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Leigh Witchel

Ballet and Fashion!

21 posts in this topic

From Nanatchka in another thread:

The whole point of going out is getting to wear one's shoes, no?

Although the summer months are simply hell on one's wardrobe (at least for men; the hotter the temperature, the more difficult it is to contemplate "proper attire", since it always involes long sleeves and a jacket) let us speak of the ballet and fashion.

I can think of numerous instances of their intertwining. Leon Bakst's costumes inspired fashion; Chanel re-designed the costumes for Apollo. Seventh Avenue has long been loyal to dance, many designers have made costumes for both NYCB and ABT.

To see and to be seen: What do you love to wear to the ballet, what positively curls your slippers? And what fashions have the ballet inspired?

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Here comes the "old-timer" with her, "Now, in my day....". In my day the legitimate theater was a place for dressing up. Formal wear was not unusual; at the least women wore dresses, hose, dress shoes, etc. Now, anything goes and it ruffles my feathers. There are so few occassions when everyone looks their best and I like to think that going to the ballet is one of those occassions. Dressy pants are fine; jeans and sandles stretch the limits.

Quit throwing those bricks! I can see that the relaxed atmosphere makes the theater more appealling and it's OK with me. Opinions were requested.

I always take a sweater or stole, even on the hottest days. I'm short, and if I can't see over the person in front of me my wrap becomes a pillow. I'm short enough so that even on my pillow I'm not threat to the person behind me.

Giannina

[ 07-16-2001: Message edited by: Giannina Mooney ]

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I'm with Giannina. Instead of "in my time..." I'll write "in my home town..." I grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where it was (still is) a *huge* deal for audiences to dress-up for any classically-oriented performance, be it opera, ballet or symphony. It's part of the tradition from the old country (Spain, in this case) that includes a wee bit of 'snobbery' that persists to this day. Yes, Puerto Rican society is still into debutante balls for all 15-year-old girls and women who belong to the city's social clubs stil wear linen suits and wide-brimmed hats. I kid you not!

Back to ballet attire...

Personally, I prefer 'neat-and-clean, day-into-night business attire' if not overly fancy...the look that I see at many northern European opera houses, such as Holland & (yes) Russia, where most people are very well dressed and neat even though many may come from humble circumstances. Even the little girls, with bright bows in their hair, look like a million bucks, even if from working-class families. Dressed to *respect* the performers on the stage. I see it as a sign of respect.

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Because I tend to go to the ballet straight after work, whatever I wear to work is what I wear to the ballet.

As for ballet inspired fashions. I love ballet flats.

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I love cross-over ballet clothes like the wrap sweater or pinch front camisole :) Very comfy and flattering.

I've seen a few fashion shows on TV and articles in fashion magazines about ballet-inspired clothes, like tulle skirts and flats with little bows in pastel colours. One photo shoot had a model in pointe shoes...but she wasn't a dancer- ouch!

I usually use the ballet as an excuse to dress up in something elegant, opening night galas are even more fun because everyone goes all out. But I still have to be comfortable!

It would be interesting to see some fashion designers do something for the ballet. Vera Wang did a skating dress for Michelle Kwan which was gorgeous. BCBG makes lovely sheer layered dresses.

This is off-topic, but we could also discuss how visual art and ballet work together. I love Chagall's sets for NYCB's Firebird!

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I personally love the chance to dress up, oh yes indeed, I love formal wear, hosiery (not those thick ballet tights... I do have trouble making the transfer over to delicate hosiery and often end up putting a thumbnail straight through a brand new pair), high heels, glamorous up-do's - the works...

But I think at the ballet, one shouldn't go too over the top, because after all, you do sit in a darkened theatre for most of the night and so that lovely evening dress goes to waste (unless of course, you don't mind being seen in the same gown twice ;) ) and as far as I understand, the ballet isn't a black tie event.

So I agree with Giannina, apart from the stole - because I don't need a boost.

I once saw a woman with her denim jeans tucked into a pair of ugh boots.. and laughed at myself for the snobbish way I reacted. But still, tickets to the ballet are not cheap, and so its rather nice to make a bit of effort in appearance.

LMCtech - those ballet flats are interesting. Personally, I like a bit of a heel, because its much more flattering to the ankles and calves.

