Have you ever considered that what you wear can affect your mood just as much as how your mood can affect what you wear?
I sat down with a dear friend of mine, Akane Ichii, to discuss her beautiful wardrobe. Akane always looks stunning, in class, in rehearsal, in and out of the theater. Almost every day I catch myself admiring her outfit as she takes her place in the studio to dance. Her clean, colorful and very flattering style always draws eyes to her. Interestingly though, as you begin to watch her dance, you forget about what she’s wearing. Is it a coincidence that you’re drawn to her dancing through her gorgeous appearance? Not at all.
Akane was born and raised in Japan but moved to Switzerland in 2008 to study ballet for her last four years of high school. After graduating, she moved to Bucharest and danced with the Romanian National Ballet for five years.
It was in that first company that her whole perspective on the importance of her wardrobe shifted.
“When I was in school, we could only wear black, and also only spaghetti straps. We had to wear the most simple things ever: no earrings, no jewelry, no painted nails. Super, super typical, simple, little ballerina. I had that a lot in my head. So when I went to the company, I dressed the same, very black and simple, nothing interesting going on. But then we had someone come to our company to choreograph La Sylphide, and he really cared about how people looked, even more than the dancing. He cast a lot of different people in different roles, people who had never done a soloist role were cast as soloists. Because of how you looked you would be cast. And that hit me a lot! Like, clearly I’m better than that girl but she got cast because she looked cute and looked the part. Then I was like, ok, I need to look my best even in the studio, in the class, every day.”
Akane started observing all the different dancers and styles that were represented in her company to learn what it was she liked and how she wanted to look.
“In the company, there are so many different dancers with different outfits, and I thought, oh, this looks good, or this doesn’t look good. So then I started to care about those things more; even my hairstyle, I made my earrings match, my nails, everything. Then it started to give me confidence. I started to do better, I got cast for stuff and it was going the right way. It worked for me, so I was like ok, I’m keeping that.”
So what is Akane’s style now? She has a very wide range of styles, and often it is affected by different things: weather, mood, and/ or the roles she will be rehearsing.
“When it’s dark here, sometimes I think I should be the same as the darkness, or if it’s super dark, then I’m like, at least in the studio I’m going to wear the brightest things ever! Sometimes I think about the role. Maybe that role is cuter, so I wear pink and lighter colors, or maybe I’m rehearsing something more sexy then I’ll wear something dark with long sleeves.”
There are endless brands of leotards that one can try in order to find their style, but Akane narrowed down her top 3 favorites.
“Elevé is really nice. Many of their shapes really suit me well. It is overpriced, but I feel pretty. It’s comfy, I look good in it, and it gives me that confidence. And that’s the strong point about Eleve. They also have a lot of options, sizes, and you can customize. Plus, they have a lot of sales as well.
Stina, it’s a Japanese brand, it’s so special. I don’t see anywhere else that sells something like they do. It is sometimes extra. I have one with some frills on shoulders. There can be a lot going on, but it’s so pretty. And if I wear it here, in Tallinn, I won’t have anyone matching me because it’s so special. But it is very expensive.
Yumiko’s shapes are pretty, the materials are very good. It really attaches to your body, and then you see the body lines and muscles so beautifully. If you’re in good shape it’s so pretty. There are many different color options, but they are more minimalistic. But if you need something simple and beautiful it’s very nice.”
Akane also noted a few brands to maybe be wary of,
“I would say, the brands like Capezio, Bloch, and the typical ballet stores, I wouldn’t get it. It doesn’t hold that well. It doesn’t stay how it came for very long. I can really tell from far away, that is a Capezio leotard. Not everything is bad! But some of them aren’t great.”
Especially for auditioning and for working, you want to stand out, you want an outfit that draws out your character, so that your boss, or potential boss, can hire you and cast you for things. You don’t want to blend into what everyone else is wearing, and you certainly don’t want to give them the impression that you’re a “school girl”, but rather that you are confident in yourself and know yourself.
And finally, how does one pick what to wear? We have an ongoing joke in my changing room that the question, “what do I wear today?” is literally the question we ask every. single. morning, haha.
Akane’s answer is simple,
“You just have to feel what is your mood for the day, and what roles you have. You have to try many different shapes, and then one day you’re going to find, oh, this is a good shape. Because everyone has a different body type. You really have to know yourself well, and that comes from trial and error. Whatever you wear, whatever you put on yourself, it should give you confidence.”
Having a good wardrobe as a dancer is a huge and valuable investment. So be creative, try on lots of styles, shapes, and colors. Figure out how to describe your personality through clothes. Have fun with it and don’t give up. Often the search for the perfect leotards, or clothes in general, can be discouraging and overwhelming. But it’s out there! It is worth your patience and discovery.
Follow Akane Ichii on Instagram at @akane.ichii for more ballet fashion inspiration!