Photos: Universal Pictures, Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock, & Phillip Caruso/Touchstone/Kobal/Shutterstock

Fashion

Dance Movies Of The ‘00s Are The Ultimate Fashion Time Capsule

Straight-out-of-music-video looks of 'Save the Last Dance,' 'Honey,' and 'Step Up'

For almost as long as film itself has existed, dance films have been a form of cinematic escapism. From the "let's put on a show" panache and trippy choreography of '30s Busby Berkeley numbers to the delightful duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to the Technicolor splendor of big-budget musicals to the extremely '80s styling of Flashdance — to name just a few prominent examples — dance, in all its genre variations, has endured. The early aughts were a particularly fruitful time for dance films, with both pop and hip-hop aesthetic influences added to the tried-and-true (some might say cliché) template. A five-year span alone gave us Save the Last Dance (2001), Honey (2003), and Step Up (2006) — all films featuring memorable wardrobes that encapsulated any trend an early millennium teen could want.

A hallmark of the dance movie is the sartorial division between private rehearsal and public performance looks. In the hip-hop dance world of Honey, rehearsals call for pants that are a one-two punch of potentially unflattering silhouettes: baggy and low-cut. To top it all off, the pants are camouflage, a pattern favored at the time. Midriff-baring looks were all the rage, and much of Honey functions as an advertisement for Jessica Alba's perfectly toned abs. She pairs the pants with an off-the-shoulder top (a dance movie favorite for presumably combining practicality and sexiness) and a matching sports bra.

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While Honey is solely rooted in the hip-hop world (complete with a Missy Elliott cameo), Save the Last Dance and Step Up find themselves negotiating the space between the rebellious energy of hip-hop and the classical, outdated conventions of ballet. In Save the Last Dance, Julia Stiles goes from dowdy overalls-and-oval glasses combo to a more chill, street-savvy raglan shirt paired with baggy pants and sneakers. For her final dance performance, she wears an all-black outfit that can meet the demands of both universes.

Photos: Phillip Caruso/Buena Vista/Kobal/Shutterstock

Similarly, in Step Up, Channing Tatum's bro-ish muscle tanks, sagging pants, and community service-mandated jumpsuit are an obvious contrast to Jenna Dewan's leotards, leg warmers, and heels.

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In Honey, trendy pieces like a Juicy Couture velour hoodie (paired with a Rick James T-shirt) and pants with text emblazoned on the butt make the title character look cool but approachable to the film's teen audience. The off-the-shoulder silhouette comes back at the end of the film and, amusingly, when Honey goes to a bank seeking financial aid to save her dance program. The off-the-shoulder look is casual yet graceful. Even when Honey dances professionally in a music video, her sports bra and (ultra low-cut, obviously) sweatpants look like they could be rehearsal wear, but the body consciousness and casual swagger of the look fits the video vixen vibe of the early 2000s.

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Both Honey and Save the Last Dance feature fabulous going-out tops. In Honey, an earth-tone halter nods to the '70s influence that maintained a stronghold through the late '90s and beyond. Hoop earrings, jeans, and a tight ponytail all split the difference between hippie and hip-hop.

Screenshot & Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Stiles' character arc in Save the Last Dance sees her acquiring an enviable wardrobe of nightclub looks as she tries to "fit in" with a more diverse social group and gains confidence in her moves. First, she wears a patterned tank top with a matching headscarf. While the headscarf could be seen as an attempt at hip-hop styling, the matchiness comes off as prim, much like her wardrobe from earlier in the film. Later, she wears a shimmering, disco-ready top that reflects flatteringly under sultry club lighting. By the final scene, her journey of self-assurance is complete, and she has the revealing top and low-cut pants to prove it.

Watching Save the Last Dance, Honey, and Step Up in 2020 feels like a time capsule of a world just before the dawn of social media. The flirty looks onscreen are straight out of a music video (aired on TV!), but there's an attempt, through rehearsal scenes and then-current silhouettes, to keep things down-to-earth and wearable. You might be able to predict how all these dance movies will end, but the looks onscreen will still be a nostalgic treat — one that may surprise you with a fashion comeback.