Ballet dancer

How ballet dancer Harper Watters dresses

welcome to Style diaries, a series where we research the physical manifestations of our IRL closet visits. We’re asking our friends and trendsetters to show us what they’re *actually* wearing during the week and to preview their thoughts on the current state of fashion. This week we follow Harper Watters, the Houston Ballet’s first soloist, as he moves from home to studio and to the city. As a dancer with a rigorous 44-week repeat contractWatters uses fashion as both a tool of service and a means of creative expression.

Look 1: Head to the studio

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

“I wake up around 7:30 in the morning. We have class at 10 am. I leave the house around nine o’clock and when I arrive at the studios, I put on dance clothes. I am really [only] in a [actual] held for approx. [as long as] driving at work. At first I was trying to shoot a look that would be really conceptual, but then I thought I’m 30 now. I think I just wanna get comfortable and get to work. The Reebok jumpsuit is definitely me who chose practicality and comfort. I love that athletic element and it always gives a fashion point of view. I love walking into the building and seeing people on the street recognize that I’m a dancer.

The Reebok shoes are a collaboration they did with [Maison] Margiela. It is another variation of the classic running shoe. Margiela Tabi boots are so coveted. I feel like when you wear these really talked about fashion pieces, you feel like you’re part of something special. It helps put me in the mindset to go 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. It’s a nod to black designers. It’s a nod to queer creators—[especially] as a queer black dancer. I knew I wanted this to be my dance bag.

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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 anyone in the company I dance with – I rarely wear tights; I usually wear booty shorts. They prefer us to wear tight-fitting clothes so we can see our body.The leotard is St. Patrick’s Church. You’re thinking leotards, you’re thinking solid color, but why not put a bit of a bold print or pattern on it? For me, it adds an element of character. I like to have a bit of sass (no pun intended with the booty shorts). So I always try to achieve something that’s a bit more because I feel like I’m a bit more for ballet.

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Look 3: A night on the town

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Watters

“So that [outfit] is by Kenneth Nicholson. He is from Houston and is a black designer. We have a ballet ball here, it’s the big event of the year to dress up for. My freshman year, I wore [his clothes]. So he’s someone I’m very attracted to because I love his point of view, a bit asexual, but also a lot of bold pieces. In essence, this [look] is a shirt, jacket and shorts, but the print and color really elevate 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 so hard for them. I felt like this shoe really complimented the leg. Even though [the shoe] is monochromatic and elegant, it is always very daring.”

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Style Notes:

How does your personal style match your current lifestyle?

“My style reflects my career as a dancer. I am in my 11th season with the company. When I arrived, I really thought I should emulate what I was seeing at the top of the company, which was a white heteronormative image. I thought I had to minimize certain aspects of who I was to be successful in this art form. When I cleared that mindset from my head and figured out who I was, what I liked, and what made me feel comfortable, my dancing started to improve. The same thing happened with my fashion. I started to take more risks, to be bolder with prints and silhouette choices.

I dance in Texas. When I travel to Los Angeles or New York, I experience style a bit more. Learning to navigate here was a bit tricky as I stand out more. But I stood out when I was just starting to be a dancer. I was the only black queer dancer to audition to try to get into companies. I started using this to my advantage. Now I have your attention and I’m going to show you what I’m talking about. I try to take the same approach to fashion.

Much of what you wear must meet certain requirements. How do you navigate these limits?

“I try to wear clothes that elevate my dancing and keep me warm and ready to move. I also like to have a perspective on what I’m wearing. I try to wear clothes that put my body but also make me feel comfortable when I move. The reality is that we literally spend every minute of the day staring at ourselves in front of a mirror, so I want to make sure I like this I see. It also depends on what style we’re dancing. I wouldn’t achieve a really strong color or print if I dance more classical or muted ballet. But for the more abstract work, I try to choose things which have energy, which allow me to have energy while I dance.

One of the most recent developments [that has affected me] is real flesh-colored pieces. There were no options for flesh-colored shoes and if there were, it was a selection or two much like in the foundation makeup industry. Having this to lengthen our lines and look more seamless was really nice to incorporate [in my outfits] as well.”

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

“It’s nothing that I’m completely in control of, but the confidence to accept your curves or your shape comes with experience. I definitely had to navigate some elements of my body that ballet felt were less appealing or less accepted. Like all dancers, I think. That’s why I try to treat [my outfits] like some kind of costume because the clothes I choose always seem to elevate my mood and attitude. You behave differently when you put on certain clothes such as when you put on the leather tunic in Romeo and Juliet. I try to choose things that give me confidence because it’s my body. I have to love it, I have to accept it. I want the clothes to complement that too.

You could feel what a costume can do to get into character. Does that translate to how you dress on a Friday night since you know what fashion has the power to do?

“Absolutely. We have a lot of group chats where it’s like, ‘What are you wearing? What’s the vibe of where we’re going? I kind of stopped caring about the location. I just wear what I want to wear. It’s not like I showed up in a six-inch pump to an appropriate event, but it was less about trying to fit in. I try not to listen to negative voices. As long as it makes me feel good, that’s what matters.