A tutu is a skirt worn as a costume in a balletperformance, often with attached bodice. It consists of a Basque (or waistband, as it can either be part of the bodice or a separate band) and the skirt itself might be single layer, hanging down, or multiple layers starched and jutting out. The bell-shaped Romantic dress of the mid-1800s gave way to the tutu at the end of the 19th century. Connoisseurs of ballet, the Russians wanted to see the new technical feats and fancy footwork of their ballerinas. The new long, floppy, 16 layer tutus reached to the knee and allowed the female dancers much greater mobility in such technically demanding ballets as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Paquita. The late George Balanchine's athletic choreography later led to the creation of the shorter "powder-puff" tutu that is worn in Symphony in C. These tutus allow the entire leg to be seen.
The word 'tutu' has its origins in the theatre audience. Those who bought cheaper tickets sat in a section located in the lower part of the theatre. This area gave the patrons sitting there a different view than the rest of the audience; they could often see under the ballerinas' skirts and see their bottoms. This led to a lot of talk and eventually, the French slang word for this part of the ballerina, cucu became 'tutu.'
Bodice: The tutu bodice can use from 6 to 15 panels of fabric. Some of these pieces are cut on the bias (the diagonal) which gives fabric some stretch. The bodice is a separate piece of the costume attached at the waistline or high on the hip; sometimes it's put together just with elastic tabs to allow for movement.
The Basque: This is the piece that sits from the waist to high on the hip. It can be continuous with the bodice or a separate, tight fitting fabric “band.”
The Skirt: Tutu skirts determine the shape of the tutu and generally define the style: Romantic, Classical or Bell. The skirts are usually made from the following materials:
Romantic Tutu: A three-quarter length, bell-shaped skirt made of tulle. The hemline falls between the knee and the ankle. The romantic tutu is free flowing to emphasise lightness, to suit the ethereal quality of the romantic ballets such as Giselle or La Sylphide. It is said to have been invented, or at least popularized, by Marie Taglioni, first in 1832 in La Sylphide. There are two types of romantic tutus-one that starts at the waist and one with a dropped waist and basque called a romantic tutu with basque.
Classical Tutu (pancake): A very short, stiff skirt made with layers of netting that extends straight outwards (from the hips) in a flat pancake shape, and has a fitted bodice. The pancake style has more layers of net and usually uses a wire hoop and much hand tacking to keep the layers flat and stiff.
Classical Tutu (bell): A very short, stiff skirt with a slight bell shape, it is usually longer than a classical (pancake) tutu. It is made with layers of netting and has a fitted bodice; it extends outwards from the hips and does not use a wired hoop. These can be seen in the famous ballet paintings by Degas.
Balanchine/Karinska Tutu: also known as the "powder puff", it is a very short skirt with no hoops, and fewer layers of netting than the pancake or classical styles. The skirt is loosely tacked to give a softer, fuller appearance. This style was designed originally for the ballet version of Georges Bizet's Symphony in C.
Platter Tutu: A tutu with a flat top that sticks straight out from the ballerina waistline. It is very similar to the pancake tutu, though the top of the tutu is almost completely flat, where the pancake tutu is a bit fuller at the top.