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
Hey, all, just wanted to give a shout-out for a workshop that people have been asking me to do!
If you want to learn how to make dread falls, I have two great blog posts here and here. But now you can learn how to do this IN PERSON! Please come to this workshop! It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re not going to have time to make a full set, but I will show you all the steps you need to know, including installing the falls (which I haven’t yet done on the blog).
So if you are in the Chicago area, please consider stopping by and joining the workshop! You don’t even need to be a belly dancer! If you are interested in dread falls for any reason, please sign up! Click here!
The workshop will be at Arabesque Studios, 3120 W. Belmont, on Saturday the 15th at 12:00pm. Cost is $30 per person. Please pre-register by the 12th of December, because cost goes up at the door!
You will need the following items for this workshop (some extras will be available, but supplies are very limited, so please bring your own if you can):
- One package (at least) of Kanekalon Jumbo Braid hair (this can easily be found at most beauty supply stores, or go to Doctored Locks)*
- One comb (teasing comb is best–also found at beauty supply stores–but any comb will do)
- An iron or a hair straightening iron
- A spray bottle
- Two towels (one small, one large, if possible, but any two towels should do)
*You will actually need anywhere from 6-10 packages of hair, depending on what you are doing, for a full set of dread falls. But for the workshop, we’ll only be using one package. If you want more than one color, you can bring a second (or third!) color, and I can show you how to make spiral dreads.
Hello fellow dancers! It’s Monday, and it’s time for another weekly belly dance challenge! This week is going to be a little different.
Costuming in belly dance can be almost as important as your movements. Different styles of belly dance use different costuming, but it can be jarring to see practice wear on the stage. I’ve seen it. In fact, this post was inspired by a friend’s post on Facebook about “blinged out” practice gear being considered for performances. Yuck.
You see, professional belly dancers are trying very hard to get belly dance to be seen as a legitimate dance form. Belly dance is not easy to master, but a lot of people take a few classes, buy a $60 costume off eBay and start calling themselves professionals. Not cool.
Even if you have no intent of ever being a professional, it’s still a good idea to figure out what style of costuming is appropriate. Hence, this week’s challenge.
Beginner: You probably aren’t ready for performance yet, and that’s okay! But, you may at some point dance at a hafla with a student troupe. Student costuming, necessarily, is quite different from professional costuming. But it still should not be practice wear. A sports bra and a raggedy pair of Melodias is not appropriate for a student costume, even at a student hafla. So what’s the challenge? Don’t worry, it’s not going to break your bank! Think of this as a scavenger hunt! Watch some videos, browse costuming sites like Dahlal, or sites like Etsy. Take a look at what other student troupes in different styles are wearing. For Tribal, choli tops and colorful skirts work really well. For cabaret, previously owned costumes may still be too expensive. Try a half top and skirt from L. Rose instead. Don’t worry about buying them, just take a look at what others are wearing and what’s available. Every day this week spend a few minutes looking at sites, and see what’s out there. Stay away from bra tops that still look like bras (you shouldn’t be able to see the underwire, the thin lingerie straps, or the normal lingerie hooks), and from sports bras with necklaces pinned to them. Can you make a dream costume for under $80?
Intermediate: It’s definitely time for student haflas! If you are in a student troupe, you may already have a troupe costume. Take a look at it. Is it a bra with a necklace draped over it? Did you make it yourself? If you did, that’s great, but is the bra completely covered? Your challenge is going to be similar this week. Look at your own stuff, and look at what other troupes are wearing (remember that this is not a comparison challenge…you aren’t trying to find out if your costumes are better or worse than someone else’s; you are looking just to see what other people are wearing). Take a look at the sites listed above and see if maybe you can put together a good student costume for under $80. Again, don’t worry about buying it, just see what’s out there, and what you should be wearing. Again, stay away from uncovered bras and sets that look like craft-store projects.
