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Let’s Dance!

A new theme available now on Europeana Fashion portal: Let’s Dance! A gathering of fashion objects linked to the world of dance.

Well-known to the collective imagination, the ballgown has long been considered the culmination of fashion trends, in many epoques and different geographies.
Dance is a form of expression that has naturally developed in different societies: the research and use of rythm, the excercise of both free and controlled movements, the performative potential of the body are all phenomena examinated by disciplined dealing with human behaviour, such as sociology, ethnography and antropology.

Fashion plate by Georges Barbier: Falbalas et Fanfreluches. Almanach des modes. Mlle Sorel au bal du grand prix. Paris, 1923. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert museum CC BY NC

While being often regarded as a moment of freedom, dance has indeed been translated in well-constructed and ‘designed’ events, such as balls and receptions, which were – and still are – occasions for men and women to meet. The birth of society system saw the development of balls as the occasions for young ladies to debut and hopefully find the right partner; the actual dance was the ground where pairs were made, according to the ability to lead and follow, that was considered to mirror the capacity to be a good husband and wife. Still now, the dancefloor is supposed to be one of the best places for couples to meet, being a sort of shared space where people with the same tastes get together and move following the same beat.

Illustration by Franz Joseph Freiherr von Lipperheide, Hesse & Becker: two ballgowns. 1895. Courtesy of Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. CC BY NC SA

Since balls, in all their different formats and venues, are events where ‘to see and be seen’, they call for the right clothes. From the court receptions to the more recent proms, passing through the folkloristic balls, usually performed wearing traditional costumes, and the disco, the ‘dance attire’ has always been about visibility and appearance, arousing in both men and women the desire to appear at their best, in line with the evolving standards of beauty of each time.

Folk costume. Bridal or festive costume with a white sayás (sleeved coat dress) from Episkopi of Imathia. Late 19th c. Courtesy of Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Usually designed according to the kind of movement the body has to perform in order to dance, these dresses actively partecipate in the dance itself; their features are not just ephemeral details, but they become fundamentally functional; volants, sequins, accessories: all these details are thought in relation to the environment they are going to get in conversation with, and help the body to move in the right way and to create a precise kind of silhouette.

Illustration of a ballgown by Mad Carpentier. 1951. Courtesy of Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. All Rights Reserved

From a historical point of view, they are often a good starting point to better understand the ideals of beauty and acceptability of the society they come out of. On a more personal level, they visually translate the ambition to appear, to sound, to fly like a bird to the beat of the music: once worn, dance gowns become sort of magic objects, transforming the wearer from duckling into swan and boosting his or her confidence. In any case, they are not only worn to be seen, but above all to be noticed and to be remembered.

Visit Europeana Fashion themes area to see more images and get inspired to discover more about the fascinating links between fashion and dance.

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