It may be surprising that ballet flats, or at least similar styles, have been worn by both men and women since the 16th century, though the contemporary version that we’re more familiar with began to take off around mid-20th century, popularised by the likes of Brigitte Bardot in her film And God Created Woman (1956) as well as Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957).
While the ballet flat continues to be a staple for women, it’s largely disappeared from men’s footwear repertoire – unless you’re a dancer. Incessant waves of sneakers have completely consumed the footwear game; I’m going to be honest and just put it out there – it’s an indicator of how unimaginatively product-driven the fashion industry at large has become.
At last month’s men’s S/S’20 shows however, we’ve noticed variations of the good ol’ ballet flat popping up at various houses, including Dries Van Noten, Jil Sander and new-ish label Bode, which is known for repurposing vintage fabrics into eclectic men’s pieces.
Arty, almost monastic outfits tend to complement ballet flats for men (see also Lemaire and Loewe) – though it can also work with more aggressive styles, as Dries Van Noten displayed with his unusually sexy collection.
We’d like to think that the return of ballet flats for men coincides with what Vogue has termed the rise of the “softboy” aesthetic. If you’re not clear what that means, just picture Call Me By Your Name star Timothee Chalamet and any of his red carpet outfits.
With the recent upending of traditional menswear rules on the red carpet by mavericks such as Ezra Miller and Billy Porter (and often at some of the world’s most visible events, such as the Oscars or the Met Gala), here’s hoping we’ll be seeing ballet flats on men on the red carpet soon – or better yet, on the street.