How to Pump Up Your Style with Women’s Ballet Flats

Tuesday Bote - March 3, 2021

A couple of years ago, writer Alexandra Mondalek of trend-watching website The Business of Fashion (BoF) wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about ballet flats becoming the new dad sneakers, owing to how comfortable they are and so easy to wear. But sartorial irony notwithstanding, Mondalek’s article shows what women have known for centuries (yes, literally:) ballet flats are the epitome of comfort and casual elegance.

Historically, women’s ballet flats have been around since the 16th century, becoming the footwear of choice for both peasants and the gentry. Interestingly, they have had a rollercoaster ride when it comes to fashion: they fell out of favor in the 17th century when the height-challenged French queen Catherine de Medici ushered in a craze for high-heeled shoes thanks to the addition of two inches to the heels of her wedding slippers; they enjoyed a vogue following the French Revolution and were popular as work shoes well into the 19th century. 

In contemporary times, women’s ballet flats again became the shoe for everyone after blonde bombshell Brigitte Bardot was spotted wearing Rose Repetto’s famous ballet flats and Audrey Hepburn wore a pair with chic cigarette pants in the 1957 film Funny Face. Even today, over five decades later, women’s ballet flats continue to be a part of ladies’ wardrobes across the globe.

But why are women’s ballet flats so popular today?

So why do women’s ballet flats continue to be popular after all these years? Also known as ballerina shoes or ballet sneakers, ballet flats are considered a more comfortable alternative to wearing high-heeled shoes, especially for those who need to do a lot of walking or whose occupations call for standing up for long periods of time. 

Look back to what we said in the previous section: when ballet flats (originally referred to as pompes) were invented, they were meant to be a working shoe for those reaping the harvests in the fields or performing other tasks in the home. They could be worn everywhere and anywhere without the danger of twisting an ankle or tripping over because your heels got caught on a rock, an uneven patch of ground, or even a loose floor tile.

In a more contemporary context, the appearance of women’s ballet flats is beautifully streamlined: a curved-toed or square-toed upper with a flat sole; the heel may be very low – less than an inch in many cases – or may appear absent. Depending on the material – usually leather or fabric – they can be used as work or school shoes, casual shoes, or – in some cases – specialized shoes as part of a marching band uniform for some schools or performance shoes for theater groups.

Okay, so how do I rock my style with ballet flats?

The best part about women’s ballet flats is that they go beautifully with practically any outfit you have in your closet. 

Women’s ballet flats, in particular, are a solid choice for office wear, particularly if they have just the slightest wedge of heel. Women’s white ballet flats, on the other hand, are a stunning and incredibly comfortable alternative when it comes to wedding wear: more comfortable than heels in any case, and certainly dressier than strappy sandals.

But, if you really want to pump up your style with these graceful-looking shoes, here are a number of tips you can look into:

  • Ballet flats are a minimalist accent for a maxi look: Full, flowing maxi-dresses came back in a big way in 2020, along with wide-legged trousers, and ballet flats which let you show off a bit of bare ankle are the perfect shoe to go with the carefree bohemian look.

Pro tip: color-coordinate your ballet flats with the base color of your outfit and keep them plain (especially if your maxi-dress sports a vibrant tropical motif) for maximum impact.

  • Streamlined shoes for an equally streamlined outfit: A streamlined silhouette can help you look taller without resorting to a pair of uncomfortable heels. Wearing a pair of neutral-colored ballet flats with a simple shift dress or a belted shirt-dress looks quite elegant, while wearing the same shoes with tailored shorts, culottes, slacks, or even a pantsuit.
  • Make your legs look longer: Want to look a bit taller? Try this trick: wear nude-colored flats (or, in the case of women of color, shoes in a color closest to your skin tone) with bare legs. If you wear leggings, put on a pair of ballet flats in the same color.
  • Roll up the hems: Prefer a pair of boyfriend jeans or cropped pants? No problem: roll the hems up to the skinniest part of your leg – that junction between calf and ankle – or even up to around two or three inches higher. Not only will this give you a chic casual look, but it’s also an elegant way to show off a bit of skin, especially in the spring or summer.
  • Dazzle at the disco: As we said earlier in this article, maxi-dresses from the Shimmering Seventies’ are back in a big way – and so are diva-esque disco fashions. But while the disco look makes people think of clogs and platform heels, ballet flats can also add some serious dazzle to a retro-styled outfit. Consider pairing women’s gold ballet flats with shimmery loungewear or a gracefully draped black or animal-print caftan.
  • Get skinny: If you’re more of a skinny jeans sort of person, wear them long and pair them with simple ballet flats for easy everyday elegance.

Some points to remember when buying women’s ballet flats

  • Materials matter where ballet flats are concerned: While ballet flats are available in a variety of materials, leather ballerina shoes are always the best possible buy. Most women wear their flats without socks or stockings, so the inside of the shoe is in direct contact with one’s skin. Flats fully lined with leather let your skin breathe and add to the overall comfort of the shoes on your feet. This is not to say that we’re knocking fabric ballet flats, but these are better for short trips and errands as opposed to walking in all day.
  • When you pay for quality, you get much more than what you paid for: As with all shoes, a pair of very good ballet flats may set you back by a considerable sum. But think about the work that went into the shoe and the fine materials used to make it: you pay for expert craftsmanship and materials which ensure that you will enjoy wearing your flats for a very long time.
  • Keep it classic: It’s easy to be seduced into buying fancy-looking ballet flats embellished with all manner of buckles and bows or in all colors of the rainbow – but ask yourself: will these shoes suit the clothes I have? Plain-looking ballet flats can easily go with just about any outfit from uber-casual to chic and sophisticated. Getting pairs in neutral colors is de rigueur for the style-savvy modern woman, but we also suggest getting flats in solid primary colors or pastels to add nuance to your outfits.

  • How comfortable is comfortable?: It’s a question you have to ask because podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons tend to shake their heads (and fists) at ballet flats as these have been noted to cause foot problems such as fallen arches, flat feet, and pinched-in toes. However, foot health experts are quick to point out that this is usually the result of people buying shoes for looks as opposed to comfort. Remember: don’t just buy a pair of flats because they look cute. 
  • Check the size and fit before you buy, consider how frequently and how long you’ll be wearing them, and check that they don’t compromise the sole of your foot. Removable insoles can help in this case to make your shoes fit better and feel more comfortable.

    If you’re on the lookout for women’s ballet flats, consider Oliver Cabell


    Oliver Cabell offers its chic and elegant Dream Flats line to add a simple sophistication to any outfit. Made in Italy by master craftsmen using sustainably-sourced leathers, each pair is a masterpiece in terms of style, comfort, and durability. Indeed, they are made to be comfortable from day one – you won’t need to break them in.

    Oliver Cabell Dream Flats are available in US standard sizes 5 to 10 and can be shipped anywhere you are in the world.