Fashion’s Love Affair With Ballet-Inspired Looks Is Going Strong

If it seems like the latest wave of designer drops are one arabesque away from being classified as ballet dance gear, there’s a reason: “I see the ballet-all-day movement as the natural evolution from athleisure,” says New York-based stylist Madeleine Jones. It’s part of a greater realization that, come what may, we’ve officially “decided comfort is enough, any day of the week,” says Jones, who practiced the Renaissance-born art into her late teens. She recognizes that while leggings and gym wear were already in rotation, this is fashion’s next step from sweats into more dramatic territory.

“Now with the ballet movement, there’s a way to give purpose and elevate from athleisure to something almost theatrical,” Jones explains. “So even when you’re putting on leggings, a wrap cardigan, or a corset, it still feels like you’re dressing up—but not overdressed.” And for New York City Ballet’s Corps de Ballet dancer India Brady, the arrival of fashion’s most inspired styles—like Miu Miu and Dries van Noten leg warmers or a Jacquemus full-body mohair sweater set (below)—is cosmically timed with the return of live performances. “I’m proud of finishing our Fall season at New York City Ballet after over a year of not being able to perform,” says Brady. “It was amazing to see how quickly everyone was back into shape—and dancing more beautifully than ever. She shares her real staples like Alo Yoga bodysuits, Victoria’s Secret’s On Point collection (as one of the brand’s newest faces), and chill Yeezy slides. Jones, on the other hand, touts designers like Kristen Mallison, who repurposes pointe slippers into tailored tops, as well as Renea Rivere’s line Zepherina, which utilizes deadstock cotton jersey for dance-inspired tights.

Here, a guide to head-to-toe, 24/7 ballet dressing, from Chanel makeup artist Pati Dubroff’s recent “ballerina beauty” notes to the cult Simone Rocha pieces that everyone’s watching.

For Barre-Ready Body Gear

Zeynep Arcay Princess stretch-knit bodysuit

“These bodysuits are divine—they have a little edge and the cut is amazing,” says New York-based jewelry designer Jamie Wolf, who was a dancer in the Corps de Ballet at New York City Ballet for a decade. “I always use them in different colors to shoot my collection, because they have a modern feel with the perfect subtle ballet reference.”

Sweaty Betty organic cotton Hera wafffle bodysuit

Sweaty Betty Eris longer length knitted socks

UK-based former Royal Ballet dancer Chrissy Sundt, founder of Silver Linings Wellness, recommends the Brit-favorite line Sweaty Betty that just launched a collection with Halle Berry. “I have worn their pieces in and out of the studio for years!” says Sundt, who, “likes to layer my looks and go for warmth as well as style in the winter months! They have it all: great base layers and eco-friendly bamboo staples.”

Skims cotton rib bodysuit

“Unitards are great, but can be tricky,” says Wolf. For a ballet-light moment, Skims provides a range of shades in fabric that feels like a familiar ribbed tank top.

Alo Yoga Airlift barre bodysuit

“Right now, Alo Yoga is capturing what I think is a very futuristic, chic side of the ballet style,” says Brady. “Their Airlift Barre Bodysuit has such a unique shape with super flattering lines.”

Live the Process Starr ribbed-knit open-back crop top

Live the Process Prism stretch-jersey shorts

“Live the Process has great pieces for class to street,” says Wolf of the brand that’s captured the essence of ballerina basics. “The fabric is a bit weightier, so they translate perfectly.”

Victoria’s Secret Live On Point crossover leggings

“Over quarantine, I had this realization that the best pieces to wear to ballet class are the ones that you can also wear on your way home from ballet class,” says Brady. “The Victoria’s Secret On Point collection is full of pieces that are the perfect example of versatility—I wear them to and from the theatre, throughout my day of rehearsals, and on my lunch breaks.”

Splits59 Raquel high-waisted flare pants

“Another favorite of mine is Splits59—the Raquel High Waisted Flared Legging is flattering and a necessity for me,” says Brady. “Their brand has pieces that I feel like always add a cool statement to my ballet outfit, making me feel extremely comfortable even in the most uncomfortable positions I have to make in ballet.”

Reebok x Victoria Beckham cropped embroidered cotton-jersey hoodie

For her collaboration with Reebok, Victoria Beckham tries every piece in her own routine. For Wolf’s, she declares: “this is the perfect hoodie to throw over a leotard and leggings.”

Jacquemus Alzou mohair-blend crop cardigan

Jacquemus Le Collant Alba viscose knit leggings

“A simple cardigan is an essential element of ballet,” says Jones of the Jacquemus option in pink. For the matching leggings that offer “a modern twist on a classic ballet legging with ties that emulate the ribbons of a ballet shoe,” Jones suggests one just “strap in and dance—what more is there to say?”

For Ready-to-Wear With a Ballet-Spin

Jacquemus La Veste Soco oversized wool blazer

Jean Paul Gaultier S/S 1989 corset back blazer

Jones suggests jackets with “tailoring through the waist” for a layered ballet look. “The theatrical tailoring of this jacket has a place on stage,” says Jones of this wool option by Jacquemus. If vintage is more your speed, she likes James Verloria’s selection of corseted Jean Paul Gaultier blazers.

Brock Collection Samira cashmere wrap cardigan

“This tied-waist cardigan is great over rehearsal clothes,” says Wolf. Of course, in real life, she suggests layering it “with jeans or over a dress.”

“I love the neckline and body of this dress,” says Wolf. “It feels like the chicest leotard I’ve ever seen. Khaite has so many pieces that fit this category—feminine and current at the same time.”

