The Ballerina is the New It-Girl, Or Has She Always Been?


Fashion’s modern muse, the ballerina, strikes the yearly fashion scene with a flare of tulle and reminiscent silhouettes; however, ballet remains forever present in the closets of contemporary women. From the invention of the tutu, to the WW2 flat, to the modern legging, one cannot escape the reach of fashion inspired by ballet, and why would one want to?

The early 20th century marked a spark in the relationship of ballet and fashion, interweaving ideas and fueling a new age of design with the old world of ballet. In 1932, Chanel designed a line of infamous tulle gowns with Christian Berard’s costumes for the Cotillon Ballet Production as the inspiration. Dior, Schiaparelli, and Yves St. Laurent, (all female couturières) followed with ballet as their muse for their next collections. These following runways sparked something new for contemporary fashion, art influencing art, a mutualistic relationship between ballet and fashion. The emergence of these ballet-inspired designs is often credited to the rise of women designers. As noted by Patricia Mears, “The rise of women in fashion design […] helped position the image of the ballerina as an aspirational, idealized figure.” Fashion for women by women, drawing on a world marked by femininity.

After this initial spark, the 1940s continued the obsession with ballet, cueing the introduction of the ballet flat. Both a product of WW2 material scarcity and increasing admiration of ballet style. The ballet flat flooded the market and continues to be a staple shoe in the wardrobes of many, including Enloe student Madison Heyl, stating that “they are the best shoe for girls who don’t like heels yet like something soft and stylish.” Both the flats and these voluminous tulle gowns are obvious odes to the art of dance. However, ballet has also infiltrated contemporary fashion in a much subtler way: activewear. From the high cut Jazzercise bodysuits of the 80s to current flared Lululemon leggings and all stretch activewear has an evolutionary connection to ballet. These pieces of feminine activewear mark resemblance to the leotard, derived from the revolutionizing of lycra, a stretchy/spandex fabric, this fabric, along with a similar design and intility draw the line of comparison between modern leggings and the ballet leotards of the 1950s. Not all influence from ballet comes from the extravagantly eccentric costumes themselves, but rather any aspect of the art itself, along with all media surrounding the art form.

Natalie Portman’s Black Swan (2010) is only one rendition of the public’s fascination with ballerinas. Ballet has been a core part of modern media, especially that targeted to young girls. From Barbie of Swan Lake to Angelina Ballerina to the psychological thriller of Black Swan. This fascination in the last century for ballet is why it is no surprise that ‘ballet-core’ has become popular among teenage girls. This aesthetic consists of pale pink, tights, wrap sweaters, leg warmers, and fashion items inspired by the attire worn by ballerinas during warm-up, not the costumes themselves. The aesthetic represents a casual glam, a feminine flare on athleisure. Ballet-core tailors the ballet inspired fashion to a young audience, many of whom have grown up idealizing the ballerinas in media. Furthering the attraction to the aesthetic, ballet-core overlaps with coquette-core, or the girlhood aesthetic, reminiscent of a simpler, youthful, time. From ribbons in the hair to sparkly Charity Ball dresses, the ballerina obsession is obvious. But why are we so fascinated with the ballerina? The bottom line is, we never stopped being fascinated, fashion never took it’s eye off the ballerina

Although ballet-core is a trend, ballet fashion is not. Ballet and the designs it has inspired are integral to the foundation of modern fashion. Spanning centuries and constantly blurring the boundary between ballet and fashion, each varietal expression of the Black Swan, remains and will remain the it-girl.