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the intersection

embodying fashion and ballet

julia an fashion history


about the magazine Fashion is typically viewed as material that covers the body and becomes a canvas for making a statement in a tangible manner. However, fashion cannot be just a wearable art but must be an embodied experience, as it is worn on the body. A recent trend and inspiration on high fashion runways and off-the-rack street wear is ballet. Even though the artfulness of ballet and the aesthetic beauty of costumes are certainly something to admire and imitate, there is more than meets the eye. The purpose of this project is to show how fashion, ballet apparel, and ballet movements are interrelated which leads to a reciprocal relationship, started in the eighteenth century, between current fashion and clothing that allows for ballet movement. This entire complementary relationship is based on the necessity for dancers to embody movement.

My fascination with fashion, experience in journalism, and fifteen years of ballet training motivated me to combine these three main interests into my project. Fashion History Seminar Final Project Julia An Art History Major Barnard College, Columbia University 2014 Photographer: Hannah Choi

Special thanks to: Dorothy Ko, Fashion History Seminar Professor Orchesis: a dance group Anne Higonnet, Art History Major Advisor and Eighteenth Century Art History Professor


ballet in the fashion industry Chloe Spring 2011 RTW

The traditional ballet class attire of leotards, chiffon skirts, and ballet slippers was captured through tight bodices, flowing sheer skirts, and ballet flats. These elements give the body much freedom. ABT prima ballerina Janie Taylor effortlessly tested the clothes in a ballet photo shoot and video to prove that the collection is fully functional for ballet movement.

This collection consisted of A-line silhouettes, which resembled Romantic Era tutus of fuller and longer skirts. Additionally, pointe shoe-like stilettos gave a gliding mirage.

Christian Dior Fall 2012 RTW

Stella McCartney for Oceans Kingdom

McCartney seems to understand the specific physical nature of clothing necessary for ballet and applied her knowledge to actually creating ballet costumes that were performed with on stage.

Martha Stewart photoshoot

Jayne Pierson Spring 2012 RTW

This ballet inspired bridal shoot brings the aesthetic of ballet to a wedding and also uses ABT ballerinas to exemplify the breathable and flexible nature of the dresses.

By using dancers to model her clothes down the runway, Jayne Pierson demonstrated that her eclectic collection can be swept along in expressive poses.


a historical movement

the history of ballet and costumes

The coinciding of fashion and ballet in both the aesthetic sense and the bodily experience is a historical phenomenon. Ballet originated in fifteenth century Italian court dancing. It was quickly brought to France and was significantly developed under King Louis XIV. The growth of ballet paralleled the extravagant fashion system in the French Baroque eighteenth century period. Judith Chazin-

Bennahum studied how ballet and fashion reflected each other and affected body image during the eighteenth century in her book The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830. Before the 18th century, costumes were essentially the same as traditional dress – tight corsets along with other elements that shaped the body perfectly yet restricted movement. Soloist Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo shortened her skirt in order to allow herself more

freedom for masculine fast jumps, whom she was the first to do so. Principal dancer MarieMadeleine Guimard strived to bring her fashion interest to ballet costumes. Because of the dainty, airy movements in ballet, she believed that ballerinas communicated a fairytale dreamland to the stage. Therefore, Guimard preferred ethereal costumes of flowing material and extravagant ornamentations. These illusionistic costumes helped audience members trans-

a timeline of ballet attire 1653



Restrictive 17th c. costume

Shortened skirt above ankles

Romantic tutu

Louis XIV in Le Ballet de la nuit

Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo

Marie Taglioni in La Sylphide





port themselves to a fictional world. Her costume for Jason et Médée was composed of a shortened and bouffant skirt that independently held its shape through muslin crinoline. This skirt allowed her body to be autonomous from the costume, hence not limiting motion. Later in the century, the Neoclassicism fad, or return to the aesthetics of ancient Greece and Rome, brought everyday clothing to ballet costume. These light, transparent dresses actually proved

functional as they allowed dancers to exercise more technique. According the Chazin-Bennahum, ballerinas of the Romantic period of the early 19th century imitated styles of fashion magazines that portrayed thin silhouettes, thus making them look the same as regular girls. Ballet technique writer Carlo Blasis wrote theories on ballet that highly benefitted from new changes in dance attire: lighter and looser clothing to facilitate turns and jumps, tights for a uniform

look and speedy movement, swept up hair for brisk turns, and ballet slippers for new feet techniques. After the initiation of Guimard’s new costume for Jason et Médée, finally the birth of the tutu occurred with the ballet La Sylphide in which the short, layered skirt gave the illusion of the dancer floating.




