How to Wear Ballet Flats – Our Definitive Guide

by Tori Smith
Nude ballet flats with tie up laces

Our definitive guide on how to wear ballet flats will help you put your best foot forward – and ensure your outfit remains centre stage – on any occasion. Capture the feminine style and grace of Fonteyn by stepping out in shoes that look like ballet slippers – perfect for sashaying down the sidewalk without the pain of heels or pointe shoes (ouch!).

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The Alexie Guide to Ballet Flats

What are ballet flats?

Inspired by the slippers sported by ballerinas, ballet flats are a comfortable, versatile, practical yet pretty shoe that have become a must-have in every woman’s wardrobe.

Simple ballet flats, however, date way back to the 16th century, when they were worn by both women and men. Two centuries later, the fashion for flats truly boomed when Marie Antoniette went to the guillotine in heels – prompting the people to ditch their heeled shoes in favour of footwear not associated with execution. The trend for ballet flats enjoyed a modern renaissance in the late 1950s, when Audrey Hepburn wore skinny jeans and flats during a dance sequence in the film Funny Face. Since then, we’ve seen ballet-inspired shoes rolled out on the runways and in high street stores, and ballet flats are now considered a fashion classic, essential within any woman’s footwear cache.

Audrey Hepburn ballet flats Funny Face GIF

Audrey Hepburn revives the fashion for ballet flats in Funny Face (1957)

Ballet Flats: The Basics

Don’t be fooled into thinking all ballet flats are made equal. Take the time to choose a style that reflects your personality and the clothes in your wardrobe. Do remember, though, that ballet flats are meant to be delicate: if you need a sturdier shoe, do not be tempted to buy a thick or heavy-soled pair. These are not technically ballet flats, and you’d be better off with a loafer or boot. Ask yourself how to dress like a ballerina when you’re out shopping and look for shoes that make you feel like you’re dancing on air.

There are a variety of styles to choose from – we love:

1. Classic: For a perfect prima ballerina look, a classic pair of ballet flats cannot be beaten. When you buy classic, you should be looking for a simple slipper style shoe. The bow should not be too big, and the fabric should not gather; instead, they should fit flush against your feet. Most important, they should be cut to show some toe and not sit too high. A ballerina shouldn’t be frumpy, after all!

2. Pointy: A variation on the classic. A pointy flat is arguably more modern, though the rules remain the same: the shoe should look light and delicate, as if at any moment you could step on stage and dance.

3. Open Side: For a sexy update on the classic styles, you can’t beat an open side. That extra flash of flesh and enhanced toe cleavage is seriously flattering. They also allow your feet to breathe a little better.

4. Strappy: This could be an ankle strap or a slingback strap. Either way, it adds interest to your ankle, so long as you stick to the rules: delicate delicate delicate. Chunky straps really make your legs lose centimetres.

For a twist, lace up ballet flats – reminiscent of the real ribbons and slippers worn by ballerinas – are also back in fashion. Be still our beating hearts.

Outfit grid: ballet flats classic pointy open side strappy

A bevvy of beautiful ballet flats, in classic, pointy, open side, and strappy styles. Photos: Cherri Bellini / Pinterest / Dress Like a Parisian / Pinterest

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Style File: Celebrities wearing ballet flats

Though the A-list may not need to run for the bus or carry their shopping up flights of stairs, many still choose to forgo their Louboutins, Jimmy Choos and Blahniks in favour of ballet flats – serious proof of the shoe’s style credentials. In fact, with Stella McCartney commenting, “There is something about having the confidence to wear a shoe that is not 10 inches tall that sends a message”, it might be said that real power women leave their heels at home.

For your browsing pleasure, behold some of our favourite celebrities wearing ballet flats:

celebrities wearing ballet flats

PHOTO CREDIT: Style Bistro

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Girls star, Allison Williams, looks relaxed in pointy red ballet flats at the LA Loves Alex Lemonade event. We love how the navy and white stripes enhance the red: a radiant look for summer soirees.

Karlie Kloss, attending the Tribeca Film Festival Chanel dinner, kills it in this pastel blue tweed number, giving us a masterclass on what to wear with beige flats.

Taylor Swift shows how fun ballet flats can be by adding a bright pop of colour to this fabulous everyday outfit.

If you’ve ever wondered what to wear with black ballet flats, then look no further than Miranda Kerr. Also take note of that toe cleavage. Swoon.

Sienna Miller showcases a pair of iconic Repetto red ballet flats – an historic brand of the dance world – at the Hamptons Film Festival.

How to Wear Ballet Flats During the Day

Styling Tips

Ballet flats are a great shoe which flatter almost every outfit. However, despite their seemingly infinite versatility, there are a few golden rules to remember:

  • When pairing jeans or ankle pants with flats, crop them. By revealing the ankle, you show the full length of your leg without ‘cutting’ it, helping you look (and feel) taller and more elegant.
  • When the weather is good, wearing a skirt or dress with flats looks fabulous. Be sure you pick the right style, though: if you’re tall you can get away with a skirt that sits below the knee, however if you have a more petite frame then choose shorter styles that elongate the body. Never attempt to pair a long dress with flats; it will just take inches off you.
  • Always match your outfit accordingly. A pair of classic ballerinas won’t work with a minimalist outfit, whilst studded or bejewelled flats might look out of place with traditional or tailored clothes. Don’t think that one pair of ballet flats can serve all purposes.
  • Do not be tempted to wear tights with flats. Ballet flats are meant for bare feet and do not look good with pantyhose which pleat around the ankle.

