Ballet dancers and costumes have been synonymous with grace, elegance and style for centuries. Ballet was created in the Renaissance as a type of entertainment on the Italian court, and moved to the Parisian opera in the 17th century. In those times, most of the leading dancers were male, and it was not until 1681 that the first principal female dancer came to stage. Her name was Mlee de Lafontaine and her charm and grace were such that she became known as the “queen of dance”.
Ballet emancipated from the opera in the late 18th century, but it was not until the turn of the 19th century that ballet rose in popularity, outstripping the opera. At the same time, ballet spread through other European cities such as Vienna, Milan, Naples, and London.
Mid-19th century saw the golden age of ballet. Around that time, the female roles took over the male roles, and pointe work, that is, dancing on the toes, was introduced. By the end of the 19th century, the center of the ballet world moved to St Petersburg, giving birth to famous Russian masters such as Diaghilev, famous ballerinas such as Anna Pavlova, and famous ballet composers such as Igor Stravinsky. Until today, Russian ballet remains a role model in the world of professional dancing.
The subject of a ballerina was introduced to the modern culture through the paintings of Edgar Degas at the end of the 19th century. He portrayed some of the Paris’s poorest girls playing queens, fairies, and nymphs under the strict eye of the ballet master.
French writer Edmond de Goncourt wrote about Degas in his diary in 1874: “Out of all the subjects in modern life, he has chosen washerwomen and ballet dancers…it is a world of pink and white… the most delightful pretexts for using pale, soft tints.”
Ballet continued to thrive throughout the 20th century- entering the popular culture in the 2000s, through movies such as Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (and Natalie Portman’s iconic performance), or a little lighter “Save the last dance “with Julia Stiles, with occasional pops into the world of fashion: like the extravagant John Galliano’s ballet-inspired 1996 spring/summer collection, feminine Valentino spring 2014 couture, or a combination of Flashback and ballet-inspired Moncler Gamme Rouge, spring 2018 ready-to-wear.
Ballet-inspired fashion finally permeated the world in 2023. From high fashion brands to street style, ballet flats, ribbons, tutu skirts, tights, pearls, and buns were suddenly everywhere. Worn by celebrities, styled on Tiktok, seen on the streets all over the world – ballet is in fashion.
High fashion brands such as MiuMiu and Simone Rocha are creating dreamy ballet flats, satin or pearl-shaped bags, tutu-inspired dresses, ankle socks, and garments adorned with ribbons and pearls. At the same time brands targeting younger generations are offering their versions on ballet fashion.
The name for the ballet-craze of 2023 adopted a tad harsh name for the delicate nature of the style: balletcore. Except for introducing femininity and softness, balletcore moved beyond the exclusive nature of the culture that inspired it.
While not everyone can afford ballet classes and Miumiu ballet flats, we can still take inspiration from this performance art and style our outfits with elegant, dance-inspired details. There is also a shift in the historic struggle of promoting diversity and size inclusivity of this art form – ballet fashion enables dancers and non-dances, people of various backgrounds and body shapes channel the elegance and poise that ballet represents.