In Defense of the Ballet Flat

The most disrespected person in America is the ballet flat.

Once, not too long ago, the classic ballet flat was every woman’s favourite wardrobe staple. An elegant, flat shoe that derived from, duh, ballet pointe shoes that oozed simplicity and ease and suddenly by the second half of the decade was relegated to basic, ugly and pedestrian. I’m sure some part of this is due to the rise of streetwear that offered women trainers they could chicly wear outside of P.E or a mountain trail. And then, of course, there were the many iterations of the ankle boot. Ballet flats, a shoe that didn’t require socks, zippers or (most of the time) functional laces or straps.

My heart longs for a time I could just put my foot into a shoe and leave the house. The ballet flat was/is a classic. You couldn’t turn on The O.C or Gossip Girl without seeing a pair and street style stars of the 00s and early ’10s like Sienna Miller and Alexa Chung were always in a pair.

A lot of womenswear got increasingly androgynous or masculine in the past decade, which I am all for but consider that the ballet flat is one of the only shoes that actually achieve the balance between comfort, utility and femininity.

It found its earliest popularity when fashion designer Claire McCardell and cobbler Salvator Capezio worked together to take the shoe from the stage to everyday life in the 1940s. Before this time, dancer’s shoes were actually high heeled until people realised that dancer’s could actually, you know, dance in flat shoes. Capezio began crafting what would lead to the ballet flat we know today when he worked on repairing the slippers of ballerinas in New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Another shoe designer, Rose Repetto (Repetto as in Repetto) would work with Brigit Bardot to bring the ballet flat to the mainstream in ‘And God Made Woman’.

Brigit Bardot wearing Repetto

So why has the ballet flat fallen from grace so many years later? Was it the lack of arch support? An overexposure of toe cleavage? The really terrible elasticised version that was a thing for some reason? I have a few theories.

The most obvious being that the pendulum just swung the other way as it is wont to do. Perhaps by 2011, we had just reached a point where every assortment of buckles, laces, straps, bows – oh, my – had been exhausted. Fashion got uglier and tackier (for which, I am eternally grateful), so footwear had to be a performance of how ironic, corny or unattractive you could be. Womenswear got a lot more serious; power dressing was renewed, streetwear stressed a grittier brand of nonchalance and it was better to be sexy than girly (see: kitten heels, PVC heels and the skinny straps on stilettos).

Now that we are nearing the end of the decade and the dad sneaker bubble is about to burst, I think it’s time to reconsider the ballet flat as the quintessential flat shoe. I love a cheeky stiletto or a snazzy loafer as much as the next girl but I would also love to don a shoe that can speak to so much without saying anything at all.

In the meantime, here is a small selection of ballet flats I’m ready to throw my money at:

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2 thoughts on “In Defense of the Ballet Flat

  1. This is so well written and I enjoyed reading it so much. I would love to know the theories of why the ballet flat fell off. The piece made me think of the vehement pool push against it in South Africa and the obvious misogyny that’s directed to women who still wear flats.

    1. Thank you so much! I would like to know to, beyond just a normal pendulum swing of trends. Thought I rate it’s either because ‘everyone’ had them, thus making them basic. Or that when sneakers became a thing for women, ballet flats were no longer seen as a good alternative to heels? Or maybe it’s because of how girly and feminine they are, and much of the 2010s fashion has been about androgyny, non-gender-conforming, etc.?

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