I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember. I learned to dance before I learned to read, taking weekly ballet lessons at my local village hall and going to the ballet every year. I reveled in the dancers’ beauty and dreamed of one day becoming The Nutcracker’s Clara or Swan Lake’s Odette.
I continued training in ballet, among other styles, throughout my teenage years and before I knew it, dance had taken over my life. By the time I turned 16, I was spending more than 20 hours per week dancing, turning down friends’ invitations to hang out after school and at weekends to spend time in the studio.
Now, as I approach my late 20s, I’m certainly not the prima ballerina I always thought I’d be. My education, various injuries and being diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) got in the way. But I still dance as a disabled athlete on Team England Adaptive Abilities Pom — a style of dance characterized by sharp, synchronized arm motions and elements of cheerleading.
Now, eight years after I hung up my pointe shoes, ballet-inspired fashion is on the rise under the name of balletcore. And the memories come flooding back.
The #balletcore aesthetic is inspired by the silhouettes and styles worn by ballerinas, both on stage and in the rehearsal studio. It consists of bodysuits, ballet flats, legwarmers, tulle mini skirts, UGG boots and wrap cardigans, and is equal parts feminine and comfortable. For a dancer like me, it’s incredibly nostalgic and brings back memories of hours spent in the studio, slicked back hair and running through the aisles of my local supermarket in a leotard and tights.
The ties between fashion and ballet are nothing new of course. Chanel’s 1930s tulle gowns were inspired by a 1932 production of the ballet Cotillon and throughout history the likes of Christian Lacroix and Vivienne Westwood have designed costumes for various ballet productions. Lace, bows and tulle — which are all associated with the art form — resurface cyclically on the runway.
Late last year, New York-based stylist Madeleine Jones told Vogue that she saw this current spike in popularity as “the natural evolution from athleisure. [It’s] a way to give purpose and elevate from athleisure to something almost theatrical.” Could balletcore be the next step on from sweatpants?
This fashion month, ballet-inspired fashion was all over the runways. There was tulle galore at Giambattista Valli and Simone Rocha. Halpern’s spring/summer 2022 collection was a literal tribute to ballet, with dancers en pointe modelling opulent dresses and jumpsuits. Beyond high fashion, in January Zara collaborated with the New York City Ballet on a collection of bodysuits, wrap cardigans and layer upon layer of tulle.
Yet it’s not the extravagant tulle dresses that make me feel nostalgic. Performance wear was limited to a showcase or two per year. The rest of the time I was clothed in leotards, worn-out ballet shoes and whatever I could find to stay warm in often Baltic studio conditions. This is my memory of ballet so of all the ballet-inspired ensembles at fashion week, it was the legwarmer and ballet flat combinations of Miu Miu’s fall/winter 2022 collection that made me smile the most.
On top of this, I see the look of my youth all around me in pop culture today, from Olivia Rodrigo wearing a tulle skirt and pointe shoes in the music video for her 2021 single “Brutal” to Euphoria’s Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney) wearing a baby blue wrap top reminiscent of the itchy acrylic cardigans I wore to class as a young girl.
On social media, the balletcore hashtag currently has 5.4 million views on TikTok as content creators show off their interpretations of the trend.
Twenty-six-year-old, Detroit-based creator @moeblackx discovered balletcore through Pinterest and learned more about the aesthetic through trend analyst Mandy Lee. TikTok videos of her styling balletcore outfits as a size 20 have racked up thousands of views. “I really love the idea of embracing femininity and softness because so often these traits aren’t associated with plus-size girls.”
As for her favourite pieces? “I’m really into boleros/shrugs,” she says. “I think they add a cute, feminine flair to outfits. I’m also loving bodysuits and ballet flats. It’s a way to look put-together but still young and cute.”
For creator @kingkendall, 23, her attraction to the aesthetic stems from its hyperfemininity. “I loved the delicate nature of the style — bows, frills, lace and ribbon were all enticing to me. I like to experiment with fashion and because I already owned a lot of the pieces, I thought it’d be exciting to put them together.”
I can completely relate to the attraction many content creators seem to have to the aesthetic’s hyperfemininity. As a child, it was exactly this that first drew me in. My 3-year-old self saw the pink satin slippers, tulle skirts and sparkle and knew that ballet was what I wanted to do, never ceasing to pester my mum about it until she enrolled me in classes. To this day I’m enamored by the grace, romance and femininity of it all.
But while much of the fashion world is celebrating balletcore, it doesn’t come without its criticisms. For starters, the ballet profession has long been associated with the thin, white, ingenue dancer. I can personally vouch for the body image issues these stereotypes can cause. And alongside other Tumblr-era styles currently seeing a revival — ballet-inspired fashion trended on the platform in the 2010s following the release of Black Swan — previous iterations of the balletcore trend largely excluded people of colour and those who weren’t deemed thin enough.
Quite truthfully, fashion is the way it always was — exclusive and catered towards thin women — but now you have a new generation who is perfectly content with ignoring the ‘industry’ and creating our own lane. We refuse to be excluded anymore.
As we embrace ballet-inspired fashion again, it’s vital to separate the clothing from the unattainable body ideals so closely associated with it. Happily, searching through today’s balletcore content, lack of inclusivity seems to be less of an issue, with creators of all shapes and sizes participating in the trend. Moe explains: “Quite truthfully, fashion is the way it always was — exclusive and catered towards thin women — but now you have a new generation who is perfectly content with ignoring the ‘industry’ and creating our own lane. We refuse to be excluded anymore.”
Kendall agrees. “We’re still a long way from fashion being truly exclusive but the more representation we see, the more inclusive of a space we’re creating.”
As for me, the more balletcore content I come across, the more nostalgic I become for my ballet days – so much so that I spent the other evening googling adult ballet classes. I might even have to dig out my old leotard.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.
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