I'm not a psychic, but there are some things I can see coming from a mile away. As a fashion editor, I've come to accept that it's a prerequisite in the industry to be dialed into the higher powers that be (aka following fashion houses religiously), as it's a means to foresee the future. Industry veterans might not be waving their hands over a crystal ball, but they are constantly scanning runway collections, social media, and new-arrivals sections in search of what's to come. Without that foresight, there would be no way to speculate what trends will define the year, the brands that will blow up, or even what pieces will reach cult status—it's an essential part of the process! Of course, no matter how much forecasting fashion insiders do, nothing can be truly in "fashion" until it's permeated larger pop culture. The indication that a trend has done just that isn't solely through its prevalence on the runway or the red carpet. It is also the emergence of a new fashion aesthetic.
Love it or hate it, we're now in the era in which dressing within a theme is no longer cliché or cheesy. Yeah, some might still consider fashion aesthetics to be the antithesis of personal style, but I'd beg to differ. Not only has the concept of dressing for aesthetics changed how we collectively relate to clothing, but it has also given us an excuse to opt out of fast fashion altogether. For those who have not yet established their personal style, aesthetics offer a way to explore new fashion perspectives without tripping up. Ultimately, the key to sticking the landing when it comes to adopting an aesthetic comes down to choosing one that can artfully toe between being trend-forward and timeless. No other aesthetic hits that aim en pointe quite like balletcore. (Excuse the pun.)
In recent seasons, we've seen the concept of adhering to fashion aesthetics elevated by the balletcore trend. In part, the appeal of this aesthetic has to do with its association with the high-brow art form of ballet dancing. It also has to do with how prevalent ballet-inspired pieces have become within high fashion. With the trend reaching new heights of popularity, I've got a hunch that it's here to stay for the long haul. Don't believe me? Ahead, I'm breaking down the origins of this fashion aesthetic, why balletcore fashion will continue to stay relevant, and the key pieces you'll need to adopt the look for yourself. Let the lesson in balletcore begin.
What is balletcore fashion?
Before we jump fully into the history of balletcore, it's worth examining how the fashion aesthetic speaks to the larger cultural moment. It's no secret that fashion aesthetics have dominated every corner of the internet in the past few years. While all of these aesthetics might seem like trite little trends, the through line is a subconscious desire to find power in fashion in an age when so many feel powerless. For some, that means adopting fashion aesthetics rooted in subverting gender expectations—e.g., "villain era" dressing and alt-girl fashion. Others use clothing as a way to show dissent against modern-day capitalism (see coquette or cottagecore aesthetics as proof). Some choose to rebuke ideas about feminity by embracing their girlhood—i.e., dressing in ways that bring their inner child joy or lean into all things traditionally girly.
Although each aesthetic is vastly different in reproach, their aim is the same: finding power in playing with personal style. It's something that balletcore does sublimely, as the trend manages to be all those things and more. While one might think that this fashion aesthetic can be solely chopped up to clothing inspired by this dance form, that's far from the truth. Ballet-inspired fashion has always been subversive in its own right. Because ballet has always been the inflection point between many aspects of society—from high fashion to high-brow art to the highest echelons of society—it has continuously held a place in history that should not be underestimated.
We may now associate ballet as a high art form, but it's often existed at inflection points of political movements, acting as a mirror to display wider societies' ideas around gender, sexuality, and beauty itself. Quick history lesson for you: Ballet began as something that was only practiced by men in the 15th century, typically in royal courts. It wasn't until ideas around gender roles and the popularization of the dance form in the 19th century that more women became professional ballerinas. But even with the semi-democratization of ballet—keep in mind the art form still barred many people of color out for centuries—it still had a long way to go. An unintended effect of the shift in who could perform ballet subsequently impacted the cultural value placed on the art form itself. Often, ballerinas were depicted as sex workers because of how they dressed while performing. The now quintessential look of the ballerina was quite controversial during the 1800s because of how revealing it was compared to how people dressed during that period.
It wasn't until the 20th century, when luxury fashion houses like Dior and Balmain drew inspiration from ballet for their collections, that we saw negative perceptions begin to change. Ever since then, fashion has played a large role in the evolution of ballet, but it's not the only thing that's influenced the art form. Ballet has reached its highest pinnacle yet, as it's managed to permeate every aspect of pop culture, including films, fashion, fine art, and so on. This fashion aesthetic has been spotted in everything from award-winning pictures like Black Swan to even the opening credits of Sex and the City, where Carrie Bradshaw is wearing a tutu in the middle of Manhattan. If that weren't enough, the recent widespread adoption of the trend across social media has proven that balletcore is not just big—it's been around.
Without a doubt, one could attribute ballet's continued relevance to its overwhelming presence throughout various media forms, but what has sustained the excitement surrounding it goes beyond that. This fashion trend has kept us collectively on our toes due to designers' dedication to pushing the visual evolution of the aesthetic. Of course, there have always been subtle nods to the art form in fashion, but never to the extent we've seen recently. It's nearly impossible to ignore the ever-looking presence of all things ballet-adjacent, as the trend has dominated runway collections since the early 2020s.
