Costumes, in belly dance, are the reward for all the hard work we put into our craft. They are fun, they are sparkly, and they make us feel like queens or princesses or just flat out beautiful. Many of us spend hours pouring over websites that sell costumes, or immerse ourselves in boards for selling and buying used costumes.
And, weirdly, belly dance is one of the few art forms where trading costumes, reusing old ones, is totally okay. In fact, unless you make them yourself, you are more likely to buy costumes from other dancers than a new one, especially when you are first starting out. Costumes are expensive, because they are hand made, and are works of art. We want to preserve them, passing them on to other dancers instead of throwing them away or tearing them apart for their beads and rhinestones.
But we’ve all been here: we’re excited to get a new (to us) costume, but when it arrives it’s in worse shape than the seller said. Or it smells. Or it really is too big or too small, or the skirt is too long or too short. It happens, and it will happen to you at some point.
This is not cause for despair or for chewing out the seller! Sometimes it’s not their fault, and sometimes, it might be yours! (Always ask the seller what sort of damage there is. If you don’t, and the price is low, then you are asking for a fixer-upper and it’s better to know about it ahead of time). Something may have gone wrong in shipping. Some areas around the country aren’t known for their reliable postal service, and you may find that your costume got wet or damaged because of incompetent postal workers and rough handling of the package.
So what can you do? Don’t try reselling it (and continuing the cycle of foisting the costume on to someone else!) Resurrect it instead!
Keeping It Clean in the First Place
First of all, if you are the first owner of a costume, there is a lot you can do to keep it in good shape for the next buyer. Here’s an article on how to keep your costumes clean! Let’s all do our belly dance sisters a favor and use linings in our costumes, air them out after a performance before packing them away, and don’t wear them for long stretches of time (if you have a curtain call after a show, take at least the bra off and USE YOUR COVER-UP; you should be wearing one anyway when not performing!)
There are also things you can do to prevent damage. I HATE Egyptian fringe, because you will always lose beads. Too bad Egyptian fringe moves so beautifully! What do I do? I use fabric glue and glue the tiny knot at the end of each strand. Don’t use a lot, or you will glue all your fringe together! Glue a few strands at a time, let it dry, and repeat. The glue dries clear and no one will ever know…except now you won’t lose beads so easily!
Don’t eat (or serve food…yeah, I’ve done that and it sucks), smoke, or apply makeup while in costume. If you must, ALWAYS wear a cover-up. If you smoke, know that no one is likely to buy your costumes unless they are a smoker themselves (here’s a website that can help you quit). Costumes with glitter or other metallic accents can lose the shine over time. Not much can be done about the glitter, but if you have shiny fabric, try not to rub it (don’t sit in it, don’t wear the bra unless you are performing, etc.) and be especially careful when washing it.
Washing Costumes…wait, what?!
Yes, you can wash costumes, and I’m not just talking about Tribal skirts and cholis! There have been lots of articles about how to clean costumes, so I’m not going to just rehash that here. I will link them, though! Here are some excellent articles on removing odors by Shira and a thread on Bhuz with Princess Farhana’s advice (she used to have it on her website, but the page can no longer be found; just go down to the fifth entry on the Bhuz page).
I can add a few pieces of advice here, though. I follow Princess Farhana’s advice pretty closely, but I’ve found that fragrance-free, dye-free, “green” detergent can also work in a pinch if you don’t have Woolite. It is also super important to squeeze the water out with the towel. Don’t hang the costume dripping wet; the weight will cause it to stretch.
To prevent mildewing of a costume after washing, which is especially important with Turkish costumes or other types with heavy beading and thick fabric, like buckram (or if you live in a high-humidity area), use a fan to speed up drying. I have a drying rack that I use. I put the fan, facing upwards, on the bottom of the rack, and then lay the costume out on the top. Depending on how humid it is, drying it this way will only take a few hours to overnight. Just make sure the beading won’t get caught in the fan!
Yeah, I know, most of us don’t have the time to repair costumes. But really, it doesn’t take that much time, nor does it take a lot of skill. “But, it’s beading!” Well, yeah, but if you can sew on a button, you can repair some beading. It’s not really that hard.
Need beads? One great site is Fire Mountain Gems. There will also likely be bead stores in your area; just look up seed beads (which are the type used most in costume decoration, like fringe and edging). Take your costume (the bra might be easiest) with you in order to match color and size (and sometimes shape; hex-cut beads are often used because they sparkle more). I recommend finding a local business rather than shopping online because it will be easier for a beginner beader to get help from the staff in finding the right beads (and because, well, it’s a local business and it’s important to support local businesses…because you are one too!)
