There is little to guide us on the skirt’s original shape. There are few useful critical descriptions, and related material is scarce and problematic. No tutus from the period have been located, for instance. Scholars typically see Little Dancer’s original tutu as like those in drawings long related to the project (see fig. 1). If Degas’s formal aims for the sculpture can be gauged from the drawings, then the latter offer several options as plausible approximations. Like work tutus represented in Paul Renouard’s prints and many photographs of the period, Degas’s painted and drawn versions are mostly full, falling, often in graduated layers, to just above the knee, with either V-shaped triangular points or a straight hem. Some flare diagonally, as in the inventory photographs of Little Dancer, and others bell extravagantly, particularly one attached to a bodice with a dropped and pointed waist, as on Little Dancer. If the figure’s tutu was white, as Bertall claims and as in Degas’s drawings and documented versions, it probably asserted itself aggressively — far more so than the modest example in the inventory photograph and on the current wax, which may have discolored with exposure and dirt. The tutu’s longest length in the inventory photographs of the wax is closer to those in the drawings than to those on the bronzes.
Other exhibition reviews may help. Two critics of 1881 refer to the dancer’s legs: for Huysmans, admirable legs shaped by exercise, nervous and twisted; for Ephrussi, sensitively curved — qualities that most strongly apply to the knotted, muscular thighs. If her tutu was as long as period examples, those critical descriptions suggest it was translucent enough to reveal at least hints of the upper legs. Degas’s two-dimensional renderings are difficult to use as reference because the limbs visible through a diaphanous tutu in a drawing might simply indicate a summary sketch; many in pastel or more fully rendered in paint instead explore the tutu’s dazzlingly reflective white surface. Another possibility is viewpoint: a tall pedestal would have provided a clearer view of her upper legs, but there is no evidence of the sculpture’s exhibited height.