There's no shortage of receipts to show that balletcore has always been around, but one can't deny how specific fashion brands have made the trend big—ahem, Miu Miu. If we were to chart the beginning of the resurgence of balletcore, it would be with the debut of Miu Miu's F/W 22 show. Met with immediate critical acclaim, the show marked the triumphant return of the house's iconic logo-strap ballet flats. Since then, we've seen ballet-inspired items championed by some of the buzziest brands, including Sandy Liang, Cecilie Bahnsen, Simone Rocha, Reformation, and Jacquemus, to name a few. Every season, including the recently shown spring/summer 2024 collections, we've seen designers reinvent balletcore into something bolder than ever before. But what exactly does the new balletcore look like? Keep reading as I dive deeper into what characterizes this fashion aesthetic.
How to Adopt the Balletcore Aesthetic
When defining the balletcore look, there are a few things to remember. The first is that a major part of the overall aesthetic is about tapping into things that are pretty and traditionally feminine, which manifests through the colors, textiles, and silhouettes chosen. Typically, you'll see ballerinas or anybody aspiring toward this look donning a muted pastel palette of pale pink, light lilac, baby blue, and sage green with pops of neutrals, including white, black, gray, and nude. Occasionally, a brighter color like saffron red will be thrown into the mix, but overall, most of the color palette is demure.
In terms of the textiles, you'll see a mix of materials that will either be performance-ready or "off-duty casual." For example, while ballerinas are onstage, they typically wear tulle or chiffon (the material that makes the iconic tutu) embellished with crystals, ruffles, or any other form of appliqués. While offstage, ballerinas are all about comfort, which is reflected through more breathable materials that are easy to dance in, like jersey, cotton, and cashmere.
The same can be said for silhouettes, as the dancers' schedules often inform them. Traditionally, you'd find a ballerina's onstage look to be a dress with a formfitting bodice and voluminous skirt. But designers have expanded that silhouette to include bubble hems, drop waists, puff sleeves, and even looser-fitting ruffled frocks. In terms of off-duty silhouettes, you'll see more of the traditional workout gear in the form of leotards, tights or leggings, and boleros. Overall, these are the things that have informed what we now consider balletcore. Ultimately, the key to perfecting this fashion aesthetic is finding clothing that feels like it could be worn by ballerinas on the dance floor but also incorporated into daily life effortlessly. So what key pieces can ensure you embody this aesthetic? Find out below.
Key Piece #1: Ballet Flats
It might seem obvious, but it can't be overlooked. You can't adopt the balletcore aesthetic without ballet flats. Long favored by dancers, pointe footwear has often been essential for pulling off the dancing techniques signature to ballet. Luckily for us, we've seen fashion designers reinvent the footwear to exist off the dance floor. With iterations of the trend ranging from classic flats made from pastel-hued satin (see MM6 Maison Margiela's and Miu Miu's collections) to trendier versions made from mesh (e.g., The Row and Alaïa), there is no shortage of ways to incorporate this trend into your wardrobe.
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It wouldn't be an homage to balletcore without Miu Miu's iconic flats.
Beyond satin and tulle, velvet is another textile that's a pivotal part of this fashion aesthetic.
Key Piece #2: Voluminous Dresses
In addition to the ballet flats, there's another essential piece that's a signature part of the ballerina look: voluminous dresses. While most ballet companies have a strict set of guidelines around what types of dresses dancers can wear while onstage, fashion designers have taken far more liberties with their interpretations of the staple. Of course, there have been more classic tulle dresses. For example, there was a stunning pale-pink tulle minidress in Aknvas's S/S 24 runway show. At Rotate's S/S 24 show, a yellow gown was covered in layers of tulle ruffles with sheer sequins. Overall, we've seen designers conceptually lean into ballet dresses by creating contemporary iterations that center drop waists, bubble hems, puff sleeves, and pretty details.
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If you want to invest in this trend for the long haul, then Molly Goddard's dresses are a must-shop.
Key Piece #3: Hair Accessories
Since most ballerinas must have their hair pulled back into a ponytail or slick bun for performances, it would only make sense that we'd see hair accessories play such a pivotal part in cultivating the aesthetic. For centuries, it's been well-documented that ballerinas have worn stretchy headbands, tiaras, pins, bows, and even rosette hair ties to add a dramatic flair to their looks while performing. But you might not know that long history has continued into the present. The revival of balletcore has brought hair accessories back into the group chat. There was a time when every group chat consisted of conversations surrounding Sandy Liang's rosette-shaped hair ties from the brand's S/S 23 collection—they had the fashion girlies in a grip, okay! Even if you're not one to dedicate an excessive amount of time to talking about hair accessories, there's no reason you shouldn't wear them. When it comes to dipping your toe into this aesthetic, there's no easier place to start.
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Fashion people can't get enough of Sandy Liang's hair accessories.
You can also shop this scrunchie in black, green, and purple.
A sleek headband never goes out of style, especially with the ballet set.
