Miu Miu FW22

Thoughts on Balletcore

DOES THe RECEnt trend defy or reinforce ballet’s complicated history?



The shift towards balletcore in fashion as of late feels natural. With so much, say it with me now, overconsumption, the lifespan of a truly innovative silhouette is infinitesimal compared to the decade defining trends we are accustomed to. Too many styles are infiltrating the market at lightning speed, falling from luxury to Shein in a single swoop.

Currently, the only antidote to this lack of originality is styling. My personal favorite looks from FW22 are ingenious in their layering: tanks are stuffed over t-shirts, arms are covered in thick knit while chests lay bare to the elements, silk meets chiffon meets cotton meets spandex. These combinations feel rushed and practical in nature. Teetering between active and street wear, and landing us in the world of dance.

It is easy to feel particularly exhausted by the cycling of Y2K styles and, as I recently discovered, the “bellafication” of NYC youth style at the moment. Barraged by daily stimulation, the fun and chaotic energy of Y2K can feel much too much.

FW22 From Left to Right/Top to Bottom:  Miu Miu, Gucci, Eckhaus Latta, Helmut Lang,
Acne, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Diesel,Rodarte, Paloma Wool, The Row

Balletcore feels like a breath of fresh air. It feels soft and new. Like spring.

It feels practical. To run, to jump… to dance.

However this freedom feels contrary to ballet’s history. Dance wear is intrinsically tied to the practicalities of ballet, and in many ways nothing but an extension of the racist and patriarchal history of the craft itself.

Take Degas’s painted and sculpted ballerinas from the late 19th century Paris Opera. We see them as the sweetest little girls when, “Often malnourished and dressed in hand-me-downs, the ‘petits rats’ [ballet dancers in training] of the ballet were vulnerable to social and sexual exploitation. And the wealthy male subscribers of the Paris Opera—nicknamed abbonés—were often on hand to exploit them.” 1

The Dance Class, 1874, Edward Degas, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The angelic portrayal of Degas’s ballerinas juxtaposed with the reality of their station brings us particular insight into the male gaze. It begs the question, “Should we agree with the choreographer George Balanchine (1904-83) that “ballet is woman?” Or do we qualify this, as the choreographer Pam Tanowitz (born in 1969) has recently done, by saying that ballet is a man’s idea of woman?” 2

The malnourished bodies and hand-me-down clothing of the “petits rats” were functional as markers of vulnerability to the men of the opera. Over time, this clothing and these bodies have become a definition of the feminine. Is “man's idea of woman” simply an exposed young girl?

George Balanchine & Dancers 1969

To consider ballet’s influence on our culture today is to consider the body. The coveted lean, white, able, and young body forged long ago through the male gaze of The Paris Opera. When I think of this body, I am reminded of Jia Tolentino’s brilliant 2019 essay, “Always Be Optimizing.” Tolentino explores the roots of barre, a fitness class based on the principles and body composition of ballet. She writes, “The endurance that barre builds is possibly more psychological than physical. What it’s really good at is getting you in shape for a hyper-accelerated capitalist life.”3 Ballet, much like capitalism, is grueling and arduous work wrapped in satin and placed onstage.

It’s a bit ironic. The connotations of ballet (thin, rigid, exploitative) are so far removed from the values of exploration and inclusivity that I see young people striving for.  Leaning into ballet’s garments feels like going backwards in so many ways. Is this contrived femininity born of the male gaze all we have left?

But then I remember how ballet feels, how dancing feels.

The length one finds in their neck for the first time.
The resistance of an arm moving simply through air.
Feet able to catch and support an entire body.

Power derived from delicacy.

I do believe there is something about the craft that transcends its history. It is not free of it, but the movement itself carries power. I think of the clothing these dancers have worn throughout time and see it as a sort of armor to the men who controlled their bodies and their lives. Maybe that is why the majority of balletcore has so much to do with what a dancer would wear to warm up, behind the curtain.

In a time where eveything feels so uncertain, it makes sense that we would seek safety in these garments. In the layers between our soft selves and the hard world. 

In that case, it is high time that this armor is extended to those who, for whatever reason, have not experienced the freedom of these garments. What does it mean when this clothing leaves the stage or studio and enters the street? 

I crave thighs touching and arms spreading, spines twisting and skin bulging. I crave silk rubbed raw from friction. I crave movement that is messy and feet that are bruised. I crave the impracticality and sweat of too many layers.

I crave movement, and perhaps more importantly, I crave space.