The following text is an excerpt from Ballet for Life: Exercises and Inspiration from the World of Ballet Beautiful by Mary Helen Bowers.
For ballet dancers, style is about melding personal expression with physical form. Embraced by celebrities and fashion icons like Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Natalie Portman, and Alexa Chung, ballet fashion has a glamorous history.
Classic, formfitting clothes are cut to flatter and reveal, allowing for sleek silhouettes and optimal movement without giving too much away. Dancewear offers a fun mix of function and whimsy. Ballet clothes are designed first with a dancer’s performance in mind.
From leotards to woolly knitwear, each piece has a purpose and a specific role in a dancer’s wardrobe. Tights permit a wide range of motion and accent a dancer’s lines, while a leotard-sans-tights look shows off the powerful muscles in a dancer’s legs in the studio. A simple scoop-neck leotard highlights a ballerina’s swanlike neck and elegant posture, both rooted in a powerful core. Long-sleeved leotards provide coverage and warmth for every port de bras. Simple chiffon wrap skirts offer a floaty, opaque layer over the hips and butt while displaying the legs. Tutus and tulle practice skirts add structure and formality while bringing the focus to the lower legs. Cozy legwarmers and knit shorts keep the muscles warm and hips loose during rehearsals and classes. A simple ballet wrap sweater heats the back muscles but is easy to put on or take off without disturbing a dancer’s makeup or hair before a performance or during a workout.
I love the way that my dance clothes perform, both in the studio and out, from season to season. Classic pieces like ballet flats and soft wrap sweaters add elegance and ease to any look. When shopping for dresses, skirts, or the perfect pair of high-waisted jeans, I always think about how I can work in my leotards. Seamed ballet tights transition a look from summer to fall, as an easy layering piece for a workout as well as under almost any skirt or dress.
Legwarmers over tights with boots or flats take that same look into the cold winter months. Ribboned satin and leather ballerina flats paired with jeans or A-line skirts make for the perfect off-duty-dancer look. I am often stopped on the street or subway when I am wearing my Ballet Beautiful flats.
It’s always fun when a mom points to my feet and tells her little one, “Look, a real ballerina!”
Lumina, our older daughter, is completely mesmerized by ballet shoes, both hers and mine. Tutus are also one of her favorite fashion accessories, whether paired with tights and a sweater for a trip to the farmer’s market or under a fancy dress, petticoat style. Lumina tells us, “I want to go to work with Mommy and climb the big stairs and wear ballet shoes.” (Our SoHo studio is a fifth-floor walk-up and a serious heart-pumping climb!)
Designing and creating dance clothes has taken my love for dancewear to a whole other level, melding the creative process with my daily fashion and allowing me to bring my most dreamed-about ballet styles to life. Seeing these styles on others is the icing on the cake!
Whether a top fashion editor in our NYC studio, a supermodel like Lily Aldridge, Doutzen Kroes, Miranda Kerr, or a Ballet Beautiful novice training with us online, witnessing our clients make ballet style their own inspires me to view ballet fashion through fresh eyes.
Iconic beauty Raquel Zimmerman has a soft spot for a classically cut leotard and tulle, while model Imaan Hammam favors simple black camisoles with a pop of red in a satin shoe. Meanwhile, fashion It girls Harley Viera-Newton and Alexa Chung put their own unique stamp on ballerina street style, casually knotting the ribbons of their slippers and tossing them around their shoulders for a post-workout look that is always chic.
1. The WrapFeminine details like a chiffon wrap skirt and pancake tutu with a mesh wrap top draw attention to the lines of a dancer’s legs while providing coverage of the derrière, hips, and upper thighs.
2. The Ballet SlippersShow off your ballerina abs with an athletic mix of a sports bra and leggings or seamed tights with shorts. Swap your leggings or tights for a romantic tutu’s traditional ballet style and sheer coverage of the derrière and thighs.
3. The TutuThere are several different tutu styles. Longer, “romantic”-style tutus harken back to ballet’s romantic era in the nineteenth century. World-renowned ballerinas like Marie Taglioni and Carlotta Grisi originated title roles in classical, full-length ballets like La Sylphide and Giselle. The shin-length tulle costume typical of these ballets was named in honor of this formative period for classical ballet. Pair a romantic practice tutu with a simple leotard or sports bra for a dreamy ballet-inspired workout look
4. The LeotardLeotards are a staple of a dancer’s wardrobe, but they also offer a myriad of styling possibilities. Seamed tights are typically worn over the entire foot and inside of pointe or soft shoes during performances, but in class and rehearsals anything goes. Cutting the toes and feet of tights provides a range of styling options for a ballerina’s look. A halter-neck leotard is ideal for cardio workouts, showing off back muscles and beautiful posture while keepingthe arms and shoulders cool. A mesh wrap top provides breathability in a lightweight, stretchy layer.
5. The Tights
Wear your leotard underneath a pair of black or pink seamed ballet tights for an authentic pro look, or with bare legs and a classic wrap skirt or hot pants for a more athletic style. Pulling the tights down over the heel of the shoe lengthens the line of the leg. A second cut along the heel creates a stirrup that allows for the same visual effect with better traction. Bare legs draw the eye to a dancer’s muscles, highlighting power and muscle tone.