Costume ballet: What Makes a Good Costume?

A ballet performance isn't complete without the correct costume. It completes the rehearsal process and ensures that a ballet performance is stage-ready. But the exact components of a "good" costume can vary widely. We spoke to a ballet dancer, a wardrobe supervisor, and a dance critic to get the inside scoop on what makes a good ballet costume.

Costume ballet: What Makes a Good Costume?


  • The origins of costume ballet can be traced to Renaissance-age France and Italy. 
  • These two nations had abundant resources and deep patronage, which shaped ballet costuming. 
  • In the 16th century, dancers wore ordinary everyday clothes such as tunics and skirts, but they soon became more elaborate with elaborate costumes and elaborate accessories. 
  • Men wore stiff brocaded coats and knee-length pants, while women wore floor-length skirts and tightly laced bodices. 
  • The costumes of the era had simple movements, a look that would be less revealing if a male dancer was performing a more complicated dance.

In the 17th century, Louis XIV was a patron of the arts, and professional dancers began appearing at the Paris Opera. During this period, ballets like Flore et Zephyr by Charles Didelot and La Fille mal gardee by Jean Dauberval were performed. The changes in dance technique and style influenced the development of costumes.


  • The meaning of costume ballet can be interpreted by the spectator. 
  • It is an important part of the theatrical language of dance, along with the set, sound, and props. 
  • These elements help us interpret the dance, because they provide clues to understand the meaning of the actions and the meaning of the movement. 
  • Since there is no spoken script or narrator, costumes are also important tools to communicate a message. 
  • Listed below are some of the most important things to keep in mind when observing a ballet costume.
  • Ballet dance costumes have long been beautiful and elegant, often made of rich fabrics. 
  • The ballerina's tutu, for example, is a multilayered skirt that gives the appearance of lightness and flight. 
  • However, over the years, the costumes have changed quite a bit.


  1. The design of a ballet dance costume is extremely important. 
  2. It must represent the work and its concept. 
  3. It can be a traditional costume that is adapted to the ballet style or it can be contemporary and inspired by a particular dance technique. 
  4. It is also very important to have a good sense of freedom of movement in the costume. 
  5. Careful attention to decoration is also important. 
  6. A loose bodice may cause a dancer to slip during lifts.

While most graduate programs in costume design are completed on campus, they encourage students to travel outside of the school for professional development and cultural exposure. For example, students may attend the Prague Quadrennial, the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, and the Los Angeles Design Showcase West.


  • The costume of ballet has undergone many changes throughout history. 
  • As women's fashion changed, so did the costumes of ballet performers. 
  • The early 1830s sylph costume resembled a growing silhouette, while the 1860s Romantic tutu was wider and more voluminous. 
  • As the ballet's popularity grew, the sleeveless bodice became popular and allowed ballet dancers to bend their arms freely.

The style of ballet costumes began to evolve in the 16th century, when Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II, started funding the art form. She organized huge festivals that featured music, dance, and costumes. These events helped spread the art of ballet around Europe and made it more accessible to the general public. While most ballet movements at this time were simple turns and promenades, the costumes gradually began to become ornate.


  • The style of costume ballet is a great way to tell a story with dance. 
  • The streamlined silhouette of a ballet costume allows the dancer to move freely and accentuates the visual effect of the dance movements. 
  • Many ballerinas wear tutus, a multi layered skirt that creates an impression of flight and lightness.
  • A ballet costume's style should respect the fabrics and accessories it's made from, while also offering a flattering fit. 
  • Costumes should be easy to manufacture and re-wear without requiring constant readjustments.


  • Costume ballet tutus are made with several layers of tulle, which is a thin net-like material. 
  • Different layers are stiff while others are softer. 
  • Typically, the skirt is about five or six layers long and hits mid-calf. 
  • The tulle is not supple; it is stiffened by starch and muslin.

Tutus were traditionally long, but during the 1960s they became shorter to show off dancers' legs. In recent years, designers have been playing with the shape of tutus. For example, Stephen Galloway designed a disc-like tutu for William Forsythe. This design referenced the classical tutu but created a sleek silhouette. Likewise, the Dutch National Ballet has created a socially-conscious tutu in denim.


Costume ballet is an art form in which the dancer wears an outfit to re-enact a scene from a ballet. The costumes are often very expensive and time-consuming to make. Even a single tutu can require over 100 hours of work. Moreover, ballet costumes are usually designed to last for thirty years. However, this does not necessarily mean that new ones are made for each production, as costumes may be re-created several times during the life of a ballet.