Advanced: If you are a professional dancer, you should know better than to go on stage, representing belly dance as an art form, wearing an uncovered bra with some stuff slapped onto it and yoga pants. While not every costume has to be a Bella with half your yearly income worth of rhinestones on it, it should still be appropriate for the style and venue. I’ve seen professionals, at a show that I had to pay to get into, doing a traditional cabaret set in a choli tops and yoga pants. Not cool. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that your costume is as much a part of the show as your dancing. Why do you think cover-ups are such a big deal (oh, don’t get me started…you DO have a cover-up, right?). If your piece calls for a choli top and yoga pants, then go ahead and wear them. I’ve seen excellent performances in those items, but they fit the piece and the style. Your challenge is to go through your own closet and take a long, hard look at your costumes. Do you have any that are inappropriate (uncovered bras, plastic beading, etc.)? If so, don’t throw them out, just keep in mind that those are more appropriate for practice. If you don’t have any appropriate costumes, see what you can’t find on those websites. A good starter professional costume will only set you back about $150. Get one in silver or gold, and then buy a bunch of different colored skirts, and you have more than one costume that won’t send you into debt! Tribal ladies have the same challenge. Too many Tribal bras are plain black lingerie bras with some coins sewn on. See if you can’t find some that are covered instead.
Let’s all up the standards of belly dance costuming, okay? Believe me, if your costume is too distracting because it’s inappropriate, people will not remember you for your dancing, no matter how good it is. And for those just beginning, early education on appropriate costuming means you won’t be wasting your money later on if you do decide to perform!
Missed Part I of my dread falls tutorial? Find it here!
Okay, let’s get to putting those dreads to use! You will need:
- 20-40 individual dreads
- Small rubber bands (preferably matching)
- Elastic, 1/2″ wide
- First, you will need to cut some of the elastic. This is what will hold the dreads and allow you to tie them into your hair. Cut two pieces of approximately 12 inches or so (longer if you have a large bun, i.e. a lot of hair) of 1/2″ elastic.
- Hold the two pieces of elastic together and slide an “anchor” dread onto BOTH pieces of elastic. Use one of the small rubber bands to anchor the dread at the loop to the elastics. The rubber band needs to be tight, because this dread will keep all the others from falling off!
- Next, separate the two pieces of elastic and start slipping dreads onto each SINGLE piece of elastic. Add them equally to both pieces of elastic, and, if you have multiple colors, randomly space those out. Make it too ordered, and it might look weird and unnatural (yeah, because white and blue are natural…). Leave one last dread out as your second anchor.
- Add your second anchor dread by slipping the dread over BOTH pieces of elastic, just as you did in Step 2. Push all the dreads together, giving you a big “O” of dreads.
- And…repeat! You need two sets of dreads for installation, or even more. When I wear my full set, I actually have 4 dread falls on my head! The next post will be all about how to install them! Keep an eye out for it!
Ya know, this post (and the previous one) has taken a lot of work, so, if you enjoyed this post, please consider DONATING. I’d be forever grateful if you donated a little bit of money to cover the large amount of time I used to bring you this post, and others. Support your community! Just click the DONATE button on the right side, and thanks so much!
I’ve been asked about my dread falls (side note: dreadlocks are the ones that stay in your hair permanently, and are usually made from your own hair, but can be also made with fake hair. Dread falls are fake hair that you can take out) a lot…are they my real hair? Where did I get them? How did I make them? I’ve both bought and made my own dread falls. I prefer to buy them, but sometimes you just can’t find what you want. Why do I prefer to buy them? My time is valuable, and dread falls take an awful lot of time to make. It’s easier (though not cheaper) to just buy them. The time it takes to make them is why they usually cost so much when you buy them, but I personally think it’s a pretty good deal.
But…making them is easy. So, if you have a spare 8 hours or so, go ahead and make them. Yep, it will take about 6-8 hours to make a full set of dread falls. And it will take longer for your first set, trust me.
What you need:
- Kanekalon hair (natural colors can be found at nearly any beauty supply store, while unnatural colors will probably have to be bought from Amazon or Doctored Locks; if you are making an entire set of falls, you will probably need 8-9 packages of hair for full length, 4-5 for short)
- Teasing comb (also found at any beauty supply store)
- Water spritz bottle
- Iron or hair straightener (irons take longer, hair straighteners are expensive if you don’t already have one)
- Something to hold the hair (I use an old piece of ugly fabric)
- Chair or other item with vertical legs
- Ironing board if you are using an iron
- Elastic, 1/2″ wide
- Small rubber bands (the tiny kind used at the ends of cornrows) in a matching color, if possible
- First, tie whatever it is you are using to hold the hair to your chair. I use this method because it makes a loop at one end of the dread, thus giving you a way to anchor the dread either directly to your head (you braid them in) or to a piece of elastic to make falls. Take a look at the picture, it’s easier 🙂 You need to be able to remove the dread from it at the end!
