In recent months, ballet flats, leg warmers, sheer tights, wrap tops, and skirts have seen a resurgence among China’s fashionistas. The balletcore aesthetic, inspired by ballerinas’ backstage outfits, is a global social media phenomenon championed by influencers and creators across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Now, the hashtag #Balletcore has taken over local lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, racking up more than 281,000 views.
Though the culture of ballet has influenced the high-fashion industry for decades, it was not until 2022 that the balletcore aesthetic saw a major resurgence. In fact, Miu Miu’s ballet flats were the industry’s hottest product in Q3 2022, according to the Lyst Index, reiterating the boom of the balletcore style. Thanks to the viral item, searches for the Italian house on Lyst increased 49 percent year-on-year.
Despite the global influence of the aesthetic, there are nuances between how Chinese followers have adopted the trend versus their Western counterparts. The balletcore outfits by local fashionistas are mostly inspired by K-pop star Jennie’s look, female workout influencers, and dancers, as Xiaohongshu posts tell. As many of the followers are not actually dancers, what has shaped their understanding of balletcore? How do they perceive the hyper-feminine style?
The rise of adult ballet and ballet-inspired workouts
Synonymous with elegance, grace, and fine body shapes, being a ballerina was a childhood dream of many adults. Though adult ballet courses are available in the top-tier cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, the flexibility and mobility required of the sport turns away many enthusiasts. However, full body workouts incorporating movements derived from ballet, such as ballet beautiful, barre, and gyrotonic, have lured growing practitioners in China.
Among the fitness courses inspired by ballet, barre is the most systematic one that is offered as group classes in premium gyms or specialty studios. Shanghai-based barre and gyrotonic instructor Yimeng Chen, who is also an influencer on Xiaohongshu, shared with Jing Daily, “Barre is more safe and efficient than other types of workouts, which appeals to the general female students with a pursuit of sculpting their body shapes and having a graceful carriage.” The inclusivity of barre attracts people who want to develop the lean muscle tone of a ballerina.
“At the very beginning, my students mostly belonged to a young, urban, female hipster demographic.” as Chen recalls. “But now, their profiles are getting diverse. My mom also joined the barre classes.” She points out that there are many reasons why the workout is popular e. In addition to being efficient and convenient (only small equipment like resistance bands, pilates soft balls, and hand weights are required), “good-looking activewear is a major factor appealing to women practitioners.”
K-pop idols’ major influence on Chinese consumers
Besides pictures of ballet and barre classes, Blackpink’s stage looks during the group’s global tour in 2022 are on Chinese fashion lovers’ moodboards for the balletcore aesthetic. In particular, Jennie’s outfits consisting of bodysuits, tulle skirts, leg warmers, and ballet flats have been acknowledged as major inspirations by fashion KOLs such as @Nicoole, @celinnachou, and @BURGERCHOI.
There’s no doubt that the immense influence of South Korean pop culture has helped Jennie establish a loyal fanbase in China. Her business value and incomparable ability to drive sales are proven when she makes each simple fashion item go viral. Just as Miu Miu’s ballet flats have become fashionable again after being first released in 2016, K-pop stars have the power to elevate common ballet accessories and fulfill ballerina-wannabes’ dreams.
How brands like Hermès are channeling the balletcore aesthetic
The balletcore hype contributed to the births of young labels specializing in this category, such as South Korean brand Pehrt and domestic label Typha. In fact, before the balletcore trend was formulated in Chinese in 2022, discerning fashion brands had started to tap the opportunity through ballet-inspired activewear and workout programs in China.
Local DTC lifestyle label Neiwai has targeted this category since it launched its activewear line, Neiwai Active. In 2019, the brand kicked off its partnership with well-known Chinese ballet dancer Tan Yuan Yuan, who is principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet, and unveiled a capsule collection named “Active Ballet” in collaboration with her. Last year, Neiwai Active released a collection dedicated to dancing, featuring stretchy and soft fabrics that are friendly to movements.
Global luxury brands have been eying this fitness category and exploring the crossover between high fashion and wellness. With experience instructing courses for HermèsFit, Chen tells Jing Daily that the luxury house is able to showcase its products through the HermèsFit ballet and barre classes, as well as demonstrate the elegance and agility of both workouts. As this approach to fitness aligns with the house’s image, the HermèsFit campaign was favorably received among local audiences.
Though ballet is oftenly attached with idealized body shapes and manners, brands need to advocate for a more powerful and inclusive image, instead of reinforcing toxic femininity or unhealthy aesthetics that could be misguided by the balletcore storm. Sportswear retailers betting on this opportunity have smartly grasped the nuances.