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History of Ballet Costumes

image taken from the neck down of ballet group on stage wearing blue tutus

When ballet was first performed in the 1400s, it didn’t use any special costumes. But as ballet grew and became more popular, the costumes became an important part of the performance that not only added to the story but showcased the dancers’ movements.

As ballet began to grow and be performed for nobility in the 1500s, the dancers were predominately men who wore elaborate masks and headdresses. In many cases, the costumes were more important than the dancing itself.

Involved brocaded clothing and headdresses were beautiful, but they were difficult to move it, which caused the dance steps to be relatively simple. In the early centuries, ballet shoes were simple and included a slight heel.

In the 1800s, ballet became much more feminine and the idea of the ballerina was born. Costumes began to change to reflect the romantic storytelling and to highlight the female form.

During the 19th century Romantic Period, what many people view as the traditional ballet costume was first introduced—a calf-length full skirt made of tulle. These costumes were designed to be light and airy and give the impression of flight as dancers leapt across the stage.

However, some audience members were shocked because the costumes showed women’s ankles, which was considered taboo at the time. Ballet tights were invented in 1790, which allowed dancers freedom to perform more steps, and pointe shoes debuted in 1820.

As ballet choreography became more advanced and involved towards the end of the 19th century, the classical tutu became popular. This tutu is shorter and stiffer than the romantic tutu and designed to showcase a ballerina’s legs as she performs complicated movements.

The shorter, classical tutu remained popular through the 1900s. At the same time, many ballerinas started wearing contemporary street dress in their practice and performances in an attempt to relate ballet to real modern life.

In the 1950s and 60s, ballerinas began wearing Lycra spandex leotards that allowed for comfort and ease in performing a variety of movements. Today, ballerinas wear a mix of old and new—comfortable leotards and more traditional tutus and dresses.

Ballet has also become incredibly popular around the world. There are professional ballet companies in nearly every city and country across the world, and hundreds of thousands of children, teenagers, and adults participate in amateur and recreational ballet classes.

What started as a performance for the European elite can is now performed by children and adults across the globe. Dancers of all skill levels can participate in this rich history by learning ballet. Contact A Dance Place today to learn about our wide array of ballet classes.

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