IF you have been seeing tights everywhere, you are right, ballet-fashion vibe is in and is here with a loud wham! Ballet is having a cultural moment right now. From Misty Copeland’s crossover into mainstream celebrity to the proliferation of barre classes and the use of ballerinas as models for athleisure and fashion lines, ballet is once again fashionable and aspirational.
As a fashion influence, ballet has come and gone: legwarmers cycle in and out of style, and leotards are marketed as comfortable. Ballerinas from New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater are currently serving as models for luxe clothing brands like Wolford, Thakoon and Negative Underwear. But ballet’s current mainstream moment goes beyond fashion, crossing over into fitness culture and serving as a revealing reminder of the kind of female athleticism ― the kind of female bodies ― that American culture deems acceptable and admirable.
This is not surprising. After all, the ballerina is the perfect emblem of our anxieties and aspirations around female athleticism: she’s fit and physically strong, but she also bears a striking resemblance to a catwalk model. The rise of athleisure highlights the extent to which a body that is regularly exercised has become a status symbol. Athleisure wear, which gives one the appearance of always heading to or from a gym, and reveals your size and shape and musculature in a way that regular street clothes do not, is one means by which to flaunt that status symbol. At a time when, for women, wealth and low weight are correlated, and where poverty and obesity often go hand-in-hand, athleisure wear, and the body you’re clearly meant to have or aspire to when you’re wearing it, is not just about having the right kind of female body – it’s also about having the right kind of mindset and status with which to dress it.
It makes sense, then, that ballerinas would be recruited to market athleisure wear and the barre classes for which you supposedly need it: Ballet is, in the public imagination, an activity for the elite. It’s not only the ballerina body that’s aspirational; so, too, is the economic status that the art form of ballet itself suggests.