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Raise the Barre

Taylor’d with Style June 2020

By JeanAnn Taylor

For many years, I taught little ones how to plie, point their toes, tap their feet, and twirl. I adored my job. The cuteness of three-year-olds in tutus is priceless. Although I no longer teach children how to dance, dance recitals and sequined costumes bring back fond memories.

As a dancer, I’m naturally drawn to tulle, shoes that lace up, full skirts, and flowy fabrics. So, I’m thrilled whenever I see these style elements back in fashion, as they are now.

Dance and fashion are complementary art forms. Costumes play an important role in the storytelling of a dance. Fashion designers are inspired by the juxtaposition of athletic, yet willowy dancers, and the colors and allure of sheer and shiny fabrics.

Depending on the intent, these perfect art-partners can work together to reflect elegance and refinement, or they can represent a dark, impish vibe.

Ballet fashion influences modern fashion for non dancers

Elaborate costumes were originally made by, and for, male dancers. These costumes mirrored the fashion of the day and were only adapted to accommodate the movement with lighter-weight fabrics and shorter hemlines.

It wasn’t until the late 1700s that ballet became dominated by women. As more women entered the dance world, light, airy costumes became more established. However, while these garments were considered appropriate for performing, they were in no way considered appropriate for wearing out into society. It would take nearly two-hundred years before this idea was acceptable.

The quintessential image of a ballerina wearing a tutu and laced-up pointe shoes began with Swedish dancer Marie Taglioni. In 1832, this exceptionally ladylike and talented ballerina wore a white, fitted bodice and a sheer calf-length tulle skirt when she danced in the ballet La Sylphide.

This was the first ballet where dancing on pointe was presented in an aesthetically pleasing way, opposed to a clumsy acrobatic stunt. Every ballerina soon aspired to dance in this graceful manner.

By 1932, one hundred years later, ballet was highly regarded and regularly featured in fashion magazines; ballerinas were often the models. Many pages and articles were devoted to the ballet, the costumes, and how the two art forms blend effortlessly together.

This trend was encouraged by designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli who glamorized the ballerina figure. The “New Look” fashion of Christian Dior in 1947 was highly influenced by the romantic and full-skirted ballerina dress. The movie, The Red Shoes (1948) fueled the enthusiasm for feminine ballerina fashion.

The popularity of ballet flats is thought to have been influenced by World War ll. Since ballet shoes were not rationed, they became alternatives to standard footwear.

The 1950s full-circle poodle skirts are another spin-off of the ballerina skirt. This trend continued until the 1970s when sadly, ballerina fashion lost its appeal as women campaigned for equality in masculine garments. While some women chose to wear dull pants and blazers, many fashion designers held on and refused to let go of the innate beauty of ballet.

To withstand the cultural shift, they introduced unique and whimsical elements to the standard classical ballet dress. Best known for this movement is Betsey Johnson. Gleaning from her great love of dance and art, she created embellished, colorful, whimsical, and often outlandish fashions. Her unique brand remains popular today.

As fashion will always be fickle and cyclical, we are once again seeing a resurgence in ballet-inspired clothing. Recent runways have been referred to as an “explosion of tulle.” The good news is that you don’t have to be a seven-year-old to wear dance fashion.

There are grown-up ways to express your inner ballerina without looking like you are playing dress-up. Streetwear ballet style can look chic and sophisticated.

Layering is an essential element of dance wear. Bodysuits, camisoles, and tanks are worn with body-hugging wrap-tops or cardigans. Never say never when it comes to fashion; corsets are back. Fortunately this time, the corset fits the woman rather than the woman fitting the corset.

The street-fashion rule of, if the top is full the bottom should be fitted, if the bottom is full the top should be fitted, remains true in ballet-fashion. This contrast presents a pleasing silhouette. As most ballet skirts are full, fitted tops are the rule.

Button-up tops can also look chic with a ballet-inspired skirt. The current popularity of leggings originates from the tights worn by ballerinas. The rule when wearing leggings outside of ballet class is to cover your derriere.

True ballerina skirts are typically made from chiffon or tulle. Streetwear fashions can be made with rayon, polyester, or lightweight cotton. The essential element is that the fabric is thin enough, and the silhouette is full enough for spontaneous twirling.

Most silhouettes are circular or gathered, but if gathers don’t appeal to you, a pleated skirt can give the desired twirl factor without all the fuss. Crinolines with layers of ruffles may not suit your style, but one soft layer of chiffon under your skirt will allow it to fall pleasingly around your body.

Stylish ballet flats go with practically everything: leggings, jeans, skirts, and even shorts. They may be embellished with crystals and bows--and are available in so many colors. Jessica Simpson has a line of ballet flats that look almost exactly like a pair of pointe shoes—complete with a toe box. Lace-up boots for winter weather have a ballet vibe, and pink Keds are a nice choice for outdoor fun.

Adornments of sequins, crystals, and bows are not limited to shoes. These sparkly enhancements are found on tops, skirts, and jeans. Flounces can grace tops and skirts for extra frilly frippery. Dancers often wear something in their hair—a pretty headband, feathers, flowers, combs, or even a fascinator.

Belts are worn to define the waist and add a point of interest. You had me at petal pink. But any dreamy, romantic shade of lilac, celadon, peach, or pistachio will reflect the ballerina aura. It may seem contradictory, but ballet fashion is often simple.

Dancers wear small, delicate jewelry such as studs and thin necklaces. Care is taken to wear jewelry that doesn’t interfere with the dance or catch on lightweight fabrics.

To truly capture the essence of a dancer, you must consider your posture and poise. Dancers work exceptionally hard to maintain perfect-as-possible posture. To look like a dancer, relax your shoulders, lift your chin, and elongate your spine. Gentle, graceful movements will reflect an elegant and composed demeanor.

I love ballet fashion and I love seeing women who are not afraid or intimidated to express their femininity with pretty clothes. This romantic style of cool, soft, flowy fabrics is perfect for warm, summer gatherings. So, raise the barre to elegance.

The ballet-inspired fashion forecast looks good. It is anticipated to be as trendy in the future as it has been in the past.


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