The grown-up guide to getting ‘balletcore’ right

It’s trending on TikTok and everywhere on the catwalk – but how do grown women like me pull off dressing like a girl at a ballet class, asks Olivia Petter. When a hot designer does a cool new collaboration with the New York Ballet, that’s how…

Monday 09 October 2023 06:30 BST
Pirouette your way into gorgeously girly outfits this autumn
Pirouette your way into gorgeously girly outfits this autumn (HBO/Reformation/Getty)

Fashion, as everyone knows, moves in cycles. Neon from the Eighties. Flares from the Seventies. And just about everything from the Nineties. All of these trends have made resurgences on the runways long since their heydays. What’s rarer, though, is when the sartorial zeitgeist stretches right back into our childhoods, tapping into something we’d typically associate with girls as young as three. And yet, here we are: bang smack in the era of balletcore, an aesthetic predicated on the clothing I, along with many other millennial women, wore to weekly ballet classes as a toddler.

But it’s not as weird as it sounds, I promise. Think elevated takes on tulle tutus, with longer hemlines and slimmer skirts, and new twists on leotards by way of lace bodysuits and corsets worn over long-sleeved tops. And then, of course, there are the shoes – a welcome back from the Noughties, ballet flats.

This season, we’ve seen balletcore dominating both on and off the catwalk. Ballet flats took a starring role everywhere from Molly Goddard and Ashley Williams to Ganni and Loewe, where they were covered in diamante sparkles. They’ve been a hot choice among the street style set, too, with regular appearances coming from the Prada mesh ballet flats, the Alaïa crystal-embellished ones, and of course, the now-infamous Maison Margiela tabis.

But balletcore has extended beyond footwear. We’ve seen the look woven into the model’s hair styling this season, with Alice + Olivia, Collina Strada and Christian Siriano all sending models down the runway with ribbons in their hair. The dusky pink shade we’d normally associate with ballet uniforms was everywhere, too, including on full-skirted frocks at Simone Rocha and on almost everything we saw at Prada, including the cascade of slime that dripped down from the ceiling onto the catwalk. And over on TikTok, #balletcore has been trending for some time, with more than 988.7 million views for the hashtag alone.

As if all that wasn’t enough to convince you, now the ultimate cool–girl brand, Reformation, has launched its own balletcore capsule collection in collaboration with New York City Ballet. The sustainable off-duty ballerina-inspired collection includes a wide range of ballet flats, classic, relaxed dresses in shades of crimson and white, and of course, a tulle tutu.

“Fashion is really fixated on sophisticated, classic designs at the moment and balletcore falls naturally into that conversation alongside trends like quiet luxury,” explains Lauren Caris Cohan, chief creative officer at Reformation. “Ballet flats, luxe sweaters and silk slip dresses and skirts convey a sense of easy sophistication and will never go out of style.”

Prima ballerina: A model wearing Reformation’s new ballet-inspired collection
Prima ballerina: A model wearing Reformation’s new ballet-inspired collection (Reformation)

The collection itself is surprisingly wearable – I’ve found myself tucking polo necks into the tutu for evenings out in London, while the femininity of the corset offsets a grungier look by pairing it with a graphic T-shirt and my favourite pair of Dr Martens. The ballet flats also go with absolutely everything, particularly high-waisted stiff denim jeans. So far, while wearing these clothes, not one person has asked if I was on my way to a ballet class.

And really this obsession with balletcore – comfortable clothing, soft, figure-hugging fabrics – is just an extension of what started in the pandemic. “Balletcore presented a progression on athleisure and comfort dressing that was flattering, delicate, and pretty but also held potential to be dressed up,” explains Sthandiwe Khumalo, womenswear strategist at trend forecasters, WGSN.

Florence Pugh channelling balletcore at the British Independent Film Awards
Florence Pugh channelling balletcore at the British Independent Film Awards (PA)

Part of its mass appeal is that the trend can be characterised by easy wardrobe staples. “Think bodysuits, catsuits, leggings, and jersey tops of various necklines layered with a fluid over garment, eg satin skirt, soft wrap skirt or ruffle skirt, all accessorised with pretty details such as bow hair accessories, ballet flats and a delicate cardigan,” adds Khumalo. “The trend is a balance between core wardrobe pieces, pretty accessories, and trims, making it accessible amidst turmoil.”

A look-book for some of the ballet-inspired options in Reformation’s new collection
A look-book for some of the ballet-inspired options in Reformation’s new collection (Reformation)

There is also a sense of ballet core tapping into the hyperfemininity that seems to have been trending throughout the summer. “Unapologetically girly trends, pieces, and brands continue to soar in popularity,” says Katie Devlin, assistant trends editor at trend forecasters, Stylus. “Ballet is emblematic of grace and elegance, feeling really traditional and romantic, and so is the perfect backdrop through which to explore fashion’s femininity obsession.”

There are other inspirations beyond the ballet world, too. “Designers like Sandy Liang and Simone Rocha are championing a look that’s almost like a modern interpretation of Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic tutu,” points out Devlin. “In both instances, it’s about injecting romantic tradition with a modern twist.”

Now you know, feel free to dance and pirouette into autumn with all the style tips you need for the season ahead.

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