It's True: This Ballerina Prefers Jeans to Leggings

Ballet and fashion have historically had a strong connection, and recently, ballerina style has been holding strong across high-fashion runways and fast-fashion stores alike. But no one's a better authority on how to actually dress like a ballerina better than someone who walks (or pirouettes or bourrées…) the walk. Enter American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Isabella Boylston.

This week, the dancer is gearing up to kick off her latest major project, the inaugural Ballet Sun Valley, a festival for which Boylston serves as creative director and has recruited a team of major talent, including choreographer Gemma Bond and costumers Reid and Harriet. But ahead of the festival’s kick-off tomorrow, the ballerina and major fashion fan filled us in on what a professional ballerina really wears—and what she doesn't.

I’ve always liked and had a sense of fashion. Even when I was a little kid—I lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, this little ski town—and my parents let me wear whatever. One day in the middle of winter, I went to school wearing a bathing suit, an inflatable tire around my waist, and no winter coat. The tire was basically subbing in for a tutu at that point.

When I was 15, my mom got me a subscription to Vogue. I had no money when I first moved to New York and joined American Ballet Theatre, so I would shop at thrift stores and put together some pretty out-there, wild outfits. I would wear bright-blue high-heeled pumps with a zebra-print dress from H&M and then tons of beads. I would also pretty much wear Converse with anything, like a short skirt or a fancy dress. Well, I still wear Converse.

When I became more successful, I started investing in nicer stuff. The first really expensive thing that I ever got was a Chanel bag—just the classic, quilted Chanel bag with gold hardware. I saved up all my overtime from the Met season—which is when we do eight shows a week—and I bought that bag and wore it every day for years. I still have it.

I think it’s great if people are inspired by the ballet aesthetic. Personally, I probably wouldn’t wear tulle or anything that I felt too much resembled a ballet costume, and I would prefer jeans over leggings if I’m stepping out onto the street. In my real life, I stay away from things that look like ballet attire. For years, I wouldn’t wear anything pink because I felt like it was too much of a cliché. But now I wear pink again. I don’t really care.

Dancers, because we spend so much time in front of the mirror, we are super aware of how certain clothes flatter our bodies. I dress more for comfort because I have to take care of my body, and a lot of times I’ll be dealing with injuries, so I wear Nike sneakers a lot with shorts or a short dress. I think ballerinas in general really like to show their bodies, so I wear a lot of short hemlines. And I’ll totally wear a leotard with some cutoffs or jeans.

When it comes to shopping, I’m good friends with the designers of Cushnie et Ochs—they designed my two wedding dresses—so I usually get one or two of their pieces every season. Right now, I also like Jacquemus, Opening Ceremony, and I just got a bunch of dresses from Réalisation Par. Zara’s good for shoes. The collections turn over so quickly, so you won’t necessarily see everyone wearing the same thing. Recently, I bought these purple satin boots that are really pointy and have a small stiletto heel. I also like & Other Stories—they have really great T-shirts.

Below, shop from some of Boylston's favorite brands. And if you're not in the area for Ballet Sun Valley this week, check out the ABT performance calendar for more upcoming events.