Lifestyle & Culture

Virtual Museum: A ‘Visit’ to the Ballet

This 1947 confection by Christian Dior, with its tulle skirt, extravagant ribbon and cascade of (probably silk) roses, epitomizes the romance that ballet has lent to fashion. / Photo by Louise Dahl Wolfe, The Museum at FIT.


RIGHT NOW you can’t get in to see the “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse” exhibit at the Museum at FIT, New York’s fabled Fashion Institute of Technology. Neither can we, because the museum is temporarily closed, along with so much else in this Age of Corona.

But Valerie Steele, fashion historian and the museum’s director, has invited all of us to see this examination of ballet as a fashion muse . .. virtually.

Even though many of us call our flat shoes “ballerinas,” we don’t necessarily linger on their dance origins. And how many of us have it top of mind that our leggings and tights had their origins on the ballet stage? Ballet, in short, has made such inroads into our daily dress that we no longer think about it—although over the decades Danskin ads for leotards and tights  tried to remind us: “Danskin: Not Just for Dancing.”

FIT’s exhibit drills much deeper than that, of course. Shown here are some of the tastier images, of glamour and daring, all tied back to the dance stage. There are many more, with great explanations, at the Museum at FIT website.

—Nancy McKeon

“Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse” makes it clear that ballet inspires fashion, but fashion also inspires ballet costume. Caroline Shadle in Dance Magazine says that the “Princess Aurora” costume from “Sleeping Beauty” at right probably inspired the 1950 scalloped-edge gown from Balenciaga, which in turn was the inspiration for New York City Ballet director of costumes Marc Happel’s new tutu design for Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” center.
From Christian Dior, the “Debussy” sequined evening gown worn by Margot Fonteyn, spring/summer 1950. Lent by Fashion Museum Bath.
By Cristobal Balenciaga for Hattie Carnegie, pink silk tulle and satin evening dress with silver metal embroidery, 1950. Lent by Beverley Birks.
For the New York City Ballet, Mark Happel created this “Symphony in C” costume: white silk satin, synthetic net, Swarovski crystals, 2012. Lent by NYCB.
By Oliver Messel, this is Margot Fonteyn’s “Princess Aurora” costume from “The Sleeping Beauty,” 1960s, original designed in 1946. Lent by Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Exhibition photo by Eileen Costa © The Museum at FIT.


Christian Dior’s “Debussy” gown was worthy of a fantasy ballerina (though rather impossible to dance in). In fact, the sequined evening gown was worn by prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn and came from the spring/summer 1950 collection. Lent by Fashion Museum Bath. / Photo by William Palmer.


LEFT: From Barbara Karinska, erstwhile costumer for the New York City Ballet, comes “La Valse” costume, gray satin bodice with rhinestones, gray, pink, red tulle skirt. Lent by the NYCB. Photo by Eileen Costa ©The Museum at FIT.
RIGHT: By Pierre Balmain comes this painted white tulle debutante gown with painted velvet “feathers,” spring 1960. Lent by Hamish Bowles. / Photo by Eileen Costa ©The Museum at FIT.


Magical onstage, the pointe shoe has become a fetish object and a way for fashion visionaries to exaggerate an idea.
LEFT: Noritaka Tatehana, pink leather ballerina pointe-style shoes, 2012. / Photo by Eileen Costa © The Museum at FIT.
RIGHT: From Victor de Souza, a black ballerina dress and shoes from 2016. Lent by Victor de Souza. Modeled by Lauren Lovette. / Photo by Isabel Magowan.


LEFT: From Hollywood fashion and costume designer Howard Greer, the “Odile” black silk tulle and sequin evening dress, circa 1951. Lent by Beverley Birks. / Photo by Eileen Costa ©The Museum at FIT.
RIGHT: By Elsa Schiaparelli, the “Sleeping” blue wool beaded bolero jacket, spring 1940. Lent by Hamish Bowles. Dance Magazine suggests a direct line from the jewel-like tone in the “Bluebird Variation” costume from Sergei Diaghilev’s staging of “Sleeping Beauty” to the blue in the jacket. / Photo by Eileen Costa ©The Museum at FIT.

One thought on “Virtual Museum: A ‘Visit’ to the Ballet

  1. Nancy G says:

    A new way to see exhibits. I’ll go online and see the whole exhibit. These pictures simply stoked my interest. Thanks.

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