All you need to do then is follow the same pattern. Don’t worry if it’s not exact! Usually, the areas that need repair won’t be that big, and if someone can notice a repair that small from dozens of feet away while you are dancing, there’s something more wrong than just your beading skills!
Need help? I absolutely lurve this website! She has much more about costume making than just how to bead, so be sure to check out the whole website. Everything I know about costume making, I learned from that site (or from making my own mistakes!)
Repairing holes in the fabric can be more challenging, but it can be done. Holes in the seams can easily be stitched up by hand. Tears in the fabric itself (often near the hem because of heels) are a little bit more challenging. You might have luck, if you have tiny stitches, in just sewing the hole closed. But you might be able to stitch up the hole, and cover it up, with some beading! Check out the design of your costume and see if it’s plausible. Consider sewing a similar design elsewhere on the costume so that there isn’t just a random bit of beading somewhere. Or add small tassels of beads randomly about the costume (including where the hole is), which will take less time than a flatwork design.
Sometimes, you just gotta have a costume, and it’s not quite the right size. Or maybe you over/under estimated or didn’t measure correctly (or the seller didn’t!) and now you’re stuck with something that doesn’t fit!
Bra straps (and belts) are easy to fix: just move the hooks. Any professional dancer should know how to move hooks to resize bras and belts. If the costume came with flimsy ones (often the case with Egyptian costumes), you can even leave them in place and sew your own sturdier hooks in the right places. I always use two, facing in opposite directions so that if one goes, the other will likely stay. Just make sure to use sturdy thread (I use embroidery thread) and sew enough to keep those hooks in place!
Straps that are way too long can be a bit more of a problem. One costume, that I had ordered custom made, came way, way, way too big (I’m not talking a little bit…I ordered a 36D and ended up getting a 46DD or bigger). The straps, which were like regular bra straps (meaning they were not adjustable, and sewn onto the sides and back of the bra, permanently), were so long the bra hung around my waist. I thought I would have to return it, but I needed the costume right away. So I cut the straps off of the back of the bra, removed part of the beading, and added hooks to the ends of the straps. Then, on the inside of the bra, I added hooks at an angle so that I could cross the bra straps fully across my back (yeah, they were that long).
When cups are are too big, just add padding…but PLEASE don’t make it a sock! In Dina-style bras, the socks are often easily visible from the sides! Most fabric stores, or stores that specialize in female underwear, will have “cookies” that can be inserted and either pinned or sewn into place.
Resizing can be more difficult, and you’ll have to have more skills. Again, Shushanna has an excellent tutorial on resizing bras. I especially like the technique of adding fabric for a too-small bra.
Hemming skirts might be tricky, but I have seen it done, even with beading on the edges. You can either take the beading off (daunting) and then hem it and add the beading back on, or you can just tuck all of it up under and use a loose stitch to hold it in place (that way, if you sell it, the buyer has an option of just taking the stitching out for the extra length). If the beading is just around the bottom hem, no one will know, because there is no design to interrupt. If the bottom of the skirt isn’t an option, sometimes the middle is! Depending on the design of the skirt, you might be able to take up an inch or two by folding up the fabric near the “seat” of the costume and sewing (carefully) along the edge where the beading ends, using the beading to hide the stitches. Or add ruching (loose gather) by sewing double lines of long stitches in strategic areas of the upper part of the skirt, then pull them to draw the fabric into a gather. Sew it down with regular stitching (which you might be able to cover up with rhinestones!) You might be able to take off two or three inches just by adding ruching, and it can be done in and around the beading.
Got any other ideas for resurrecting costumes? I’ve even seen beading taken off and completely replaced onto a whole new bra! That might be too much work, but what else can we do to resurrect our costumes? I’d love to hear ideas, so please comment below!
(The costume in the picture above was my first costume ever, and I had to “resurrect” it. It smelled AWFUL and had weird flimsy hooks in all the wrong places. I had to wash it TWICE before the smell came out of it. Luckily it has so much fringe that the small amount of missing fringe doesn’t matter. But I did use fabric glue on every.single.strand. of the rest of the beads. It took a long, long, long time.)
Photo credit: The Dancer’s Eye by Carrie Meyer