What to Wear (or More Importantly, Not Wear) to the Ballet


(Image credit: @camillecharriere)

As someone who just last month went to her first true ballet, I can say from experience how tricky of an event it is to dress for. Part of that it is because of the allure and exclusivity of it. Often held at lavish theaters, like the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris and the Vienna State Opera in Austria, it's easy to assume that attending a large-scale ballet immediately calls for an exquisite outfit that says, "Of course I'm at the ballet. Where else would I be?"

Adding to the pressure to show up sartorially are all the pop-culture moments that take place at or outside of one of the elegant performances, from Carrie Bradshaw in that pink, drop-waist minidress outside of Lincoln Center on Sex and the City (fun fact: Sarah Jessica Parker is the vice chair of the New York City Ballet) to Julia Fox wearing a metallic gown by Zac Posen at the city's 2022 Fall Fashion Gala. Most often, when we see photos of people attending the ballet, it's to celebrate a big moment for the company. A red carpet is rolled out, and the expectations for what attendees show up in are high.

But contrary to what you've seen in the society pages, experiencing the beauty of a ballet at one of the world's top theaters isn't always a glitzy event. Sometimes, say if the performance you're going to see is taking place in the daytime, the dress code can be quite pared-back. Then again, no one's going to say a word if you doll it up a little. Really, it's all about your personal style preferences. According to the New York City Ballet, that and your comfort level are all that matters. Of course, if it's a gala or other special event you're attending, always refer to your invitation for dressing details. 

What Not to Wear to the Ballet

Though many ballets, including the New York City Ballet, don't have official dress codes, there are still a few wardrobe items that are best left for more casual settings. For starters, I suggest avoiding anything too sporty or athletic, like, say, the outfit you wore that morning to Pilates. To post-workout brunch, sure. But for the ballet, it's probably best to run home and change out of your leggings and sneakers. Speaking of shoes, the ballet probably wouldn't be the best occasion to show up to wearing flip-flops or slippers, no matter how comfy they are. Lastly, I'd hold off on wearing loungewear, even if it's the elevated kind. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I'd never say no to wearing a pair of cashmere joggers, but if ever an occasion fit into that 1%, it would be an evening at Lincoln Center.

What to Wear to the Ballet

As for what you should wear to the ballet, that is, again, totally up to you. I can, however, give you plenty of ideas and outfit inspiration to help you create something perfect for the beautiful evening that awaits. From little black dresses and tailored suiting to bold pops of color and skirt-and-sweater combos that have never failed us, keep scrolling to find the style moment that best fits your forthcoming night at the ballet. Just remember: Two hours is a long time to sit in something you don't feel comfortable in. 

10 Regret-Proof Outfits to Wear to the Ballet


(Very) Little Black Dress
(Image credit: @champagnemani)

A short LBD is perfect for many occasions, and the ballet certainly is one of them. Paired with knee-high boots or a pair of strappy heels, this classic silhouette is made for a Saturday-night performance and late-night dinner and drinks to follow. 

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Something Chic to Slip Into
(Image credit: @kristenmarienichols)

What makes slip dresses so versatile is that while they look elegant and formal, they feel as comfortable as pajamas (which they kind of are). For your next night at the ballet, tie a cozy cashmere knit around your waist to put on 10 minutes in when the chilly AC gets to be too much, and wear some sleek, fitted boots for an added bit of style. 

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Classic Suit With a Twist
(Image credit: @rachelbesser)

Spice up a classic black suit, which is a go-to for obvious reasons, by wearing nothing but a bra or bra top underneath and trading in your daytime loafers for a tall pair of pumps. The look will make for great photos outside of whichever gorgeous opera house you're seeing a performance at, while also remaining comfortable and laid-back.

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Tweed Time
(Image credit: @camillecharriere)

As you can see, a classic tweed jacket paired with a white tee, split-hem leggings, and some good accessories is a quick and easy way to look absolutely unreal next time you score seats for Swan Lake

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A Timeless Tube
(Image credit: @sylviemus_)

Thanks to the S/S 23 runways, tube dresses are currently experiencing a major surge in popularity. And where better to debut whichever one you secure this season than the ballet? 

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Dressed-Up Jeans
(Image credit: @elizagracehuber)

As I said, wearing jeans to the ballet is totally fine, especially if you're going to a daytime performance. I'd know because I wore them on a Sunday afternoon and was more than dressed for the occasion. My only suggestion is to pick a darker wash and dress them up with a sleek, classic top and statement add-ons like shoes and accessories. 

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A Pop of Color
(Image credit: @fashionwithjazz)

When in doubt, follow Carrie Bradshaw's lead and go bold in the color department. After all, there aren't always glamorous occasions to wear a bright, colorful dress to. Take advantage of this one. 

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The Tried-and-True Sweater-and-Skirt Combo
(Image credit: @anoukyve)

Sweaters and midi skirts are powerful on their own, but when combined, they're an unstoppable duo. Comfortable, warm, and undeniably chic, these two pieces together are a surefire way to look amazing on your next ballet date.

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An All-in-One Piece
(Image credit: @greceghanem)

Chic jumpsuits simply do not get the attention they deserve. A much-appreciated alternative to dresses, a one-piece is easy to throw on and pretty much always looks impeccable. Especially when you have a good bag to go with. 

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Always a Sweaterdress
(Image credit: @aniyahmorinia)

Whenever I don't know what to wear, be it to a work event or a night out, I always default to a sweaterdress, often paired with boots and a classic shoulder bag. Something about the way they check off the comfort box whilst maintaining a high-end look makes them perfect for any occasion—the ballet included. 

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Senior Fashion Editor

Eliza Huber is a New York City–based fashion editor who specializes in trend reporting, brand discovery, and celebrity style. She joined Who What Wear in 2021 after almost four years on the fashion editorial team at Refinery29, the job she took after graduating with a marketing degree from the University of Iowa. She has since launched two monthly columns, Let's Get a Room and Ways to Wear; profiled the likes of Dakota Fanning, Diane Kruger, Katie Holmes, and Sabrina Carpenter for WWW's monthly cover features; and reported on everything from the relationship between Formula One and fashion to the top trends from fashion month, season after season. Eliza now lives on the Upper West Side and spends her free time researching F1 fashion imagery for her side Instagram accounts @thepinnacleoffashion and @f1paddockfits, running in Central Park, and scouring eBay for '90s Prada and '80s Yves Saint Laurent.