Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, ballroom, and latin dance teacher and choreographer in Oakland. She loves spreading the joy of dance.
Going out salsa dancing can be a lot fun, but wearing the wrong clothes can make it a lot of un-fun. And of course, just getting ready to go out for the first time can be very stressful. The purpose of this article is to address the biggest concerns men have when it comes to what to wear to a salsa club. Generally, the most common questions I get from my in-person students and online readers are: How fancy/casual should I dress? Are t-shirts ok? Should I wear a jacket, tie or suit? What do I do if I sweat a lot? Can I wear shorts?
All these questions and more will be answered!
How Fancy or Casual Should I Dress?
Some salsa clubs are really casual and no one dresses up, while some are really fancy and everyone dresses up. If you've never been there before, you can ask a dance friend from class or your teacher how fancy/casual a particular club is. You can also try calling the club in advance and asking them what their dress code is.
When in doubt, dress on the more formal/conservative end: a long-sleeve button down shirt made of cotton or another light material, light-weight dress pants or nice jeans without any holes or embellishments, and dressy shoes. This outfit will get you through most salsa clubs without a problem.
Can I Wear a T-Shirt?
Yes, t-shirts are usually ok for men to wear to a salsa club, unless you are going to a club/event with a strict dress code. If you are going to a special/formal event or party, I recommend wearing a long-sleeve button down shirt instead of a t-shirt.
The rest of the time, a regular t-shirt will be fine. Most guys wear plain white or black shirts, which doesn't show sweat stains and makes it easy to change shirts throughout the night if you want to put on a fresh one.
In general, I suggest wearing a plain t-shirt in a solid color, preferably not neon because it hurts to look at you, epecially up-close.
If you want to wear a shirt with words on it, wear one from your dance studio or with some fun dance saying on it, because those can be good conversation starters, especially if you are in a casual salsa club.
Can I Wear a Polo or Short-Sleeved Shirt?
Yes, polos (short-sleeved collared shirts) are ok for men to wear to salsa clubs. They are a nicer alternative to t-shirts, which can look too casual at some places. In addition, the short sleeves will help you not feel as hot.
Similarly, you can wear a short-sleeved button down shirt if you are worried about getting too hot and feel like a polo is too thick for you.
However, unless you're at an outdoor event/festival or casual party, I don't recommend wearing a tank top/sleeveless shirt to a salsa club if you're a man, regardless of how hot and sweaty you get. Even at a casual salsa club, a tank top looks too casual and some salsa clubs might not allow it, especially if they have a dress code. Save the tank top for the gym, walking your dog, and going to the beach.
Should I Wear a Long Sleeved Shirt?
Yes, long sleeved button down shirts are generally recommended for going out dancing in salsa clubs and they always look good. I suggest wearing one made of cotton or another light weight material. Don't wear a long-sleeve flannel shirt because you will be melting and dying a slow painful death. However, if you insist on wearing flannel, you should wear a nice, clean cotton t-shirt underneath as a backup in case you find yourself getting unbearably hot and want to take off your long-sleeve shirt.
Colorwise, I recommend wearing a lighter colored long-sleeve button down shirt because those don't show sweat as much. You can wear one with a small pattern or design on it, but try not to wear anything too busy or bright because it will hurt to look at you.
What Do I Do If I Sweat a Lot When I Dance?
Since sweating/perspiration is a big deal for both men and women in salsa clubs because of all the physical activity and subsequent body heat that is generated as a result of that, you want to plan your outfits around this fact.
You can't stop yourself from sweating but you can take action to minimize and control it so it's not so noticeable and you don't gross out your partner too much (yes, women sweat too and they can be just as nasty).
In general, I suggest that men wear shirts that don't show off sweat too much. White shirts and black/dark shirts are good for that. An easy way to test this at home is to get a small edge or part of your shirt wet with lukewarm tap water and see how noticeable that wet spot looks compared to the rest of your shirt. Since sweat is essentially water, what your shirt looks like when it's wet with water is how it's going to look when it's wet with your sweat.
Normally, I suggest that men wear long-sleeve button down shirts in a very light or dark color that doesn't show sweat too noticeably, so it's not so obvious. I also recommend that you bring 1, 2, 3, or 4+ extra shirts with you if you're prone to sweating.
A lot of salsa men that I know usually drive to salsa clubs and leave their extra shirts hanging in the car, and then they run out and take off their shirt outside of their car, rub themselves down with a towel to remove excess sweat, swipe on deodorant, put on a fresh clean shirt, and run back in. I've had several salsa boyfriends so I know for a fact that they do this.
