What It’s Really Like to Be a Ballerina: Isabella Boylston Spills Her Style Secrets

With a work wardrobe that doesn’t allow for much beyond leotards and tights, ballerinas that love fashion will tend to have some serious off-duty style chops. Such is the case for Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre (the highest rank, and a position that sees her jete’ing alongside Women of the Year Misty Copeland). The 29-year-old is making her mark on the dance world onstage, but it’s away from the bright lights where she really catches our style eye. The dance world is attracting more and more public intrigue, and the pros at the top of the field are morphing from delicate sylphlike beauties to strong athletes who know a thing or two about fashion to boot. Boylston? At the forefront of the new crop of stylish ballet stars.

isabella boylston style

On a chilly fall day when Glamour met her at ABT’s studio space to talk fashion, it wasn’t her dance togs or amazing moves that got the chatter going as much as the cool pieces she wore in: chunky black Opening Ceremony boots, a floor-sweeping Reformation coat that looked tailored exactly to her frame, and skinny Acne jeans, her far-and-away denim favorite.

MORE: There’s a Major Fashion Campaign Starring World-Class Ballerinas—Come See!

“My everyday style is pretty basic, with a lot of black or white t-shirts and skinny jeans,” she said, also listing the on-trend flare as a favorite silhouette. The pared-down look, something she’s innately drawn to, was also perfected by early years of scrimping by on a junior dancer’s salary.

“When I first moved to New York at 18 to join ABT, I was only making about $200 per week. I’d shop at thrift stores and get really creative with my outfits.” Combine that budget-based creativity with a gifted Vogue subscription in high school and parents that let her experiment with fashion as a child, and you’ve got the makings of true style.

“For better or for worse, my parents always let me dress myself. One time I showed up at school in a bathing suit with an inflatable tire around my waist—this was in the middle of winter in Idaho when there were four feet of snow on the ground,” says the Sun Valley native.

isabella boylston flare jeans

Frame jeans, Wolford bodysuit

As a big-name dancer at one of the world’s preeminent ballet companies, Boylston is also counted on to do some entertaining (read: galas and black-tie dinners that require glamorous looks, including the star-speckled Valentino gown she wore to this year’s event). Her career choice has her used to wearing amazing pieces like decadent tutus that took hours of intricate work and satiny slick pointe shoes, but the magical costumes don’t have her any less excited about dressing up for big nights. It’s something she loves.

“I like to wear pieces that stand out, whether they’re flowy and ethereal, or tight and revealing.” She takes inspiration from Jane Birkin and Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs, the design team behind Cushnie et Ochs (they’re personal friends of hers and designed her to-die-for wedding dress and the one she changed in to for the reception). While she likes to mix it up for formal events, there’s one color you definitely won’t spot her in.

“For years I’ve never worn anything pink outside of ballet. No pink!”

isabella boylston zimmerman skirt

Zimmerman skirt, Wolford bodysuit

One of the clearest ways of gauging how fashion-minded someone is is to ask what brands they love—when the answers include young designers and niche labels, you know you’re talking with someone who knows their stuff. Boylston fell in the later camp, clearing calling out Cushnie, Zimmerman, Suno, and Valentina Kova. Even her holiday wish list hints at a shopper in the know.

“Sweaters from Gudrun & Gudrun!” she answered when quizzed on what she’s hoping to see wrapped under the tree. “They’re handmade in the Faroe Islands.” Just as lust worthy as the knits is the special gift her husband bought her when she was promoted to principal in 2014: a monogramed Louis Vuitton suitcase she travels with religiously (peep it here).

isabella boylston sweater skirt

Burberry sweater, Club Monaco skirt

Unlike ballet documentaries or movies you’ve binged on, actual dancers aren’t likely to spend every day in a pristine black leotard and short chiffon skirt. Boylston said she’s really gotten into the athleisure trend and often attends daily class in leggings or workout tops rather than the art form’s classic togs.

“Most professional ballet dancers inevitably have an individual look to their studio style. I’d say mine is sporty with bright colors and lots of clashing and layering. I don’t put much thought into it, so it’s basically whatever I find in my locker that’s clean that day.”

If you’re a little bit jealous contrasting the idea of a 9-to-5 in leggings versus your more buttoned-up work wardrobe, know that the stylish side of Boylston insists that the grass is always greener on the other side.

“It would be so fun to dress up on a daily basis! Honestly, I love seeing a strong, successful woman in a beautifully cut suit. I’m actually dreaming about a white tuxedo myself, maybe for ABT’s spring gala this year.”

isabella boylston white sweater black tights

H&M sweater

The ballerina will probably never totally shed the feeling of being a mystical creature walking among earthlings, but social media is doing to the profession what it’s done for models, turning them into characters with personalities and giving them an easy way to engage with fans. For the dance world, it’s also meant casting attention on personal style in a completely new way, with Boylston at the front of the ones-to-watch pack.

Love dancing? (Or watching other people dance?). Prepare to be so beyond obsessed with these YouTube videos.

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