- Open up the package of hair. Kanekalon gets EVERYWHERE, so make sure you ALWAYS know where the middle is, and keep it bunched up together or you will have a mess on your hands. Remove the little rubber bands and anything else that holds the hair together.
- Loop the hair over your holder and let it spread out a bit. If you are making shorter dreads, cut the hair in half and then loop it over your holder.
- Take a chunk of hair and separate it out from the rest. Typically, I am able to get 5 to 6 dreads per package of hair, but the thickness will be up to you. Thinner dreads mean you will be making a lot more of them (takes more time) but thicker dreads are harder to steam. Mine are usually about the width of my pointer finger (and I have skinny fingers) or a little thinner. This will now be the “lock” of hair you will be working with.
- Braid a small section of the lock of hair, only one or two cross-overs. This will help hold the loop and keep the dread together. You don’t need to braid much of it, just enough to keep the loop.
- Start back-combing using the teasing comb, including the short braid. You will be doing this for good, long while. Make sure to get all sides of the hair, and all the way down to the tips. The hair will start to get fluffy and the braid will make a sort of tangle.
- Back-comb some more. You will get really tired of it.
- Once the lock is really fluffy, shove it over to the side. I typically will back-comb an entire package, then steam it, but you are welcome to steam each dread as you finish them. Whatever works for you.
- Once you are ready to steam, plug in your iron or straightener. My iron is typically set to a medium-high setting, or the “silk” setting. Kanekalon will melt, so you can’t go too high, but if it isn’t hot enough, the dread won’t stay twisted. You may have to experiment.
- Starting at the loop/braid, start really tightly twisting the dread. It needs to be tight. I don’t twist the whole thing yet; I go in sections, it’s easier to keep hold of and you get less “escapage” from the dread.
- Drape your towel over the dread, making sure it goes all the way up to the loop.
- Spray down the towel. If this is your first dread, you really do need to soak the towel reasonably well. It doesn’t need to drip, but it does need to be fairly wet. Otherwise it will not create enough steam to hold the dread. This isn’t a problem once the towel is damp after a few dreads, but usually my first dread needs to be resteamed.
- Place the iron on the top of the dread and hold for 8-10 seconds (it should hiss; if it doesn’t, the towel isn’t wet enough). If you are using a straightener, you have an advantage, because you can do two sides at once. With the iron, I then steam each side and the bottom of the dread, making sure the towel covers the dread the whole time. Don’t let the bare iron touch the dread for very long. If using an iron, be prepared to burn your fingers a little with the steam generated. Take precautions.
- Take the towel off and check the twist. If it stays, repeat steps 10-13 down to the ends of the dread. If it doesn’t, re-wet the towel and re-steam the dread.
- The end of the dread is tricky. I usually set it on the ironing board, soak it down really well with water, twist it, and then roll the iron back and forth across it. It needs to be really wet and really fast, otherwise the hair will melt to your iron. Messy!
- Clip any straggly ends off with the scissors and push that dread to the side.
- Repeat and repeat and repeat! It usually takes me about 45 minutes to do 1 package of hair, but it depends on what I’m doing with the dreads. Fancy effects like two-tones and spiraled dreads take longer.
- This next step is optional. I like my dreads really tight, and sometimes the iron just doesn’t do the job. I’ll then boil a big pot of water and quickly dip the dread in the water to re-set them. This works especially well to tighten up the loop (stick a wooden spoon handle through the loop before dipping it into the water). It’s also a faster way to re-set all your dreads after a few times of wearing them (they will start to get a little loose).
Next time, I’ll show you how to put the dreads on elastic so that you can actually wear them. However, you can also braid these dreads into your hair for a semi-permanent option.