Key Piece #4: Arm & Leg Warmers
Many of the pieces that have become associated with ballerinas' overall style might seem frivolous at first, but upon further inspection, you'll find that they serve a specific purpose for the dancers. For instance, one might write off the prominence of arm warmers, leg warmers, and boleros on the runway merely as a part of the ballerina look, but that would be a mistake. Yes, these accessories have become a part of the aesthetic, but they're far more utilitarian in nature than you'd expect. Ballet techniques require a level of muscle flexibility and strength training that's incomparable to any other dance form, so when ballerinas are rehearsing, they need ways to keep their bodies warmed up to perform—hence the appeal of these accessories. While arm warmers, leg warmers, and boleros are arguably one of the most practical parts of a ballerina's wardrobe, they'll surely be the most fun part of your own.
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Pair these with a voluminous dress and ballet flats to stick the landing.
These warmers will ensure you look like you just came from dance class (even if you didn't).
Key Piece #5: Pretty Tops
Like all fashion aesthetics, the pieces pertinent to the overall look have evolved. While most staples can be directly traced back to the dance studios, some come straight from creative reinterpretations of the fashion aesthetic—case in point, the overwhelming presence of pretty tops in runway collections. Yes, we've seen tops more aligned with traditional dance attire, like the knitted wrap tops spotted in Adeam's S/S 24 collection. But overall, most ballet-inspired tops feel like they're doing a form of freestyling. For example, some tops in recent seasons have featured voluminous silhouettes with ruffles and puff sleeves. Others have relied upon textiles like mesh, eyelet, chiffon, and tulle to tap into the aesthetic. Some tops seem to draw inspiration from the era in which ballet was first popularized by modernizing the formfitting corsets that were common in the 15th century. We saw that approach most notably in Tory Burch's F/W 23 collection, where a corset top was fashioned from mesh, satin, and lace with a dramatic cinched-in waist and pretty floral embroidery. These various iterations of ballet-adjacent tops show how the aesthetic continues to reach forward into the future.
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You'll want to zoom in to see the little rosette on the bust of this top.
Key Piece #6: Tutu-Inspired Skirts
Even if you're still learning what ballet-inspired fashion looks like, chances are you already knew tutu skirts would be a signature part of the aesthetic. Second to the voluminous dress, the tulle skirt has become synonymous with ballet fashion. But what many might not know is that it wasn't until almost 200 after the invention of ballet that the tutu skirt first debuted at the opera in Paris in 1832—much to the chagrin of attendees because of how revealing it was compared to hemlines at that time. With time, attitudes around the bottom shifted, and nowadays, you can't go to the ballet without seeing this skirt.
To limit this item's evolution solely to the stage's confines would be selling it short. Like so many other ballet-inspired pieces, this skirt has evolved over time on the runways. We've seen classic versions, of course, but most have some signature twist in the form of bright colors, layered trains, and even ultra-sheer materials. Beyond tulle, designers have found other ways to pay homage to the tutu skirt, including skipping tulle altogether and using drop waists, bubble hems, and draping to create the same effect. For example, Mirror Palais's S/S 24 collection had a taffeta miniskirt, and at Aknvas's S/S 24 show, the balletcore aesthetic was embodied through a white miniskirt with a dramatic bubble hem. No matter how varied in approach, each skirt was a reminder of the enduring legacy of this item in the ballet world and beyond.
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In collaboration with the New York City Ballet, Reformation just released a capsule of ballet pieces—including this timeless tutu skirt!
Don't want to wear an actual tutu skirt? Look for options with dramatic bubble hems, A-line silhouettes, or ruffles to pay homage to the staple.
The semi-sheer tulle will allow you to show off your dancing legs.
You'll look like you belong in a production of Swan Lake in this skirt.
Key Piece #7: Tights, Leggings, Hot Pants
Since so much ballet technique is centered on footwork, it's only natural that most ballerinas' wardrobes consist of one or all of the following comfortable bottoms: tights, leggings, and hot pants. On the down-low, this key item is likely more beloved than the tutu skirt, as it allows them to show off their dancing legs without exerting too much effort getting dressed. While these bottoms are undoubtedly the least flashy item to make up the overall aesthetic, that doesn't make them any less chic. Designers have proven that with how they've elevated tights, leggings, and hot pants by focusing on subtle details. For example, in Jacquemus's F/W 23 show, styling made them feel more formal as models sauntered down the runway in ballet-inspired tops with hot pants over tights.
Similarly, we saw sheer tights layered underneath leg warmers at Sandy Liang's fall show to dial up the ballet vibes. Other collections focused less on styling and more on the styles themselves. With MSGM's S/S 23 show, tights were made from a sultry sheer lace, and in Adeam's S/S 24 collection, leggings had tie-up details reminiscent of the laces found on ballet flats. Each iteration was a reminder that ballerinas are just like us. They want beautiful basics too!
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As Jacquemus's entire F/W 23 collection was ballet inspired, buying these briefs is a no-brainer.
Lace tights are a lovely way to incorporate this aesthetic into your closet slowly.