In the old days, people wore their everyday clothes to dance. Men had stiff coats. They wore knee breeches, too. On their heads they wore wigs, and on their waists were swords belted onto them. Woman, on the other hand, had tightly laced long sleeve bodices and panned skirts. These heavy outfits were very hard to dance in, so therefore steps were little and modest.
Outfits started to change in 1661 because of the "Establishment of Acedemio Nationale de Musique et de Danse" by Louis XIV. People now started to become professional dancers. Techniques became more advanced. The woman turned more and had quick feet. The ballet attire was still not practical. It became necessary for the dancer to wear caleons de precaution, or precautionary draws, so as not to let the leg be exposed for others to see. These outfits at full were so grand that it was difficult to tell if the dancer was correct underneath all of his or her garments.
Female dancers started seeing how impractical these uniforms were. Marie Camargo was actually the first woman dancer to shorten her skirt. The audience that watched her was highly entertained by her fabulous footwork. Next, Marie Salle then exchanged her traditional petticoats for a muslim dress. Gradually clothing was getting more and more practical.
At the end of the 18th century, the French Revolution caused even more changes. Simple, lightweight robes were seen by Greek models now became fashionable. A costume maker of the Paris Opera, Maillot, actually is said to have invented tights in this time. All of this made a great change in practice clothing. Dancers could now have more freedom. They also now had more dance techniques, way beyond the old traditional limits.
In 1820, teacher Carlos Blasis published a manual called Trait Elementair et Pratique de la Danse. Some of the drawings contained pictures of Blasis himself wearing nothing but shorts and ballet shoes. Blasis did not recommend this because the dancers could catch a cold, but he still was concerned about practice clothing. Blasis ended up making official dance wear in the long run. When he wrote about dance wear, he described the bodice and skirt of muslim for woman. Then he told about the men's jacket and trousers with all white cloth. Carlos Blasis had strong beliefs when it came to clothing.
August Bournonville was also for practical dance wear. Bournonville was a Danish choreographer. He was for the new regulations at Paris Opera in 1826 when he danced there. At the Paris Opera, long loose trousers were traded in for knee breeches and silk hose. Long pants hid too many of the dancer's mistakes, and therefore the dancer was unable to be corrected. A new ballet slipper was also invented in this time. The "Bournonville slipper" was created by Bournonville (what a surprise!) for male dancers. These black slippers were created with a V-shaped vamp in the front. This allowed for a long, pointed foot. Today, more than 200 years later, the "Bournonville slipper" is still used in all Bournonville's ballets.
By 1844, the dancers of the Paris Opera had completely different practice clothes. Woman had nothing on their heads. They were no longer very modest, either. These dancers had nothing on their arms, which was unheard of! A tight bodice was around their waist. Calico bloomers hid dancer's thighs. On top of these bloomers, the woman wore short skirts called bouffant skirts. Bouffant skirts were an early version of the "Romantic tutu". They were puffy and had numerous layers. Men wore very different clothing. They had no neckties and had bare throats. Male dancers wore short vests made wit white material and breeches that went halfway down their leg. A leather belt fastened these breeches. Clothing changed a lot in this time period.
The Victorians changed the clothing and made it again more elaborate during the 1890's. The male dancers had chemise ties at their waist. For woman, a little corset was tightly laced. The woman also wore cotton underwear and long cotton stockings with suspenders! Their white batiste bodices were sleeveless, had ruffles around the neck, and had double tartelon skirts that were tutus. Lastly they had a sash around their waist. It is amazing that these dancers could move at all! Unfortunately, dancers didn't have great bodies because their teachers could not see the female's body well enough to correct mistakes. All the layers just got in the way.
At the end of the 19th century, the Romantic tutu mentioned earlier was invented. These long, floppy, 16 layer tutus reached down to the knee. It allowed female dancers to have mobility in ballets such as "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty". The tutu let the whole leg be seen. This had a very important role in the change of ballet attire.
Dance clothes started to become more modern in the 20th century. Isadora Duncan was one of the first to change all of ballets ways. Duncan got rid of her shoes, stockings, and tutus. Isadora Duncan danced with bare feet in a Greek tunic. Classical ballerinas like Anna Pavlona were next. They wore practical, uncluttered tunics for rehearsals. Those in musical Comedy and revue started dancing with bare legs. Other people started using a one-piece swimming suit. Dance attire was becoming more and more modern.
Modern dancers started wearing the new leotard invented by who other then Jules Leotard! The original leotard was a close-fitting suit of hand-knitted jersey. It originally reached the ankles and knees. The woman's version came with a skirt. The leotard has become accepted uniform of dancers around the world. These leotards come in many colors, patterns, and materials. Today, dancers were the leotard, tights, and even wool or plastic leg warmers over tights to keep muscles even warmer. Dance clothing has really come a long way over the course of more than 400 years!