Ya know, this post has taken a lot of work, so, if you enjoyed this post, please consider DONATING. I’d be forever grateful if you donated a little bit of money to cover the large amount of time I used to bring you this post, and others. Support your community! Just click the DONATE button on the right side, and thanks so much!
Okay, I know you’ve probably heard or read other dancers discussing proper belly dance costuming, but apparently we aren’t speaking loudly enough, or typing fast enough. Or something. Because this is still not getting the attention it deserves.
Everyone has costuming problems. I have yet to sit through a belly dance show without some sort of costume mishap. And sometimes, it’s even my mishap. It happens to us all. No matter how many times we practice in it and how many metal detectors go off because of the safety pins, when you get on stage a skirt will slip a little too far. Or you have no idea what you were thinking when you bought that latest fringed crasseled monstrosity. Or your hair flowers are determined to fall off everywhere you go, even after resorting to Super Glue. Or the color ended up looking hideous on you after all. I’ve even seen an A-list belly dance star, in a professional show, actually stop dancing to remove a costume piece that was not cooperating (she handled it gracefully and with a sense of humor, so it was not embarrassing). It happens, and it happens to all of us.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that we can do to prevent it. There are guidelines we can follow to present ourselves as professional dancers, and not professional strippers. Yes, I just said that.
Rule #1: NO UNCOVERED BRAS. This continues the stereotype that we are strippers, and is UNACCEPTABLE. If an audience can see the bra straps and hooks, it is not properly covered. A single swag of beads or a few feathers glued onto a lingerie bra is NOT a costume. Do you really want your audience to be thinking, “Is she wearing…a bra?” No, they should be thinking, “Wow, what a beautiful costume. Look at the bead work.” We are NOT up there to dance in our underwear. If funding is an issue, there are functional new costumes available for less than $200, and used ones on Bhuz.com, eBay, etc. for less (or more).
Rule #2: NO VISIBLE SAFETY PINS. Yes, we all use safety pins to make sure that our belts don’t migrate around our skirts, but they should not be visible. Also, if you are concerned that your bra will pop open, you should consider stronger (or more) hooks (the proper kind, NOT the lingerie kind) and placing a safety pin on the UNDERSIDE of the strap. This will probably require assistance but is better than having a huge, visible safety pin obviously keeping your bra closed. You can disregard this rule for any 70s/80s punk-inspired looks.
Rule #3: WEAR A COSTUME THAT FITS. Be honest with yourself. Belly dance is a beautiful art form that embraces women of all sizes and ages–and that’s one of its most wonderful aspects. But no matter how thin or fat or in-between you are, muffin tops and armpit bulges are not pretty. This also goes the other way. If you have to stuff a sock in it, you need to get a smaller size. Yes, we CAN see the sock. If your skirt slips, add elastic, safety pins, or wear a body stocking to pin it to. (Disclaimer: I’ve probably made this mistake the most…because I lost a lot of weight and suddenly nothing fit and I had gigs. But I got new costumes ASAP.)
Rule #4: WEAR A COSTUME THAT FITS THE PIECE. Asharah recently posted a blog that should be required reading for any belly dancer. If you are performing a classic Egyptian piece, don’t wear yoga pants, please. Although there is such a thing as tribaret costuming, and that’s cool. Just don’t call it a classical Egyptian piece. People will be confused when they expect a bright shiny bedlah or a sleek and modest dress and end up with yoga pants and a halter top. If you read my previous post, you should know that I have NO problem with fusion and pushing boundaries. But your costume should still match the piece. When I danced as a zombie Nurse from the Silent Hill games , I dressed like a zombie Nurse from the Silent Hill games. No shiny things there. And yes, there was fake blood, just like I promised.
Rule #5: PRIVATES REMAIN PRIVATE, meaning your costume should fit (see above) and should be modest enough that your privates do not hang or pop out, even in your most athletic movements. It also means you should be wearing proper underwear for the costume. I’m not saying don’t wear daring costumes; I’m saying make sure they are merely daring and not scandalous.
This topic is getting into dead-horse territory, yet I still see these mistakes. I’ve even made some of them myself. This post isn’t meant to point fingers or embarrass anyone; I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had some whoopsie costume moments. I fix the problem and move on, and so should you!