What to Wear to the Milonga: For Men!
The Ultimate Guide to Men’s Tango Fashions
Pressed, collared button-down shirts in smart, solid colors; wide-cut trousers made of quality fabrics that drape elegantly to the floor, creating smooth lines; shirt cuffs rolled back toward the elbow for greater mobility; leather-bottomed, matte black soft tango shoes with a low heel.
This, in a nutshell, is what you will see the trendy, experienced milongueros of Buenos Aires wearing today. This is not what a quick internet search will lead you to believe you should wear, however!
Since most of the articles about tango clothing trends are aimed toward women, and Google Image seems to believe that all male tango dancers should be dressing formally for the stage, we thought we would try to bridge the milonguero fashion gap and offer up some insider advice exclusively for the gentleman— those generous souls who brave the floor day after day for the love of tango!
Guiding Principles for Being “Bien Pinta”
“Bien pinta” literally means “well-painted”, and is the term porteños use to describe the state to which every self-respecting milonguero aspires to reach: a man who is not only well-dressed, but well-mannered also– and to equal degree, like Gardel himself! If you only have one or the other, after all, you will fail to earn the respect of the milonga elite.
That said, just as the dance itself emphasizes creativity and self-expression within a small set of constraints, the clothing you wear should reflect your personality while respecting a few basic ground rules. As such, we will never tell you that black is the only acceptable color, but we will ask you to consider minimizing distractions like loud patterns and colors for the sake of the other dancers.
Here are some more general principles for the gents:
- Women generally make more of an effort for the milonga than they would for work or a typical outing, choosing a dress or skirt and nice top. We really appreciate the men who do the same out of respect for the ladies (hint hint!)
- You can score an easy win right out of the gate by skipping the strong cologne. With our noses often nestled near your neck, musky scents have a way of mixing and multiplying over the course of an evening, offending our senses at best and nauseating us at worst! We appreciate deodorant and little else.
- Nothing you wear should interfere with our abrazo-abilities. This means: no large belt buckles, metal tie clips, or sharp buttons that could literally come between us during the tanda! Thick, overlapping suit lapels can actually obscure subtle leads through the chest, and flipped pant cuffs create a trip hazard for high heels. In short, make sure whatever you wear is soft and smooth down the front!
With those out of the way, the best advice we can give you on selecting clothes is to prioritize fit and feel over flashiness. There’s nothing quite like gliding across the floor in fabrics that move and breathe with you because they were designed well and made from high quality materials. This usually means light, breathable fabrics like cotton and polyester blends. And you don’t necessarily have to buy clothing targeted to tango dancers! Look through your closet for pieces you already own that fit this description— they would probably work just fine!
If you tend to sweat heavily, it’s a courtesy to either bring a change of undershirt for midway through the evening, or bring a second overshirt altogether! This is a very typical practice all over the world.
Keep in mind also that the fabrics you wear don’t only affect you… silk tends to be too slippery to hold onto, and wool suits can be quite itchy on the arms of your partner. Bottom line: if a piece feels great on you, it will probably feel great for your partner, too!
But do I have to wear a suit?
In a word: no. Suits were once all the rage in Buenos Aires, and you’ll still see some of the older milongueros insist on wearing them every time they go out dancing, but the humble, button-down shirt (left slightly unbuttoned at the top for breathability and comfort) will never let you down paired with nice dress pants. The key is to make an effort to look nice, and if you do decide to go with a suit (nothing wrong with that!) try to keep it thin enough so that your follower can still cue off your chest leads.
Hey, they used to wear cravats and fedoras, too, but as Bob Dylan famously said: the times, they are a changin’!
If you’re looking for places to shop for men’s tango clothes in Buenos Aires, start with the recommendations from our trusty local milonguero friends: the DNI Tango Store for less formal and práctica wear, and the Miguel Mancera boutique for traditional milonga attire.
OK, so what about the shoes?
Think leather, leather, leather: on the upper, on the sole, and everywhere in between. This is the only material that truly bends, flexes, and supplies all the proper support to your foot while not producing too much friction against your heel.
If you don’t have the cash to spring for a pair of tango shoes, you can purchase some suede leather from your local fabric store and take it to a cobbler to attach to the bottom of a chosen pair of dress shoes (or attach it yourself using contact cement in a pinch). But if you find yourself in Buenos Aires with $150 – $200 USD to spare, you can’t go wrong at 2×4 al pie in Palermo Viejo or the DNI Tango Store, both of which are made 100% in Argentina and offer excellent quality. Just remember to change into your dance shoes only once inside the milonga, since the sidewalk is too rough of a surface for suede!
One last tip: shoe color tends to be an indicator of dance level for men, with darker colors like black and brown being standard and lighter colors like beige and white being reserved for advanced or professional dancers.
We hope this little guide has been useful to you! If still in doubt, you can always look up photos or videos for the event you plan to attend to get a better feel for the style there, or just ask one of our expert guides for advice. We at TangoTrips are always glad to assist you!
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the origins of tango, be sure to sign up for one of our authentic milonga tours where we delve even deeper into the music, the culture, and the dance. Also, like us on Facebook to keep up with all the tango happenings in Buenos Aires!