Before stepping into the ballet studio, Rachel Day plans what she'll wear to rehearsal.

23-year-old Day, a performing apprentice with the Chicago Repertory Ballet, said she often mixes up her ballet wardrobe. Her outfits range from pairing a pink leotard and orange pants to wearing all black.

“I would be lying if I said getting ready for class isn’t one of my favorite parts,” Day said.

Her admiration of ballet style mirrors recent fashion trends. First gaining attention in 2022, #balletcore features outfits inspired by ballet rehearsal clothes and costumes, including pieces like ballet flats, wrap tops and corsets.

Image courtesy H&M
Image courtesy of Miu Miu
Image courtesy of Urban Outfitters

Image courtesy of Urban Outfitters

The TikTok trend, which had 1.9 billion views as of April 22, 2024, gained a second wave of popularity in late 2023, according to Fashion United, a style news outlet.

Both celebrities and clothing brands seem to be sticking with one of balletcore’s iconic pieces: ballet flats. Rihanna sported a pair from Maison Alaïa in early March, according to Vogue India, and Meghan Markle was spotted wearing $1,095 ballet flats in February, according to Us Weekly. Upscale marques like Christian Siriano and Miu Miu have also released ballet-inspired designs.

Image courtesy of Vogue India
Image courtesy of London Entertainment/NYPost/Mega

Jenny Leigh Du Puis, Assistant Professor of Product Development and Fashion Design at Columbia College Chicago, said Paul Poiret’s styles in the 1910s, inspired by the Parisian Ballets Russes company, helped spark the enduring connection between dance and fashion.

“Every couple of years ballet will pop up on the runway,” Du Puis said. “It’s interesting to see how it also reflects the trends of the time.”

Trends swing like a pendulum, she said, using the analogy to explain the evolution of fashion crazes in the past few years. Consumers wanted comfort during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, creating a demand for athleisure pieces.

After distance requirements loosened, Du Puis said the fashion pendulum swung out with the trend of dopamine dressing, which featured bright colors and joyful pieces. Although dopamine dressing is still popular, the rise of balletcore and coquette fashion, an aesthetic that incorporates bows and shades of pink, might indicate a movement toward light and neutral tones.

“Now maybe the pendulum is swinging back a little bit so [clothing is] still something that brings people joy, but a little softer,” Du Puis said.

Noah Zagor, Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago, said these trends serve as “a reevaluation of traditional, highly feminine visuals, colors (and) details,” and now symbolize power and strength rather than daintiness.

Balletcore and similar styles have also influenced menswear, Zagor said, while challenging conventional male and female gender norms.

“For men, you see there was also lots of lace shirts and even men in dresses and skirts,” he said, referring to recent runway fashion. “We’ve been going through this ongoing cycle of men redefining what it means to be masculine.”

Weinberg second-year Therese Manego occasionally wears balletcore pieces and said the resurgence of feminine looks in the media is inspiring.

“When I was younger, people would be like, ‘Oh, you like pink, that’s weird,’” Manego said. With the shift in trends, she said fashion is now one of her favorite forms of self-expression.

Platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest are one way Manego and others find outfit inspiration. The sites also promote dance content creators.

“I think the popularity on social media of pro-ballerinas like Tiler Peck and Isabella Boylston have kind of brought the ballet world to people who know nothing about it,” said Communication fourth-year Maggie Davidson.

Peck and Boylston are principal dancers with New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre respectively. Both recently partnered with fashion brands to launch clothing lines.

Last year, Peck released her second capsule wardrobe in collaboration with womenswear company Stateside, while lingerie and ready-to-wear fashion brand Fleur du Mal worked with Boylston on a balletcore collection.

Dance accounts reveal the lives of ballerinas beyond the stage and share the not-so-pretty realities of the art form.

“You’re made of steel, and you’re also bleeding,” said Northwestern Professor of Dance Jeff Hancock while describing the difficulty of dancing in pointe shoes.

Fashion trends are ever-changing, but ballet’s appearance of effortlessness still inspires both designers and viewers. Balletcore allows wearers to embody their favorite aspects of the art form, said DuPuis.

“I think that there is an escapism when you go to the ballet because you get to see these beautiful, very graceful things occurring on stage,” Du Puis said. “There’s a way for the audience to connect.”

Thumbnail graphic by Diane Zhao / North by Northwestern