Incidently, Leigh... If you think men have troubles in the summer, spare a thought for women in the winter - those thin floaty fabrics do not guard well against the elements and its often difficult to find an appropriate cloak/coat/some kind of warmth in the form of clothing... And woe betide a girl who is without a chivalrous man to give her his jacket...

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I think ballet is occasionally semi-formal (black tie) and even formal (white tie) sometimes. It depends on the occasion and the circumstances. For example a seersucker suit (almost casual) would be perfectly sufficient and appropriate to a performance, even a first night, at an outdoor venue like Artpark, Wolf Trap, or SPAC. A more formal attire, dark business suit (informal) is standard for most performances at a major house, like the Met, the Auditorium, or the War Memorial Opera House. For matinees, sport coat and slacks is even good. But for opening nights, the possibility of formal presents itself, and likewise semi-formal for the first nights of important works, particularly full-evening ones. Call me old-fashioned, and needlessly hidebound and prescriptive, but that's the way I feel.

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Not that I'm a fashion plate now, but in my standing room days I went for standing room comfort, and that included running shoes. (I was young, then :-) ) A colleague chided me -- rightly -- saying it wasn't proper to wear running shoes to the ballet. Well, lo and behold, who should sit in front of us that night but Jerry Robbins wearing...running shoes :-)

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I think that finally you have to go by your pocketbook. To insist on formal or even semi-formal dress can be a form of class distinction (not that I am accusing anyone here of that!!). Not everyone can afford evening clothes or even rough approximations of same; I certainly couldn't when I was a student, even on those rare evenings that weren't SRO of necessity. Although my discretionary income has risen since then, it is still not the equal of, say, Blaine Trump's, or any of the other ladies who attend galas and whatnot.

I'm usually reasonably well dressed if I'm coming from work or driving in; but if I'm using public transportation or spending a day in the city (I live in the East Bay suburbs) than even sensible low heels aren't comfortable for doing too much walking. I don't go in for slacks of any kind, and on windy days dresses and skirts are not ideal. (I remember descending from a bus, wearing a wide Dior-New-Look type skirt, into a wind tunnel area, prompting much merriment from onlookers and jocular references to Marilyn Monroe and subway gratings. Not my finest hour.) So I'm usually in my jeans, a nice top or sweater, and newish Rockports of the less clunky sort, and I figure that has to do.

As for ballet inspired fashions, my feeling is that, as a rule, ballet-style clothing looks good on people with ballet-style figures and no one else, exceptions allowed of course.

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In the long-ago days of the OLD Met, women were not admitted with slacks of any kind. A friend who was in the NYCB once wore fairly formal and full culottes and a comment was made about them. During the same era, I was told by Ann Jenner that the girls in the corps of the Royal Ballet were not allowed to wear slacks anywhere near the theater! Men had to wear neckties at the Old Met: one regular standee, who sported quite a full beard, went in one evening wearing a crew neck sweater. The doorman made him lift his beard so he could see if the standee was wearing a tie. He wasn't, so we had to smuggle out the tie of someone already inside so he could get in!

In 1961 the Kirov came to the Old Met for the first time. They opened on a swealtering September evening. I later read that the temperature inside the House reached 105 F. Most of the gentlemen (it was a black or even white-tie affair in those days) took off their jackets. I believe it was Kolpakova who reported being amazed at looking over the sea of white that resulted from so many men being in shirtsleeves!

During the 70s I came to NY on a visit while I was living in London. I was bowled over to discover lots of women in slacks and a man in a gold lame outfit that displayed most of an extremely hairy chest and was so tight that it left little to the imagination. On a subsequent visit, I wound up doing what for me was the unimaginable: I wore jeans, and torn ones at that, into the Met! I had been on my way to visit a friend when I stopped to leave at note for Ross Stretton at the ABT stage door. The lady backstage asked if I'd like a comp to the matinee. I couldn't refuse, and I didn't have time to go home and change. I stayed in my seat the whole time and covered my lap with my jacket!

Nowadays, unless it's a special occasion, I like to wear nice informal clothes such as linen slacks and a jacket. It's basically what I can wear to work. If the occasion is more formal, then I have to change my clothes at work, and that's a bit of a nuisance.

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Katharyn -

Both The Welcome Lady (Giannina!) and I are avid knitters, so my guess is we'd both come up with the same answer on what to do for warmth. A hand knit shawl! Giannina has the most marvelous one, I've seen it (You can tell two knitters when they meet - she had her shawl on her arm and I exclaimed, "Vogue, Summer, 1984!" I recognized the pattern!)

