Ballet has long influenced fashion outside of the dance world. The classic “ballet flat” has been a staple footwear style for decades, and the dreamy elegance of tulle has inspired many a ballgown over the years. The ways in which ballet and fashion co-mingle range from the absurd, to the hilarious, to the niche, and to the (occasionally) well-done. But what are real dancers actually wearing in ballet class in 2024, and do they even think about it at all? Or is ballet “fashion” just a lucky happenstance of pulling random things from a drawer and hoping they look good together?
Certainly, like any fashion around the globe, ballet is subject to the whims of trends. Until the 1950s, many dancers made their own practice clothes, almost always from cotton, and the styles more reflected the streetwear styles of the time. During the 1950s, the precursor to the leotard came into existence, with women dancers wearing high-waisted briefs over tights and a wrap blouse or sweater on the top. Leotards, originally wore by circus performers, transitioned to the ballet world in the 1960s, and were made of cotton, which often became baggy and misshapen.
However, when Lycra became available to the public in 1962, everything changed. Given its stretchy nature that held its shape, dancewear made from Lycra exploded throughout the 1970s and ’80s with leotards, leggings, tights and unitards. Since then, the plethora of styles continues to expand, and dancers have more options than ever in choosing what to wear for class.
Let’s take a look at a few trends out there, based on our very informal survey of dancers in NYC.
#1. The classic: TIghts-over-leotard
Dancers are wearing black, brown and pink tights but almost always over the leotard instead of under. A longtime standard among professional and adult dancers, the look persists. See also: convertible footed tights worn in three ways — under the shoes, pushed up to the calves or as stirrups over the shoes. Options!
#2. The newbie: Mesh
Mesh is big right now. Many brands are using mesh as the sleeve part of long-sleeved leotards, and as cut-out sections in the bodice. Mesh also appears in skirts and as warm-up pieces – sheer enough to see through but substantial enough to provide a little extra warmth.
#3. The other classic: Layering
Layering is the powerhouse style move of any dancer. One noticeable trend is dancers coming into class dressed like track athletes and transforming into ballerinas over the course of the class. Baggy, dark sportswear slowly gives way to pretty leotards, tights and skirts – dancers are ending class with an entirely different fashion vibe than the way they started. See also: baggy cotton t-shirts and knitted wrap skirts.
#4. The “junk” standbys: Trash-bag pants or shorts and leg warmers
Thin, baggy warm-ups, lovingly referred to as trash-bag pants or shorts (because they look like trash bags) still reign on. They excel at keeping muscles extremely warm and allow for a lot of range of motion. And, of course, the ever-present leg warmer. Whether above the knee or below, leg warmers are never far from a dance studio.
Regardless of what you decide to rock in the studio this year, it’s a golden era for options with so many dancers creating leotards, new companies pushing boundaries with design elements, and dancers getting creative with what they already have in their drawers. The most important thing is that each dancer feels confident and focused in the studio, so the true star – dance – can shine.
By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.