Ballet Flats Are Back—But In The South They Were Never Gone

Why the timeless shoe will always be near and dear to our hearts.

Audrey Hepburn, wearing ballet flats, and Mel Ferrer at the Bel Air Hotel
Photo: Donaldson Collection/Getty

One of the top fashion trends is the return of the ballet flat. Effortlessly chic and comfortable to boot, the ballet flat has been seen on runways across various fashion weeks over the past few months. However, in the South, ballet flats are a closet staple. From our very first ballet shoes as children to our go-to office and church footwear, ballet flats are a lifetime Southern selection.

A Brief History of Ballet Flats

The history of the ballet flat dates well before the time of Audrey Hepburn. In fact, according to Aerosoles, the original ballet shoe was introduced in 1680 as a heel for stage actors at the Royal Academy of Dance in France. For the next 20 years, ballerinas would spend their performances suffering through what is said to be a highly uncomfortable shoe experience. Then Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo became one of the first dancers to don the more slipper-like shoe we closely associate with ballet today.

Ballet slippers remained performers' preferred shoe style until 1941 when fashion designer Claire McCardell commissioned the Metropolitan Opera House shoemaker, Salvatore Capezio, to create a street-ready line. He added a hard sole, and the ballet flat was born. Later, French actress Brigette Bardot called upon Italian fashion designer, Rose Repetto, to design a pair of functional yet elegant ballet shoes for her role in the film Et Dieu Crea La Femme. Both Brigette and Repetto ballet flats became overnight sensations.

Southern Style and Tradition

It's no secret that the South has always had close ties and respect for the French. Just take a stroll through cities like New Orleans and Mobile to see the architectural similarities. It should come as no surprise then, that we take our fashion cues from them too. Lisa Kirk is the founder and designer behind Maylis, a Raleigh-based (and French-named) shoe brand, and naturally, her first design was for a ballerina shoe.

"All of the ballet flats in my closet were either comfortable, but too casual for work or special occasions, or they looked beautiful, but I couldn't walk for miles in them," she says. Ballet flats are known for their effortless practicality, and their versatility is why they remain a go-to selection. "The right ballet flat is incredibly easy to style, making it a natural choice for everyday wear, no matter what is on your calendar," says Kirk.

Kirk explains that Southern women, specifically, are known for having respect for traditional, timeless style in both our home decor and our wardrobe. Further, we are also known for our daily commitments that keep us on our feet. "Southern women are constantly on the go, juggling the needs of work, family, community, and so much more. We need beautiful, versatile, and reliable shoes that will never slow us down."

Not to mention, now more than ever, we are craving fashion accessories that make us feel polished without sacrificing comfort or convenience. "A high-quality ballet flat constructed with beautiful materials rivals the comfort of a sneaker," says Kirk. "But it also offers a classic, feminine look that fits in anywhere, from the office to the school pick-up line."

Who needs heels when you have a great pair of flats?! Think of ballet flats as your power shoe. Put them front and center in your closet. If you're feeling an update, consider adding a new style, perhaps in a fun color. Like Brigette and Audrey once did, wear that classic style you've always known and loved with pride.

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