Leg warmers, once a repudiated sartorial staple of ’80s work-out wear popularised by films like Fame, Flashdance and Xanadu, have re-entered the chat (four decades later) as one of TikTok’s latest trend revivals. It’s one that has spilled onto fashion week catwalks and wiggled its way onto well-dressed celebs, too.
But this time round, instead of being worn with garish disco leotards and dodgy perms, they’re a subtle accessory. Bella Hadid sported a pair on a private jet last month, complete with strappy ballet flats and a Yohji Yamamoto beanie, while Doja Cat went for a furry denim set in September. And Kylie Jenner was also at it not too long ago, opting for skin-tight knee-highs to accessorise a neon yellow pedicure.
New York-based label Vaquera featured blood-red puffer leg warmers in its riotous AW22 collection, while Miu Miu presented a chunky knitted version and Berlin brand Ottolinger showed a pair of faux fur warmers in March. Though the initial purpose of leg warmers was to protect dancers’ legs from muscle injuries by keeping them warm, fashion’s fondness for them as an accessory is merely an extension of its fascination with rehearsal gear in general.
Recently, Miu Miu’s ballet flats have soared in popularity, earning them a spot on Lyst’s “Hottest items” last week, a compilation of the most popular pieces bought by shoppers in the past few months. Worn by the likes of Rosalía and Ariana Grande, its simple silhouette borrows from the Italian house’s SS16 collection, featuring a simple elastic strap and delicate bow instead of the more severe buckles and distressed ribbons seen on the shoe’s previous iteration.
The release of Miu Miu’s it shoe followed the springtime #balletcore trend – a hashtag that currently has 96.2 million views on TikTok – which saw wraparound cardigans, hair ribbons, tulle skirts and ballet flats re-enter the public’s consciousness as garments to be worn on the street rather than within the confines of a dance studio.
Beyond that, it champions a nostalgic, comforting femininity. As we usher in the cold weather and wade our way through a never-ending cycle of doom news, clothes that are practical, comfortable and easy to throw on are a bonus, all while channelling the effortlessness of ballerinas – minus the brutally long hours spent in the studio.
Leg warmers, then, emerge as a natural progression of balletcore. Currently, TikTok is littered with tutorials on how to wear them (with chunky Mary Janes, according to @madokacams) and how to make them (cut the sleeves off an old hoodie and wrap a couple of hair ties around the bottom to keep them from slipping, says @sarasakurah). There’s a DIY aspect to the trend which holds appeal for Gen Z, too, as a new offshoot trend emerges in the form of (deep breath) ballerina sleaze.
Building on the micro-trend of balletcore and the more widely embraced phenomenon of indie sleaze, it combines the grunge styles of, say, Sky Ferreira, with the delicate-but-dark femininity associated with Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers in Black Swan.
While “ballerina sleaze” might feel like yet another TikTok-born trend, it speaks to fashion’s appetite for subverting the elegance and daintiness of rehearsal clothes, as a way of giving them a harsher edge. A prime example is MM6 Maison Margiela’s SS23 collection, which played on the inherent seductiveness of warm-up clothes to create a collection anchored by leotards and bodysuits.
Figure-hugging, layered and purposefully frayed, pieces that often convey a sort of delicacy were subverted, as though yanked out of the dance studio and lured onto a seedy dance floor. Micro-trends like balletcore and ballerina sleaze might come and go, but this autumn, they’ve coalesced into a wider mood adopted by fashion designers: rehearsal dressing that prioritises comfort and practicality. And we could all do with a bit of that, right? Now, from the top. 5, 6, 7, 8…