Closet crush: Alessandra Ball James


May 28, 2024

Closet vanity of Alessandra Ball James

by Whitley Adkins  |  photographs by Amy Kolo

Upon graduating from high school, Atlanta native Alessandra Ball James told her parents she wanted to be a professional dancer. With her family’s support, James, known to many as Alex, left for Denver, where she first danced professionally for The Colorado Ballet. After one season, she moved to Charlotte and joined the North Carolina Dance Theater, now known as Charlotte Ballet. 

After a year in Madrid, she returned to the Queen City, where she met her future husband. “We fell in love and got married with an intimate wedding and reception held at Pewter Rose. My dress was a beautiful Romona Keveza gown — it was structural and one shoulder. I wore it again, without the bridal train, when I performed at The Kennedy Center for the Obamas at The Kennedy Center Honors [in 2014].” 

Living in Charlotte on and off since 2002 with her husband and son, Charlie, James danced professionally with The Charlotte Ballet for 15 seasons until she retired in 2020. 

James’ dance career has influenced her fashion choices. “I don’t like to have pictures of myself dancing throughout the house, so the closet is a place where I can put up pictures of myself dancing and have special memories and a little inspiration.”

“I knew during lockdown that I enjoyed being home. I knew a lot of things were going to change, at least for the short term. And I just saw that as an opportunity to kind of bow out at that moment. That’s the beauty of life. Just the same as getting dressed — sometimes you change your mind at the last moment.” 

While retiring from dance was a big adjustment, James has no regrets. “I found a way to express myself through my style, projects at home, through being fully present at home as a mom, a wife and a friend, and it’s been fun.” She’s also teaching private lessons again. “It’s been a real and amazing journey reinventing myself, and with that, I think my style has also shifted a bit, too.” 

How would you describe your personal style?

Classic and delicious, and I’ll tell you why. My best friend Sarah James and I went to Miami together. Someone reached out to her on Instagram and asked if we were sisters. My Instagram name is @burritojames. The person that messaged said, “Oh my gosh, Burrito’s your sister, and your name is Sarah? Your mom named you Burrito and Sarah… That’s Classic and Delicious!”… I’m a Gemini… sometimes I’m classic, and sometimes I’m wild.

Who are your favorite designers?

Mara Hoffman, Alaia, Loeffler Randall, Self-Portrait. And the classics — Chanel, Dior. My mom raised me to buy pieces for special occasions. She was so stylish. The way she would shop, I would say, is the way I shop now: Looking for fun, unique, colorful pieces. Always wearing something just a little bit different. My Alaia shoes are probably my favorite thing in my closet. I love them so much.

Do you have a favorite occasion for which to dress?

I love getting dressed for my husband’s work events and our date nights. I enjoy being around fun, festive people who want to have a good time. I never listen to the dress code. I always kind of dress over the dress code. I dress for me, I dress to feel good, I dress to express myself. 

Do you have any style icons?

My mom… She loves to dress super colorfully and beautifully. And, of course, you. I see a picture of you and it sparks an idea. It’s nice to have people in the community that you see pictures of, talk to, and can ping off of and get ideas. My best friend, Sarah James. Also, being a ballet dancer for so long, that molded the way I view fashion, what I like to wear and how I like to express myself through fashion.

Alessandra Ball James grabbing a Chanel clutch
Alessandra Ball James lounging in her closet

Does anything else inspire your personal style?

My Panamanian roots. My mom is from Panama. It’s very colorful and shows a lot of movement. Sometimes, a little ugly is good, too. A little ugly is important in order to keep it interesting. 

Do you have a favorite decade or genre?

No, but I love the blend of everything. It is really cool to see how fashion always cycles back and we’re always inspired by ourselves. That’s what style is to me, blending it all together. The high and the low, the decades and the eras. 

Style philosophy and formula:

Style is not having to wear head-to-toe designer labels… It’s not how much you spend on it. It’s how you put it together and express yourself. I don’t have any formula at all… I’m driven by a little bit of inspiration and a little bit of impulsivity. I like to be a little classic and delicious, a little wild and a little tame, a little pretty and a little ugly. It’s all about the balance of finding things that are interesting, funky and fun. We only live once, so it’s OK to have fun with what we put on our bodies and not take it too seriously.

Where do you shop?

Moda Operandi, Net-a-Porter, Revolve, Farfetch and Showroom. I shop online a lot because it’s fun to scroll through the sites. I do want to invest in pieces that I can wear often. Also Amazon. I love a high-fashion, really unique piece, but you can’t shop like that all the time. It’s not real, it’s not practical.  SP


Pattern or solid: Pattern, for sure
Texture or sleek: Texture
Tweed or floral: Sequins and feathers!
Ready-to-wear or couture: Of course, my knee-jerk is couture, but ready-to-wear  
Winter or summer: Dressing for a fabulous vacation in St. Barth’s!
Kitten heel or stiletto: Platforms
Sunglasses or lipstick: Sunglasses
Runway or street style: Street style
Work or retirement: Retirement, for sure, but I’m always hustling.
Full price or clearance: Probably thrifted. I love a good sale. 
Purse or clutch: Clutch, but my little asterisk is it has to have an optional over-the-shoulder chain. I want something small, but it has to fit my phone.

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