The Captivating Costumes of Giselle - Boston Ballet

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The Captivating Costumes of Giselle

The Wilis costumes are covered in vines, evocative of the forest they inhabit.

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Go behind the scenes of the Costume Shop and Wardrobe department to learn more about the hauntingly beautiful costumes of Giselle.

The Wilis costumes feature long, Romantic-style tutus.

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

The peasant costumes reflect the medieval period in which the ballet is set.

Photo Credit: Brooke Trisolini

One of the most beloved and enduring classical ballets, GISELLE tells the gripping tale of a peasant girl who goes mad with grief and dies of heartbreak after her aristocratic lover deceives her. Before the drama can unfold on stage, read how the Costume Shop & Wardrobe department works behind the scenes to bring the story to life.

A snapshot in time
Giselle is set in the Rhineland valley in medieval Germany. Giselle, a young peasant girl with a weak heart and passion for dancing, falls in love with Duke Albrecht, a nobleman in disguise who is engaged to another. Their love story is short-lived when Giselle realizes Albrecht’s deceit and dies of a broken heart. Boston Ballet’s Costume Shop and Wardrobe team works to transport the audience back in time with historical costumes that reflect the fashions of the era.

Originally created for Pittsburgh Ballet in 2016 by British designer Peter Farmer, these Giselle costumes are beautifully simplistic and traditional. The audience can look for period details in the ensemble costumes. The peasant women wear blouses with corseted bodices and the men don long tunics with decorated belts and tights. Bathilde, the noblewoman who is engaged to Albrecht, wears a more opulent costume that reflects her elevated social status. Her dress has an empire waistline made of heavy, rich-looking silk and brocade fabric with a long train. The royal finishing touch? “Bathilde is the only one in the ballet to wear any jewelry,” Wardrobe Supervisor Heather McLernon says.

Things are not always as they appear…
The second act of Giselle plays out in the otherworldly forest realm of the Wilis, spirits of betrothed young women who have died from grief after being betrayed by their unfaithful lovers. They enter the stage covered in long veils, looking like ghostly brides. However, McLernon reveals that the only dancer in the second act with an all-white costume is Giselle. “Because she is new to the forest, her tutu is fresh and white,” McLernon says, whereas the other Wilis’ costumes feature ombré gray tulle skirts and ivy-wrapped bodices.

Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal in Giselle.

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

Otherworldly alterations
The costumes were constructed with breathability and movability in mind. Most of them are either made of stretch material or have stretch panels inserted into them. This flexibility means that fewer alterations are required to get the best fit. It also means that the fabric is breathable and easy to move in, which is key for the dancers to be able to execute the challenging choreography of the ballet.

The hardest alteration to get right is the length of the Wilis tutus. The tutus worn in Giselle are longer than the typical romantic style tutu; they are altered to hit the ribbon line of the point shoe, rather than show the entire foot. It is important that each dancer in the ensemble be matched with an appropriate length tutu for uniformity. “The Wilis skirts have historically been a very specific length. When the dancers go into high arabesque, the skirt should hit the ground,” McLernon explains.

The long layers of tulle achieve an otherworldly effect. McLernon says, “The fabric is just lovely. It’s heavy, soft tulle that moves so beautifully, it just seems to float. I’m looking forward to seeing them all together on stage.”