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Ballet's 'Glisser' Through Modern Fashion

Nina Sayers, a desperate look strewn across her face, pirouetting into madness in Black Swan is a scene that perfectly reflects ballet in fashion. It is feminine, evenly balanced between sharp edges and feather-like fullness, and can be warped and changed into any style possible. It’s safe to say this elegant and long-surviving art is one of the most significant influences on fashion to date. Presented here are some of the many memorable examples of how ballet has made a lasting impact on couture.


Leotards, the building block of ballet ensembles, are frequently replicated on the runway and street style alike. The more casual and Pretty-Little-Thing-esque bodysuit top can be attributed to the leotard, and is often styled tucked into trousers. In high fashion, however, leotards are mimicked in many formats. Valentino’s RTW Fall 2016 collection featured scooped necklines combined with tight, mid-length sleeves, as well as open backs and camisole silhouettes, some with the recently revived cowl-neck, all of which clearly mirror yet elevate this dainty and skintight look. Glassy ribbons are tied around the waist of many of these ensembles, demonstrating one of the most popular and replicable aspects of ballet inspired fashion. Valentin Yudashkin pushed this further in her SS17 collection, creating a gown of slinky cream silk with the typical spaghetti strap leotard silhouette, but combined it with experimental geometric cutouts across the bodice.

Left: Valentino Fall 2016 // Right: Valentin Yudashkin SS17


Knitwear trends this winter have been heavily reminiscent of those worn by ballet dancers, notably boleros and shrugs that began trending around July. These, however, were seen in a variety of colours along with more distressed fabric and were often homemade to give an effortless feel, quite the opposite of how this style of dance is portrayed in the media.

From classic cardigans to t-shirt form, wrap tops — the famed ballet accessory for colder weather — are frequently experimented with. Occasionally, these are trimmed down or ripped for a haphazard and interesting effect, thus continuing the pattern of breaking down this perfectionist art into something not necessarily more wearable, but most certainly its juxtaposition.

Perhaps the most popular rendition of ballet knitwear is legwarmers. This once-80s-now-chic accessory dominated the runway in Miu Miu’s Fall 2022 collection, styled frequently in pale shades with pleated skirts for a school-girl take on this accessory promoted from the earliest exercise videos.

Miu Miu Fall 2022

Ballet skirts

Softer and more luxurious fabrics are often employed when depicting a ballet skirt, both on the runway and as streetwear. Lighter chiffon may be used for a simple mini skirt, or one festooned with ruffles in order to mirror the ballet staple wrap skirt. Ocimar Versolato illustrated this in his Spring 1996 collection with a pink and white palette that added an ethereal essence to the piece. Cheaper wrap skirt alternatives are often made of thin cotton-polyester blends and in ditsy florals, with similarly prominent ruffles.

Ocimar Versolato Spring 1996

Of course this is not the only ballet skirt recreated in the fashion world. Decadent tutus and costume skirts are something easy to emulate in a runway setting, with layered tulle, maxi silhouettes and glittering adornments, such as Simone Rocha’s angelic yet edgy take in her Spring 2022 RTW collection. 2010s fashion took thorough note of this, as tulle skirts were styled casually on a regular basis.

Simone Rocha Spring 2022

Ballet flats

It’s impossible to get through a 'ballet in fashion' article without mentioning the tried and tested ballet flat. This dainty footwear originated with Diana Vreeland, columnist at Harper's Bazaar and Editor-in-Chief of Vogue from 1963 to 1971, who introduced the shoes as a casual accessory, as they were exempt from rationing and wartime restrictions. While they were popular during the 2010s, they are once again on the rise, thanks to the coquette aesthetic and a widespread embraing of femininity, with Repetto and Miu Miu pioneering the high fashion comeback, and Prada and Chanel more connected with the earlier rendition of the trend.

However, ballet flats are now becoming more fittingly labelled as ballet heels, with Repetto’s wearable chunky kitten heeled pumps, and Miu Miu’s dressier and unconventional stiletto take.

Left: Repetto // Right: Miu Miu

Contrast is a factor that appears to be toyed with the most when designers experiment with ballet as a starting point for their pieces. Whether it’s deepening the colours and heightening the slits to create a slinkier and sensual style, or placing wispy, sheer chiffon with chunky boots in search of an edgier energy, it forever stays relevant. Throughout fashion history in the 20th and 21st centuries its versatility as an inspiration has never faded, and it seems likely that aspects of it will be pioneered in and out of fashion magazines eternally.

Words by Miranda Webb

(@mirandaisnotcool on IG)

Edited by Lucy Eaton

(@llucyeaton on IG)


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