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Fashion Is Very Important to Ballet Soloist Harper Watters

He often treats his clothing as costumes.

Style Diaries
Fashion Is Very Important to Ballet Soloist Harper Watters
Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

Welcome to Style Diaries, a series where we research the physical manifestations of our closet tours IRL. We're asking friends and tastemakers to show us what they're *actually* wearing during the week and to provide a little insight into their thoughts on the current state of fashion. This week, we follow Harper Watters, a first soloist for the Houston Ballet, as he transitions from home to the studio to the town. As a dancer with a rigorous 44-week rehearsal contract, Watters utilizes fashion as both a tool of service and a medium of creative expression.

Look 1: Heading to the Studio

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

“I wake up at about 7:30 in the morning. We have class at 10 a.m. I leave the house around nine and when I get to the studios, I change into dance clothes. I'm really [only] in an [actual] outfit for about [as long as] the drive to work. At first, I would try to turn a look that would be really conceptual, but then I was like I'm 30 now. I think I just want to be comfortable and get to work. The Reebok jumpsuit was definitely me choosing practicality and comfort. I like that athletic element and it still gives a fashion point of view. I love walking into the building and having people on the street recognize that I’m a dancer.

The Reebok shoes are a collaboration they did with [Maison] Margiela. It's another twist on the classic running shoe. The Margiela Tabi boots are so coveted. I feel like when you put on these pieces of fashion that are really being talked about, you feel like you're part of something special. It helps me get into the mindset of going to work. It's really rare for me to fangirl. The only time I really fangirl is for Beyoncé and then for a Telfar bag. I was like, 'Give it to me. I need it.' I have two of them.It’s a nod to Black designers. It's a nod to queer designers—[especially] as a Black queer dancer. I knew I wanted that to be my dance bag.”

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Shopping Bag


Look 2: Rehearsal Time

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

“I feel like my legs are my biggest asset. You ask anybody in the company I dance with—I rarely wear tights; I usually wear booty shorts. They prefer us to wear form-fitted things to be able to see our bodies. The leotard is Patrick Church. You think leotard, you think of solid color, but why not put a little bit of a bold print or a pattern on it? To me, that adds an element of character. I like having a little bit of cheekiness (no pun intended with the booty shorts). So I always try to reach for something that is a little extra because I feel like I'm a little bit extra for the ballet.”

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Look 3: A Night on the Town

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

“So, this [outfit] is by Kenneth Nicholson. He is from Houston and is a Black designer. We have a ballet ball here that's the big event of the year to dress up for. My first year going, I wore [his clothes]. So he’s someone I reach for a lot because I just love his point of view—kind of genderless, but also lots of bold statement pieces. In essence, this [look] is a shirt, a jacket, and a pair of shorts, but the print and color really elevates it.

Then the shoes are Sunni Sunni. I love their cut. Again, even in the clothes I wear outside of the studio, I want my legs to look long because I work really hard for them. I felt like that shoe really complimented the leg. Even though [the shoe] is monochromatic and sleek, it's still really bold."

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Notes on Style:

How does your personal style correspond to your current lifestyle?

“My style has mirrored my career as a dancer. I'm in my 11th season with the company. When I joined, I definitely thought that I had to emulate what I saw at the top of the company, which was a white heteronormative image. I thought that I had to downplay certain aspects of who I was to be successful in this art form. When I erased that mindset out of my head and embraced who I was, and what I liked and made me feel comfortable, my dancing started to become better. The same thing happened with my fashion. I started to take more risks, to be more bold with prints and choices in silhouette.

I dance in Texas. When I travel to L.A. or New York, there's a bit more experimentation with style. Learning to navigate that here has been a little tricky because I stand out more. But I stood out when I was just starting to be a dancer. I was the only Black queer dancer in auditions trying to get into companies. I started using that to my advantage. Now I have your attention and I'm going to show you what I'm about. I try to take that same approach to fashion.”

A lot of what you wear has to fall within certain requirements. How do you navigate those boundaries?

“I try to wear things that elevate my dancing and allow me to be warm and ready to move. I also like to have a point of view with what I wear. I try to wear things that accentuate my body, but also allow me to feel comfortable when I move. The reality is we spend literally every minute of the day staring at ourselves in front of a mirror, so I want to make sure that I like what I see. It also depends on the style that we're dancing. I wouldn’t reach for a really loud color or print if I'm dancing a more classical or muted ballet. But for the more abstract work, I try to pick things that have energy to them, that allow me to have energy while I'm dancing.

One of the more recent developments [that has affected me] is proper flesh-toned pieces. There weren't options for flesh-toned shoes and if there were, it was one or two selections sort of like in the makeup industry with foundation. Having that to elongate our lines and look more seamless has been really nice to incorporate [in my outfits] as well.”

Like you said, you spend every single day staring at yourself in the mirror. How has that played into your relationship with your own body and how you outfit it?

“It's nothing that I have completely mastered, but the confidence to accept your curves or your shape comes with the experience. I definitely had to navigate certain elements of my body that ballet deemed less attractive or less accepted. As does every dancer, I think. That's why I try to treat [my outfits] like some sort of costume because the clothing I pick always seems to elevate my mood and my attitude. You carry yourself differently when you put on certain pieces of clothing like when you put on the leather tunic in Romeo and Juliet. I try to pick things that give me confidence because this is my body. I have to love it, I have to accept it. I want the clothing to compliment that as well.”

You've been able to feel what a costume can do in terms of getting into character. Does that ever translate to how you get dressed on a Friday night since you know what fashion has the power to do?

“Absolutely. We have lots of group chats where it's like, 'What are you wearing? What's the vibe of the place we're going?' I have sort of stopped caring about the location. I just wear what I want to wear. It's not like I'm turning up in a six-inch pump to a proper event, but it's less about trying to fit in. I’m trying not to listen to the negative voices. As long as it makes me feel good, that's what matters.”

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