Fashion has decided that it is time to raise the barre and to embrace the ballet look. This week British Vogue unveiled its April cover, featuring Anya Taylor-Joy of The Queen’s Gambit. Featuring tulle dresses and mesh body stockings from Dior, taffeta corsets from Jean Paul Gaultier and a chantilly lace corset dress by Alexis Mabille, the photoshoot was a love letter to the world of leg warmers and hair buns.
At the Oscars, both Zoë Kravitz and Lily James wore dresses in “ballet pink”; later in the week Sarah Jessica Parker recalled Carrie Bradshaw’s pink tutu in a Prabal Gurung maxi dress and Harry Styles revealed his ballet pumps on the cover of his upcoming album, Harry’s House.
Beyoncé, Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish have made the balletic catsuit by Thierry Mugler pop’s go-to uniform while the blue wrap cardigan worn by Sydney Sweeney’s character Cassie Howard in HBO’s Euphoria recently went viral.
“[The look] channels the dressing room, the rehearsal space and the dance studio, where clothing must be comfortable and versatile, easy to pull on and off, with little superfluous decoration,” says Prof Alison L Goodrum, a fashion theorist and dress historian who is director of research development at Norwich University of the Arts.
The style has gained traction among the public, with the fashion search engine Lyst reporting a 36% increase in searches for ballet flats and a 22% increase in searches for tulle dresses in the last six months, and on social media (#Balletcore currently has 7.5m views on TikTok). Meanwhile, fashion brands like Simone Roche, Molly Goddard, Gucci, Erdem, Miu Miu and The Vampire’s Wife have been hugely influenced by the fluid style of the dance style too.
It can be seen too as a reaction to the pandemic and after a spell of wearing tracksuit bottoms. “It suggests a more general rediscovery of the body after a significant period of time buried under baggy, shapeless, non-clothing during lockdown,” says Goodrum. “The look is about emphasising the natural contours of the body.”
Prof Angela McRobbie, a cultural theorist at Goldsmiths, University of London, says: “The ballet studio remains such a place of popular fantasy for girls. So there is some sort of big nostalgia for ‘girlhood’ underpinning the current romance with ballet.”
Balletcore is about fantasy and romance but the trend is also potentially problematic. “There is now a big debate on Twitter about black ballet and the importance of challenging its prior existence as dominant whiteness,” says McRobbie. While the promotion of super-slim bodies is questionable in an era of plus size advocacy. “Some may argue the look sanctions and endorses an overemphasis on the body and the strict disciplining of it in the pursuit of dancerly perfection,” adds Goodrum.