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1. a short skirt made of stiff cloth that a female ballet dancer wears

Origin and usage

It is thought that tutu derives from the word ‘cucu’, a French diminutive of ‘cul’ meaning ‘buttocks’. This word started to be commonly used in English from the early 20th century onwards.


In the present day, a tutu is made of tarlatan, muslin, silk, gauze or nylon and is shaped in the trend of either Romantic or Classical style. A Romantic tutu is styled to fall to the calf or ankle and has a bell-like shape due to the softness of the material which it is made from. In comparison, a Classical tutu is much shorter and stiffer so that it extends outward from the fastening at the hip. Throughout the 19th century, tutus became progressively shorter to give the ballerinas greater freedom of movement from the waist down, but this was also an aesthetic choice to enable the audience to see the dancers’ legs better.

The first tutu was donned by Marie Taglioni in the titular role in “La Sylphide” in 1832. Though the soft, ankle-length skirt fashioned from a gauzy net-like material is thought to be the first ever tutu to be seen onstage, the name itself would not gain popularity until almost 50 years later. Although the tutu is technically just the skirt of a ballet costume, the term can also be used to describe the entire outfit, including the bodice.


“The tutu may be the oddest-looking garment in the world, an almost random result of theatrical pragmatism and male voyeurism. But in its lightness, sparkle and elegance, in the craft and dedication that goes into its making, the tutu embodies everything ballet is about. It will be around for a long time yet.”
(Judith Mackrell)


ballet costume

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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