The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830

By Judith Chazin Bennahum | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The Lure of Perfection

Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830
O Mightiest Fairy! Goddess of Fashion
Demon, Devil or Sorceress!
How we all stream to your altar
Where you are enthroned with submission
Presiding over human will
Sometimes with strength, other times with cunning
And every fancy you excuse as mere folly
For you are nothing but folly itself. 1

For many years, I have wanted to create a narrative about stage costumes and street wear, including a discussion of the various social, artistic, and, political influences that shaped the design of clothing and costume and, specifically, how they affected French ballet in the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. I wondered why dancers wore skirts that were in some cases full and bouncy and at other times narrow and lithe, short, long, or heavy. Why were they asked to wear a low, décolleté bodice or a wig, or to apply thick globs of makeup? Of course, they wore tutus with layers of tulle that floated about their bodies, but why was the traditional tutu such a rigid and corseted structure? And what is our understanding of the evolution of dancing shoes that were often tortuous to wear, whether character shoes for peasant roles or toe shoes for the ballet?

I find fashion to be a dictating force. My perception is that we cannot track the progression of dance costume design independently from the study of fashion on the streets. Although we know the names of choreographers and people who designed costumes at the Paris Opéra, it is interesting to note that we do not know the names of many street clothing designers.

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