and 90’s. Tango clothing here began to fall into two categories. One; being similar to the traditional outfits, the second; being influenced by modern aspects of life, developing into a more stage-based representation of the tango (or “tango escenario”). Women commonly wearing long black dresses with high slits, to the mid-calf area, whist men wear bold and sometimes shiny suits. Red and blacks with roses are often associated with stage tango and in films, such as Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Some Tango fashion brand play with these cliches, designing extravagant outfits that are more suited to professional performers playing in the West end than casual milongueros. One can only wonder, how will tango fashion evolve in the future?