Tutus are the most iconic ballet costumes. The bases of tutus, called the plates, are layers of nets stitched together by swing catches to hold each layer in place when dancers get into motion. The stitches can be tight to create stiff tutus, or loose to create fluffy tutus. There is also a loop of wire tube that gives the round shape of each tutu.
There are three types of tutus: romantic, bell and classical. Romantic tutus were first worn by Marie Taglioni, and the style continues to be used today. Romantic tutus are long to the calfs or ankles. They have the least layers of materials (4-5 layers) of the three types of tutus. They use Tulle instead of stiff nets to make the tutus soft and flowy. Bell tutus are commonly seen in characters such as the fairies, and they are usually long to the knees. They have 7-9 layers of stiff nets which hold the shape quite well. They slope down at roughly 45-degree angles. The classical tutu has the thickest stiff nets (9-12 layers). They almost stick straight out. The costumes of the swans in Swan Lake are probably the most well-known classical tutu designs.
Before Diaghilev and Balanchine’s times, ballerinas dressed in corsets which were very uncomfortable to dance in. Although today corsets had long been taken off the fashion world vocabulary, most costumes still use stiff materials to hold the waists. Occasionally there are characters that require a wide range of motions so stiff material might not be ideal. One of the roles is the Rubies in Balanchine’s choreography. In this case, the costume looks stiff in the waist area but is actually made of stretchy material.
Shiny materials that catch the lights are ideal for ballet costumes, but the costumes can be quite challenging to make. There are often high-status characters who wear jewelry that have to be attached to the costumes. Many costumes have golden embroideries to achieve that shimmering looks, but the big jewelry pieces are harder to manage. Some designers use glass in the shape of gems to give a certain weight to the ends of the tutus when dancers spin as well as the rhythmic sounds when the glass hit each other. Others use hot stones which attach to the fabrics easily with heat and stay there even when the costumes are being washed.