Tutu: A History of a Ballet Symbol

Tutu: A History of a Ballet Symbol

The image of classical ballet is inextricably linked to its main symbol - a tutu. However, this was not always the case. We’d like to tell you how a ballerina's costume changed over the centuries.

Ballet emerged as a court art and entertainment for the aristocracy. The first ballet production is considered to be the Ballet Comique de la Reine that was performed in 1581 in France. At that time, dancers were dressed in accordance with secular fashion in luxurious heavy dresses with pannier frames made of whalebone or twigs, and ballet shoes were with heels or wedges.

At the turn of the 18th-19th centuries, antiquity came into fashion, mythological plots began to form the basis for ballet performances, for example, in the production of Cupid and Psyche. Influenced by the fashion, the image of a ballerina also underwent changes: the waist became high, the neckline - more open, the skirts got light and translucent - special tights were worn underneath. Later, the Empire style was replaced by the Victorian fashion, which returned the skirt its fullness and the waist - its rightful place. 

The first ballet tutu

For the first time, the public saw a ballet tutu on March 12, 1832, at the premiere of La Sylphide at the Grand Opera - the performer of the main role Marie Taglioni appeared in front of the audience in a fluffy snow-white skirt made of several layers of tulle, opening her legs to mid-calf. At that time, some ballerinas had already begun to dance in pointe shoes, but the "tablet” skirt was still a long way off. However, Taglioni's attire can be considered the first "chopin" tutu - a skirt of romantic ballets. Costumes for La Sylphide were made according to the sketches by the artist Eugene Lami. However, there is an opinion that the design was invented by the ballet master and father of the ballerina Filippo Taglioni, who wanted to improve the awkward proportions of his daughter this way. The new look suited the female figure well - the waist was accentuated by the airiness of the skirt, and the exposed ankles looked longer and more graceful thanks to the pointe shoes.

The first short tutus

In the 1850s, fashion contributed to the ballet costume again - they began to add fullness to tutus using crinolines that were relevant at that time, but the length of the skirt remained unchanged for another three decades. Only in the 1880s the skirt got to the knee and in the 1890s it opened the thighs slightly. The requirement for shorter tutus can be explained by significant progress in the ballet dancers’ technique - they needed more freedom for the legs to perform virtuoso elements. Such costumes became an integral part of Petipa's ballets. But in Denmark, in Bournonville's productions, for example, dancers still performed in flowing skirts. 

A tutu in the 20th century

At the beginning of the 20th century, the ballet tutu had already acquired the appearance of a short multilayer springy skirt with a bodice sewn to it, but the romantic “bell” tutu didn’t disappear from the stage either. In 1907, Mikhail Fokine dressed his dancers in the ballet Chopiniana in flowing elongated skirts and the name "chopin" stuck to the tutu.

In the 1930s, technological advances in the textile industry made it possible to make tutus from synthetic materials, which made them much lighter. And in 1950-1970, it was fashionable to attach the skirt to the bodice at the hip level. 

A tutu in the 21st century

Nowadays, the “tablet” tutu continues to coexist with the “chopin” tutu in classical ballet. If a short ballet skirt is usually sewn to the bodice and panties, the elongated one is worn over a bodysuit. The fashion for the reconstruction of old ballets has returned heavy authentic tutus to the wardrobe, and contemporary set designers continue to search for new forms, for example, costume designer Stephen Galloway created absolutely flat ballet skirts for Forsythe's ballet The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.