We’re living in the age of the niche aesthetic. Every time I open TikTok, I’m greeted by a creator telling me that (insert literally any word)-core is the coolest trend of the season. Each new look is neatly tied up with a clicky, vibey name and a perfectly curated group of reference images. As a trend-minded person, I used to find this spectacle endlessly fascinating, but even I am starting to get a little tired. And I’m not alone: Larger discussions bemoaning TikTok’s constant need to aestheticize everything broke out on Twitter this week, begging the question, Can’t we just wear the damn clothes?
That being said, every once in a while, I come across an aesthetic that feels so me that I remember why I’m drawn to these trends in the first place: It’s the comfort of naming (and claiming) something familiar. It’s the same reason I know all the traits of my astrological sign—at the end of the day, we all just want to feel seen. Such is the case with “Ballerina Sleaze,” a look coined by creative director
Brigitte Crisp, which has been gaining traction on the app.
The aesthetic combines two seemingly opposite styles that are popular on TikTok—delicate balletcore and the emerging mid-aughts “Indie Sleaze” revival. It takes ballerina essentials (pale pink everything, mini skirts, tights, and of course ballet slippers) and balances preciousness with y2k punk. Think smudgy makeup, black accents, and an overall air of undone-ness—It’s basically just Miu Miu’s cult buckle-encrusted ballerina flats personified. It’s a little coquette, a little Black Swan, and very me in high school, on my way to ballet class listening to Sky Ferreira with combat boots pulled over my tights.
“To me, ballerina sleaze is a contemporary evolution of soft grunge based around a character—and that character is a fictional, somewhat ironic ballerina,” Crisp tells Byrdie. “It consists of elements from indie sleaze, soft grunge, kinderwhore, and obviously balletcore aesthetics. It embodies strong visual dualities, which in a way, can represent a strong woman. Soft, feminine colors and materials in contrast to the harsh, brash, unkempt energy of indie sleaze styles.”
Crisp adds that where this style differentiates itself from other similar looks, like 2014’s Tumblr-fueled “soft grunge” and Courtney Love’s iconic “kinderwhore,” is the fabrics and silhouettes—the rise of mesh tops and strong cutouts in the past few years has certainly had an influence on ballet-inspired dressing. However, what ties the style together is its sense of irony, the joy in combining two seemingly disparate looks. The result? An embodiment of feminine edge. “I think soft grunge made sense for that time and ballerina sleaze is the modernized version that is reflecting our current time,” she says.
Since Ballerina Sleaze is building on existing trends, you probably have everything you need in your closet already—I know I do. According to Crisp, the aesthetic’s signature color palette (pale pink and black) is as a good jumping-off point as any, and I would add ballet flats (the more beat up, the better), cropped sweaters, bows galore, tights, and miniskirts to the list.
The style is all in how you throw everything together, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money here. But, if you want to try a more luxe version, Crisp suggests shopping brands like Kathryn Bowen, Maroske Peech, and Nensi Dojaka. Of course, Miu Miu is the ultimate for Ballerina Sleaze flats, and Sandy Liang’s recent runway show was full of barre-ready pieces paired with her new Pointe Mary Janes.
Unlike many TikTok aesthetics, beauty is key to this look. Heavy eyeliner or a messy smoky eye gives feminine clothes the look’s trademark edge, and Crisp notes that shimmering textures and pale pink add to the fantasy elements.
On the beauty front, if you want to look like you just left the stage, a harshly-lined lip or strong eyebrow are going to be your essentials. For hair, think ratty beach waves a la indie sleaze icon Taylor Momsen, loose braids, or of course, a classic ballerina bun—just be sure to add some edge with a long, droopy ribbon.
It may seem silly to meticulously label a look down to the eyeliner—trust me, I get it—but at the end of the day, fashion is just a costume. And Ballerina Sleaze is one I’ll be wearing all fall long.