With a little thought and effort, your first costume doesn’t have to be expensive, or even shop-bought.  It does, though, need to be appropriate and give adequate coverage, so please bear this in mind if you decide to make your own.  Below is some information about basic items of costuming, with advice on buying and making them, followed by some links to relevant websites:-

 

 

HAREM PANTS

 

These are very easy to make.  You’ll need 2 to 2½ metres of fabric depending on how tall you are.  Choose a soft fabric that will drape nicely, rather than anything too stiff or ‘poufy’.   Remember that if you go for something see-through, you will need to layer a skirt on top to give sufficient coverage.   A pair of harem pants was the first costume item I ever made, well over ten years ago, and they’re still going strong!   Here’s a link to how to make them:– how to make harem pants

 

 

CIRCLE SKIRTS

 

Again, these are very simple to make.  Be warned, though, that there can be quite a bit of hemming involved depending on the fabric you choose.  You will need between 4 and 6 metres of fabric, depending on how full you want the skirt to be.   Here’s a link:- how to make a circle skirt

 

There are also various sites selling ready-made circle skirts.   If you’re on a tight budget, have a look on e-bay, but be aware that a lot of the new ones being sold cheaply are single-layer and extremely see-through, so you will need to layer them over harem pants, or another skirt, to get adequate coverage. They may also be very skimpy size-wise.  It’s also worth looking on sites like e-bay and Bhuz for second hand ones being sold by other dancers, as these are likely to be better quality and may be double-layer or lined.   I have a good selection of skirts for sale in my online shop, Tezirah's Souk

 

TOPS

 

You don’t need to wear a bra top unless you feel comfortable doing so. There are lots of other options which are equally pretty but give more coverage, if that is what you would like. Many websites sell various tops specifically for belly dancing, decorated with coins and beads, and these often come with matching hip scarves if required. I have a variety of tops available in the souk

 

BRA TOPS

 

It’s fairly simple to cover and decorate your own bra top, but please make a note of the information below before you decide to have a go:-

 

  • Please resist the temptation to buy a pretty lingerie bra and just add a few sequins and dangly bits.  Whilst there is nothing wrong with using a good, robust bra as a base for your costume, it does need to be adequately covered (so that it no longer looks like underwear) before you start to decorate it. 
  • Bear in mind that when you cover your bra, tucking the covering fabric inside the cups will reduce the available space inside them; therefore you may need to buy a cup size larger than normal to accommodate both you and the fabric!  
  • The original backs and straps of lingerie bras should never be on display. They need to be fully covered or preferably removed and replaced with something sturdier. Not only does this give your costume a professional finish, but reinforcement is also necessary to ensure that your bra can stand up to the rigors of performance – the flimsy elastic straps of lingerie bras are not up to the job and costume malfunctions can be very embarrassing! 

HIP SCARVES (COIN BELTS)

 

There are literally hundreds of sellers (often based in India or China) on e-bay offering coined hip scarves.  Many of these can be bought for just a few pounds, but please bear in mind that you get what you pay for.  With regard to size, these belts can be very skimpy, so check the details carefully to be sure it is going to fit you before you buy one.  You may also discover that the coins on the very cheap belts have a tendency to fall off quite quickly.  It’s definitely worth paying a bit more to get something that’s going to last.  There are several websites in the UK that do good quality hip scarves at reasonable prices and I also have some good quality ones for sale in the souk which I buy from costumiers in Istanbul when I visit.

 

 

VEILS

 

I personally feel it is worth investing in a ready-made veil, unless you are a very competent seamstress, as uneven hemming can have an effect on the way a veil behaves when you are dancing with it. They come in various fabrics including chiffon, georgette, organza and silk, and they all behave differently, so it really does come down to what you like and feel comfortable with.  If you can, have a go with veils in different fabrics before you invest in one, so you can see what feels best for you. For taller dancers, it may be best to go for a rectangular veil as these tend to be larger.  Standard sizes vary from between 2½ to 3 yards in length and they are generally about 45” inches wide.  If you are 5’4” or under, you might want to consider a half-circle veil to begin with (as there will be no draping corners to trip over).  There are lots of websites selling veils, but some of the very cheap ones may be made of thicker fabric than is desirable, making them heavy and less willing to ‘fly’. I advise avoiding the ones that are trimmed with sequins around the edges as they have a tendency to get caught up on your costume. I have some lovely ones in the souk.  They are a silk mix and behave beautifully.

 

 

CABARET COSTUMES

 

There are various types of cabaret costume available.  These include Bra & Belt sets (also known as a Bedlah), Bra & Beaded Skirt sets and Cabaret Dresses (these generally have cut outs, sometimes with mesh inserts, so they look similar to a bra and skirt, but are in one piece and offer more coverage).  There are lots of these costumes available from overseas sellers on sites like e-bay, but they are rarely of very good quality and are not likely to last very long.