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The etiquette of dress has become more flexible since the days of Emily Post's first edition and is now more in the form of guidelines, rather than rules. One ought to be able to be comfortable at the theater, and the etiquette is simply there to serve as an advisory statement. Except for certain special events, such as a reception following an opening night, with dinner and attended by those in possession of an (engraved) invitation which specifies Formal (white tie), "soup and fish" is pretty much a thing of the past, unfortunately. Ladies can always be perfectly attired, in my opinion, in a simple basic black dress or suit with pearls. Like I said - I'm Old Fashioned.

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I think the most famous example of ballet influencing fashion is Bakst's Sheherizade (that looks like I spelled it wrongly). All sorts of evening gowns in the teens looked wonderfully colorful and exotic. And I have read that it influenced interior design too--many fluffy pillows. As for dress influencing ballet design, the only example I can think of is the ball gowns of the 1830's, with their basque waists, cap sleeves, full skirts, and slippers, which became the Romantic tutu.

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Taglioni influenced fashion -- hairstyles, dresses (sorry if someone has already mentioned this).

The descriptions of the early Ballets Russes performances in London are wonderful. There's one in Nesta McDonald's book (about the BR in England and America) that describes the audience as being completely black and white -- the men in white tie, the women in white evening dresses -- except several boxes of Indian Princes, dressed in bright colors and bejeweled. And then the curtain went up on that black and white world, with all of Bakst's colors, and it changed the world. (At least, their world.)

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Originally posted by Leigh Witchel:

(You can tell two knitters when they meet - she had her shawl on her arm and I exclaimed, "Vogue, Summer, 1984!"  I recognized the pattern!)[/qb]

Not only was it amazing that Leigh recognized the pattern's source then but he still remembers it today!

Still flaggergasted,

Giannina

[ 07-18-2001: Message edited by: Giannina Mooney ]

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I also feel that one should 'dress up' for the theater - ballet, opera, symphony, etc. It shows respect for the arts, and is also a social occasion for which one should look one's best (like you, Mel, am also old fashioned in this manner). Here in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle), things can be a little too casual, but have noticed that most people wear nice clothing to the ballet, symphony and opera. I also feel that proper dress is a matter of education - and for that reason, my piano students must wear dressy clothes when they perform in recitals, here at my home, or elsewhere. No jeans, running shoes, are appropriate, and they all accept that. By the way, I love reading everyone's comments on various subjects - most interesting. Thanks.

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I seem to be the only one here who thinks that insisting upon formal attire is...wrong? Personaly, I think that you show your education of the arts by the way you act, and not by what you wear. I go to the ballet wearing slacks (usualy of a khaki style) and a sweater (usualy close-knead velvet black.) and dress shoes. I cannot stand ties or a jacket. I respect the arts like every other patron, but I do not think that what I wear should be any indication of my stature. We go to the ballet to be entertained by a grand art - not to show off our latest tuxedo or dress, and you might as well be comfortable while you are watching.

Does anyone else feel this way, or dissagree entirely?

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Who insists? The only person I can insist for is myself, and I can be as comfortable wearing a dinner jacket as I can in a rugby shirt, jeans and running shoes - which, by the way, I think just fine for Family Circle audiences these days. The rest is all opinion, which with 75¢ will get you a cup of coffee some places.

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My brother tends to wear jeans and rugby shirts, because that's what he went to work in. Then he looks at the ushers faces when they see he has a comp ticket. ("Of course this slob has a comp...") I try to always wear a skirt to the ballet, but have been known to show-up in jeans for a modern dance performance. Depends on the venue for me. And I only wear formals for galas.

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Back in the dark ages (again) of the Old Met Emily Post wrote a column for Opera News. It happed to come out on a day when we standees had waited for hours in ankle-deep slush in freezing temperatures. The column was about proper dress for the opera and contained a photo of one of the regular standees, who happened to be wearing thick tights and a Norwegian sweater. The caption read: "Ski sweaters and tights are for the upper slopes." This made us standees see red, and we wrote Dear Emily a stinging retort - pointing out that she came from her nice, warm apartment in a nice, warm limo into the nice, warm opera house, while we had to stand out in the cold for hours and didn't even have a chance to get some supper. (Rudolf Bing loathed the standees, and the worse the weather the more likely it was that the tickets would be sold just in time for us to file into our unreserved spots.) :mad:

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