If it's cold/winter outside or there isn't parking nearby, I have seen guys bring a backpack, duffle bag, or even a small rolling suitcase with them inside the club so they can just change their shirt/clothes in the bathroom there, without having to go outside. I recommend contacting the venue and asking them what their policy is on bags, etc. and/or if they have a coat check where you can leave your clothing bag and just pull shirts out of it when you need to.
If you're going to be changing shirts, I suggest bringing a set of similar shirts so this way your shirt changes aren't as noticeable, but honestly it doesn't really matter because a lot of guys do this so it's not a big deal and there's nothing to be embarassed about.
Do I Need to Wear a Jacket or Sport Coat?
If you want to be fancy you can wear a vest, sport coat, or blazer on top of your long sleeve button down shirt. It is an extra layer of clothing though, so you can get pretty hot if you are going to be dancing a lot in it. However, some men have told me they like it because it's an extra layer for sweat absorption and it doesn't show your sweat, unless you are totally soaked. If you just change your shirt underneath, it can help you last a whole evening without your partner ever feeling your sweat when she touches you.
Keep in mind, though, that some men have complained that wearing a jacket or sport coat restricts their arm movement, so they prefer not to wear one while dancing. If you haven't worn one yet for dancing, you can try it out and then just take it off if you feel like it gets in the way too much.
Can I Wear a Vest?
Vests are like jackets/sports coats, they make you look fancy and a little bit more dressed up,especially if you pair a vest with a jacket or sport jacket. However, they are another layer of clothing on top which can make you extra hot while dancing. On the other hand, they help absorb sweat and make it less noticeable.
Some guys like to wear a vest because it goes with their personal style. I've seen it styled a variety of ways: over a t-shirt or long-sleeve button shirt, with or without a jacket/sport coat, and with or without a necktie or bow-tie.
It all depends on your personal style and how hot/sweaty you get while dancing. If you're not sure or you change your mind, you are free to take it off.
Can I Wear a Hat?
Yes, hats are okay for men to wear to salsa clubs as long as they are not baseball hats or cowboy hats because those will get in the way of your dancing, especially if you lift your arm(s) a lot to turn your partner.
If you want to wear a hat, I recommend wearing one of those little cuban hats with a narrow brim so you don't bump it with your hand. You can also wear a newspaper-boy hat.
Wearing a hat is a good way to cover your hair if your hair tends to get really sweaty when you dance. But keep in mind that wearing a hat can make you feel hot.
What Pants Should I Wear?
Regarding pants, I suggest wearing clean medium or dark wash jeans with no rips, holes, or tears in them. You can wear slightly distressed jeans, but avoid anything with really big holes. You can also wear slacks or dress pants if you want to be a little bit more dressed up. Don't wear sweat pants, athletic pants, or anything that could be classified as "house clothes," because it can look sloppy, as well as get you stopped at the door. I recommend calling ahead and finding out the dress code because some nightclubs can be really strict about men's pants.
Can I Wear Shorts?
In general, it is not okay for men to wear shorts to a salsa club. Just think of it like going to dinner in a restaurant, and how men are asked to wear long pants when they go. If you are on vacation in a tropical country and there is a nightclub or discotheque in your hotel or nearby, you might be able to wear shorts there, but it all depends on that club's dress code, so check in advance.
However, if you are going to a daytime event, outdoor event, picnic, or casual party at someone's home during the summer or when it's warm out, you can wear shorts instead of pants to stay cool. Just wear khaki/cargo shorts or dress shorts, but avoid wearing athletic/basketball shorts unless it's really super-duper casual. When in doubt, ask the host.
What Shoes Should I Wear?
In terms of shoes, you can wear dress shoes, casual shoes, or your dance shoes. Keep in mind the floor may be sticky depending on the place you go, so wear suede bottom shoes with caution.
If you wear dress shoes, I recommend ones with a narrow round toe and a smooth thin bottom. Don't wear anything with too much grip or that is too bulky, because you'll be tripping over yourself.
Make sure that your shoes fit you comfortably, don't pinch your feet, and that they stay on when you dance in them.
I hope that you found this useful and that now you feel more comfortable about going out to salsa club and don't feel quite so daunted as before. Keep in mind that you're going to sweat, everyone does, so don't freak out, just focus on keeping your sweating under control. Once you go a few times, you'll get a better idea of what to wear.