Oscar de la Renta floral silk-chiffon strapless gown

“This is the dreamiest and most beautiful dress—also perfect for the ballet’s gala,” says Wolf of Oscar de la Renta’s silk chiffon gown. “The bodice is incredible—dancers often sew a pinch in their leotards just like this because it is a really flattering line on top.”

Vivienne Westwood Pourpoint graphic-print top

Like a true superfan, Jones makes a connection between Vivienne Westwood’s pourpoint top and the costumes of famed dancer, designer, and former artistic director of the Royal Ballet, Anthony Dowell.

Dion Lee ribbed corset tank top

Dion Lee thick hosiery tights

Jones likes Dion Lee’s corset top, which she describes as “a great unisex piece with the ease of a t-shirt—I love how this top shows the clear structural elements that have a strong place in ballet, with the corset-like components.” Consider adding Lee’s hosiery tights under the season’s micro-minis.

Simone Rocha lace ribbon tights

For “another play on corseting and ballet ribbons,” Jones likes Simone Rocha’s ribbon tights, which are “perfect for fall.” They also live in Lauren Santo Domingo’s Moda Operandi closet, its own coveted seal of approval.

For Pretty Socks and Leg Warmers

Simone Rocha ribbon-detailed stretch-cotton blend lace ankle socks

Simone Rocha ribbed knee-length socks

“These socks are my favorite fall find yet,” says Jones. “With the modern cut-out and ribbons wrapped around the ankle, you can wear them to class or paired with a chunky shoe for every day.”

Dries Van Noten black Tackle leg warmers

Miu Miu ribbed leg warmers

In the search for “dancer-favorite” crunchy, scrunchy pink leg warmers, it’s safe to “trust Miu Miu to know exactly what a girl wants,” according to Jones. “Wear these hot pink leg warmers over leggings and paired with your favorite ballet flats.” For a chiller option, Dries van Noten offers timeless black.

Marine Serre beige second skin tattoo gloves

“I love an elegant glove,” says Jones. “These Marine Serre tattoo-inspired gloves made from recycled fabric are a twist on that with her signature crescent logo.”

For Crowns and Prima Headpieces

Simone Rocha crow style beaded headband

Jennifer Behr Attica headband in grosgrain

“This piece reminds me of the headpiece Anna Pavlova wore in 1992, but in signature Simone Rocha ethereal modernity,” says Jones of the so-popular accessory; it’s down to the last few in stock. Sundt agrees that headbands are a dancewear essential, and likes Jennifer Behr’s, which “instantly make your hair look fabulous.”

For Ballet-Inspired Beauty

Chanel Les Beiges Sheer Healthy Glow Highlighting Fluid

Chanel Les Chaînes de Chanel Illuminating Blush Powder

For Chanel makeup artist Pati Dubroff’s makeup for actress Dasha Nekrasova this month, she reported “ballerina beauty” as her inspiration. The format is fresh and featherlight, with “a hint of shimmer” and a “flushed and blushed cheek.”

Westman Atelier Squeaky Clean Liquid Lip Balm

Westman Atelier Eye Love You Mascara

“Dancers wear very little makeup by day since you are always exercising,” says Wolf, who likes Westman Atelier’s clean line for subtle touches. “A great mascara and lip gloss are such a pretty and soft hint of color.”

For On Pointe Slippers

Dior Poème laced ballerina flats

Flattered Nina Teddy faux-fur ballet flats

“I love the tied ankle on these!” Wolf enthuses of Dior’s timeless wraparound flats. And Flattered slippers with a teddy bear finish “are supremely cozy and easy to wear,” she says.

Miu Miu women’s bucklet ballet flats

Another cult Miu Miu moment: “I love how these flats wind around the ankle like a ballet shoe but have an undeniable edge with the double strap buckles,” says Jones.

Gucci women’s Princetown leather slippers

Adidas Yeezy “Pure” slides

“Most of the dancers that I know are always looking for a street shoe situation convenient to slip on and off,” says Brady. “I personally love the Gucci Princetown Leather Slipper in white.” Still, there’s a place for a squishy slide: “On days when the feet are achier than usual, I like to grab my Adidas YEEZY Slides,” she admits. “When I can take off my ballet slippers, and transition into street slippers is when my feet feel their best.”

Issey Miake grey United Nude Edition cover ballerina flats

Maison Margiela Tabi calfskin ballerinas

“A ballet flat with an Issey twist mixing textures and tech,” says Jones. “These are perfect for every day—comfortable and chic.” And for another insider footwear favorite, “long live the Tabi,” she says. “Iconic and original, these flats are as timeless as a ballet shoe.”

For the Finale, Accessories!

Jamie Wolf Tutu 18-karat yellow gold diamond earrings

“Studs are the perfect earrings for dancers because they are a unique expression of personal taste, but since they don’t move on the ear, you aren’t aware of them when you are dancing,” says Wolf, who naturally prefers her own design. “The silhouette was inspired by the shape of a tutu.”

Maimoun Voons Lover Girl necklace

“The accessories that I wear during an average workday usually have to be lightweight and simple to quickly remove before performances,” says Brady. “Necklaces are something that I wear to work every day. One of my most worn necklaces that I feel is perfect for today’s Gen Z ballet dancer is the Lover Girl Necklace from Maimoun.”

Balenciaga Tool small textured-leather tote

“You don’t see many bags onstage, but if you did, it might be this one,” says Jones of what she thinks is “the perfect mini crossbody in ballet pink.” And offstage, Wolf carries Balenciaga. “This is such a great and versatile bag for your pointe shoes and daily necessities and running from class to rehearsals,” she says.

Katheleen Knopf

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