Classical bell tutu

Classical pancake tutu

Ballet class attire

The Star by Edgar Degas

Gillian Murphy in Sylvia

Julia An



(Hannah Choi)


a personal experiment

fashion and ballet in motion

Since I am ballerina and have done some informal modeling, I decided to apply what I studied and analyzed for this project. I fully immersed myself into my research by conducting a personal experiment of embodying ballet through fashion. Rather than posing for a pure fashion shoot or simply a ballet shoot, I strived to combine the two. I did so by wearing regular street clothes and either dancing in them or posing in various ballet positions. Ballet is an activity in which one is extremely conscious of the body. Wearing simple, comfortable, and flexible clothes for ballet class is vital for stretching, dancing, and enduring long rehearsals. A skin-tight leotard and tights expose the body, which is crucial for ballet teachers to scrutinize the body for precise positions. The looser skirt adds to the already floating illusion from the dance steps and can assist dancers who may feel uncomfortable with their body type. I chose to wear a tight-fitting shirt from H&M with polka-dotted sheer long sleeves in order to reveal my body and give my upper body freedom in movement. I wore a pleated skirt from Gap that gave my legs flexibility. I paired these particular items together, because they are the same shade of navy blue, which simplified the composition and gave my body the appearance of more length. Before switching to pointe shoes, I started the photo shoot with ballet flats, because they evoke both the flat ballet slipper aesthetic and comfort. I modeled in a ballet photo shoot with my Barnard College friend Hannah Choi as photographer before, but this time felt quite different. We are now more comfortable with working together in collaborations after learning each other styles. Personally, I felt more confident as a dancer, and I was less selfconscious about posing and dancing with strangers watching this time at The High Line in Chelsea. Most importantly, I had a goal of depicting both movement and my ability to dance without restriction from the street clothes. For the duration of the shoot, we were aware of our intention to capture my action as a dancer yet also trying to incorporate fashion photography.


8 In The Body, Dance, and Cultural Theory, Helen Thomas says that ballet strives further to achieve the ideal body image even more than ideal clothing fashion. The first goal of ballet is correctness, in which dancers have to endure strict training to push the body into perfect form.

Achieving “effortless and weightless” movement, as said by Thomas, is done with a flawless, slender, and seemingly fragile ballerina body but also through both external efforts like pointe shoes, which were invented in the 18th and 19th century for an illusionistic look.

When performing this grand jeté, I have a sensation of defying gravity. By running then bending my knees in a plié, I am able to exert my energy towards jumping high and for as long as possible.

9 Dance is a creative way of expressing the body. It is a way of communication that requires much movement. Here, I’m doing a pirouette, which is turning on one foot with the other leg bent towards the knee. We tried as much as possible to capture this turn through movement in my skirt.

Movement allows one to find oneself, yet become an agent to other surroundings.

A. R. Radclife-Brown describes dance as a “state of intoxication… the dancer comes to feel a great increase in his personal force and value.” This empowering feeling of control and livelihood can only be exercised when the body is free to move naturally. This grand jeté en tournant is one of my favorite steps, because when I’m momentarily off the ground and turning in the air, I’m feel as if I’m in my own little world.


costuming for orchesis: a dance group

The lights, the crowd, the adrenaline rush. After performing in The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast, annual recitals, and summer workshop showcases, I was still itching for the nervous and excited energy of being on stage. One of my favorite parts was dressing in the sparkly pastel-colored tulle tutus and feeling like a prima ballerina. After freshman year I joined Orchesis: a dance group at Columbia University in which I’m able to fulfill my nostalgia for ballet, performances, and costumes. Currently, I am serving as a Costume Coordinator for two semesters. With my dance background and fashion experience, being involved in the costuming process is an ideal position for me to explore my passions. As a costumer, I collaborate with talented student choreographers in envisioning the costumes for their pieces. The choreographers usually have a visual idea of their choreography on stage, but my role is to aid them in finding costumes that fulfill that goal. This semester, I was assigned to work on three pieces – Gina Borden’s contemporary piece, Katie Sun’s contemporary piece, and Katie Mukai and Gigi Clark’s jazz piece.

11 Here are four majors components I evaluate in the costuming process:

1. Aesthetically, the costume must complement the music choice and mood the

choreographer wants to evoke. For Katie Sun’s piece, a very upbeat song was used. She wanted to express the joys of dancing in general, especially since this was her last and eighth semester of Orchesis. We agreed that a bright color would be best suited for the piece, so Katie found yellow polyester dresses from Forever 21. The ruffled collars fluttered when the dancers leaped, heightening the joyful sentiments.

2. One of the main purposes of costumes is to aid dancers in becoming a new character.

This jazz piece was inspired by Tom Cruise in the film Risky Business in which he simply wears and dances in a button down shirt and white socks. To evoke an energetic and carefree scene, dancers threw on shirts of all shades of pink, donned knee-high tube socks with different colored stripes, and sported sunglasses. The tube socks were perfect for nonchalant sock sliding and the sunglasses allowed the dancers to embody a new character.

3. The costume must most importantly be functional in order for the dancers to perform the choreography without interference from the costumes. Gina’s jersey kimono style dresses from Target were loose and flowed extremely beautifully in romantic spins and turns. The empire waist gave the body more freedom and did not restrict movements, such as kicking their legs up high. 4. Costumes should highlight dancers individually but also unify them as a group.

Movement as a group is important for some choreographers, especially if dancers are performing identical steps together. Having dancers wear the same costume facilitates a vision of coherent movement. Both Katie Sun and Gina wanted their dancers to be uniform in clothing. Katie Mukai and Gigi wanted individual personality to show in their piece. So, dancers were given the liberty to choose any shirt from their own wardrobe that was in a shade of pink.

Photography: Hannah Choi

the intersection: embodying fashion and ballet  
the intersection: embodying fashion and ballet  

The purpose of this project is to show how fashion, ballet apparel, and ballet movements are interrelated. Starting in the eighteenth centur...