 

For a first cabaret costume, I would strongly recommend considering buying a good quality costume second hand.  You may find these on e-bay in private listings by dancers who are upgrading their costume collection.  The Marketplace on Bhuz is also an excellent resource.  You should be able to pick up a suitable second hand costume of a reasonable quality for around £100-150 if you’re prepared to hunt around a bit.

 

A bra and belt set (Bedlah) can be a good choice for a first costume as you can team it up with skirts and veils in different colours to ring the changes (especially if you can find one in a neutral colour like gold or silver). Skirts to team up with a Bedlah include circle skirts, double layer skirts, mermaid skirts, tulip skirts, the list is possibly endless and lots of ideas can be found on-line.

 

 

SHOES

 

Shoes are not usually necessary in a dance studio, although if you find your feet stick to the floor when you’re doing spins and turns it might be worth investing in a pair of ‘dance paws’.  These cover just the heel and ball of the foot (or sometimes just the ball), with a thong between the toes and straps across the top of the foot to hold them in place.   Try searching for 'lyrical dance sandals' for some reasonably priced ones which are fine for practice, or Capezio do some more robust ones that are good for performing at indoor venues (but buy at least one size larger than you think you’ll need in the Capezios as the sizing is not very generous).  Wearing socks is not advisable as the slip factor is too great.

 

If you are dancing outdoors, you will need more protection for your feet than dance paws can provide. There are soft pumps available specifically for belly dancing and these come in a wide variety of colours.  Alternatively, you could just buy a pair of every-day silver or gold pumps (but make sure there is plenty of flexibility in the sole and that they won’t slip off your foot while you’re dancing). I don’t advise wearing the open-toe, thong style of sandal as, although they look pretty, it’s very easy to catch the tip of the sole while you’re dancing (and it’s difficult to look elegant and graceful when you’ve just landed face down on the ground!)

 

COLOUR CHOICES

 

Before you invest in any costume items, whether store-bought or hand-made, do think carefully about what colours you enjoy wearing in your non-belly dance life. If black really is your most favourite colour, then that’s fine, but many people (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) start off with very dark colours (black, navy blue etc.) because they feel shy and don’t want to wear colours that will draw attention to them. Later, when the confidence butterfly has landed on your shoulder and bright colours have become the order of the day, the dull, drab costume items will get pushed to the back of the wardrobe and never see the light of day again. So avoid wasting money on things you may only want to wear for a few months. Be brave and go for colours you love and truly enjoy wearing. 

 

MAKING SURE IT FITS

 

Expensive mistakes can be avoided by careful measuring before you buy.  And be sure to e-mail or phone sellers if you have any questions, before you commit to buy.

 

Tops:  Measurements for tops are fairly straightforward.  They generally come in S/M/L etc., with corresponding UK dress sizes.

 

Skirts:  Circle skirts are pretty much free-size too, with elasticated bands at the top which stretch up to 44” or more.  Beware of cheap versions from overseas sellers however, as the ‘waistband’ on these often only stretches to around 34”.  This would be fine if you were actually wearing it around your waist, but these skirts need to sit at the top of your hipbone, so will need to be larger. Lengthwise, skirts should fall just clear of the floor, but be long enough to cover the ankle joint.  Any longer and they present a trip hazard and will also be vulnerable to dust and damage, too short and they won’t look right.

 

Hip Scarves / Coin Belts:  These do differ considerably in size from one supplier to another.  Generally speaking, the cheaper they are, the smaller they get.  Check the decorated length as well as the overall length.  Often a 60” belt (which sounds more than ample) will only have coins or beads on about 30” of its length, which means a fair size gap at the front or side when you tie it around your hips.

 

Cabaret Costumes:  When it comes to cabaret bras, the rules for measuring are completely different to street bras.  The ‘bra band’ measurement is the actual length of the band that goes around your body, just under the bust, not your normal bra size measurement.  These bands don’t normally have any stretch, so make sure it’s at least as big as you are (bigger is fine as you can overlap it)  Cup sizes such as ‘A’ or ‘DD’ are more of a guideline.  As the cups will be fairly rigid, the shape will be an important factor in whether or not it will fit you.  Most dancers who sell costumes on sites such as Bhuz will list internal cup measurements in inches or centimetres (height, width, diagonal measurement).  This is really helpful as, if you have a good fitting street bra, you can measure the inside of the cups to see if they are similar in size.

 

For belts, or decorated skirts, you will need two measurements – upper and lower hip.  The upper hip measurement is where the top of the belt or skirt will sit, just above the hip bone.  Having the belt sit snugly here will avoid having it slip down when dancing as the outward curve of your hip will keep it in place.   The lower hip measurement is the widest part of your booty and the belt or skirt should be shaped to accommodate this.   Lengthwise, the same rules apply for costume skirts as circle skirts.

 

I hope this information has been useful.  Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions about choosing costumes and I'll try to help.