Styling Inspiration

There are no shortage of stylish girls wearing ballet flats as their shoe of choice. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite ways of wearing flats so that you can find an outfit for every occasion.

1. How to wear flats casually

Ballet flats are an essential when it comes to your casual, weekend wardrobe. You can’t go wrong with a pair of jeans and a fluffy sweater or loose shirt. Just remember to cuff the jeans so they sit about 7/8 of the way down your legs, and avoid a super skinny style if your calves are a little thicker (opt for capri or cigarette pants instead). Ballet flats also work well with leggings (so long as you ensure they sit high above the ankle) and an oversized tunic or knit. It’s all about playing with proportions, elongating your outfit, and enhancing your femininity in a modest yet memorable way.

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2. How to wear flats formally

There is absolutely no reason not to wear stylish flats for work. Not only are they comfortable, meaning you will look and feel more relaxed (and ready to focus on the tasks at hand), but also they can be extremely elegant and smart. Opt for fuss-free flats in a neutral shade to create a serious, professional appearance.

how to wear stylish flats for work

PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest / Caro Daur

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3. How to wear ballet flats in summer

There is nothing we love wearing more in the summer than cute dresses with flats. After all, ballet flats look best with bare legs! Remember the rule of thumb is to keep your dress above the knee: you need to show skin to prevent your legs looking squat. For this reason, shorts or mini-skirts and flats also make a sensational summer statement: they make your legs appear longer at the top and look unbelievably chic paired with a loose shirt or colourful cami. The summer is a great time to try out ballet flats with ankle straps, too, and really take your look to the next level.

how to wear ballet flats in summer

PHOTO CREDIT: Sincerely Jules / Kreuję Swoje Zycie

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4. How to wear ballet flats in winter

Although we understand it’s tempting, wearing pantyhose and flats is a fashion faux pas. Why? Two words: ankle pleats. Seriously unstylish. If you want to keep wearing your ballet flats in winter, please do not do the dresses with tights and flats thing. Instead, invest in a pair of sheer ballet flat socks which slip inside the shoes and allow you to keep wearing jeans and leggings. Some fashionistas even advocate well-fitted wool socks and flats, so long as it’s not too cold to pair them with cut-offs.

how to wear ballet flats in winter

PHOTO CREDIT: Man Repeller / Lolita by Garance Doré

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How to Dress up Ballet Flats

Styling Tips

There’s a common misconception that ballet flats can only be worn during the day. Ladies, let us set you straight: this is utter baloney. It is absolutely possible – and in fact extremely advisable – to dress up flat shoes for the evening. No more going out in heels but coming home in flats, okay?

If you need convincing, just look to the S/S 2014 runways, which showcased more flats than we’ve seen in a decade. In that same season, Birkenstock was named brand of the year. That’s bona fide fash pack approval right there.

To dress up your ballet flats for an evening out, focus on fabric and features rather than shape. Satin, suede, capped or bejewelled flats make a stylish (and comfortable) alternative to heels. And don’t be afraid to play with colour: fluorescent hues look hot in the summer, gold works all year round, and red shiny flats are a winter winner.

Styling Inspiration

Ballet flats put the fun back into fashion and, when it comes to dressing up, don’t be afraid to experiment with colours, textures and styles. Here are a few looks we love for all you dancers in the dark:

how to dress up flat shoes

PHOTO CREDIT: The Professional Cinderella / Anita Kurkach / Life of Peam / A New Life With Fashion / Posh Life

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Best Ballet Flats: Our Must-Have Pairs

Fallen head over heels for ballet flats? Us too. Start or add to your collection with one or more (sorry pay check!) of these pretty pairs – all of which have the alexie seal of approval.

buy ballet flats

  1. Zara Lace-Up Leather Ballet Flats £39.99
  2. French Sole Henrietta Giraffe Print Calf Hair With Black Trim £135
  3. Ted Baker Faiyte Large Bow Jelly Pumps £50
  4. Repetto Cendrillon Ballerina Patent Leather Crazy Yellow £175
  5. Aldo Chessi Pink Misc. £50
  6. Tory Burch Jolie Ballet Flat French Gray £185

buy ballet flats

  1. Dune Hero Leopard Bow Trim Round Toe Ballerina Shoe £60
  2. Topshop Vivo Laser Cut Floral Pump £18
  3. Kurt Geiger Magic Carvela Kurt Geiger £65
  4. Repetto Theatre Ballerina Metallic Goatskin Suede Glam Pink £245
  5. Butterfly Twists Olivia £30
  6. ASOS Let’s Play Pointed Lace-Up Ballet Flats £22

buy ballet flats

  1. French Sole Arabella Black Multi Colour Glitter With Black Trim £120
  2. Office Karmen Ballet Bright Orange £22
  3. Butterfly Twists Sasha Midnight Blue £35
  4. Ted Baker Immey Bow Detail Ballerina Pumps £75
  5. Aldo Paessa Midnight Black £40
  6. Michael Kors Sunny Ballet Tan Flat Ballerina Shoes £125

Bonus purchase: Butterfly Twists Ballerina Sock £5

How to Wear Ballet Flats: Final Note

  • Wear flats without apology. Even though they might not provide the extra inches of a heel, their inherent femininity, as well as comfort, will help you stand tall.
  • Roll up your jeans, hitch up your skirt, dig out your mini-dress – however you do it, just remember to bare some leg. Your ankle is a powerful (and alluring) body part that ballet flats are designed to display. Trust us.
  • The same is true of toe cleavage. Be sure to show it off. A ballet flat cut too high on your feet looks frumpy.
  • Repeat to self: do not wear tights.

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