BY PRINCESS FARHANA
Belly dance costumes come in a mind-boggling array of styles and colors , ranging from simple, modestly-priced folkloric dresses to extravagant, hand-beaded and Swarovsky crystal-studded imports that can set you back a few hundred…or a few grand. In the early 1990’s as a baby dancer, eager to buy my first “legit” stage costume, I was astounded ( like many beginners) at how expensive they were. Wistfully fingering a glittering Egyptian Madame Abla creation priced at $725.00, I amused all the professional dancers within earshot by loudly wailing, “I’ve had three cars that cost less than this… and they all ran for years!”
Yes, you CAN wash belly dancing costumes… fill your bathtub with luke warm or cool water, and squeeze in a few drops of liquid soap designed for hand-washable fabrics, like Woolite. You can also a mild dish-washing soap, or even baby shampoo. Make sure you use cool water to avoid colors running and shrinkage. Place the costume in your tub and with your hands, swish it around gently for about a minute. Drain the tub, fill with clean water, swish some more. Repeat this rinsing process three or four times to get all the soap out. Remove your costume from the water and roll up the bra and belt (separately) in clean dry towels. Gently squeeze to absorb the excess moisture. Place your costume on a flat surface, on top of a dry towel, straighten the fringe, and let it dry. If you are washing a skirt and veil that is heavily beaded, dry them flat as well, to keep the garment’s shape. This drying process will probably take 2-3 full days because of the bulk of the beads and the padding, but you will be amazed at how sparkly and new your costume looks!
Costume Storage: After wearing my costumes, let them air out overnight. Store your costumes in jumbo plastic zipper-lock bags - or you can use the kind that come with sets of sheets or blankets. This way, they are easy to grab and pack into a gig bag on a moment’s notice. Some dancers store their costumes in stackable plastic shelving boxes, too. Many roll their bras and belts in a small towel, and some girls also put a little sachet or even a Bounce dryer sheet in with the costume to keep it smelling fresh . I usually pack accessories ( such as jewelry, gauntlets, wrist and ankle bands, etc.) in with the costume, but you can also keep a small box or zippered plastic cosmetic bag in your dance gig-bag to hold bracelets, earrings, necklaces, bindis, etc. that you will use on stage.
When packing tiaras, I use a small, round container ( cookie tins or those disposable microwave Tupperware type containers work well) to keep the crown from getting crushed. The left-over space can be used for storing bra-pads, a small sewing kit, safety-pins, a set of eye-lashes and glue, bobby pins, band aids and tampax…believe, me, all this stuff comes in handy!
Fringe Benefits: You can make an old or worn-out bra and belt set look brand-new just by replacing the fringe, which is usually what wears out first. On Egyptian costumes, it is easy to remove. Open the lining of the costume, cut off the threads holding the old fringe and baste in it’s replacement, then sew the lining closed again. If you make your own costumes, buy extra fringe in the same color to use for spot replacement and repairs. Egyptian fringe is hand-down the best and most durable. It is knotted between each strand, so if one length breaks, you just lose that piece, not the whole thing. You can buy cheaper fringe at fabric or notions stores- it usually comes threaded onto a ribbon. The space between each hanging length is farther apart than the Egyptian kind, and you will probably have to double it for two reasons: so it looks better, and so it becomes stronger.
Here’s a great hint from my friend Juliette Arroyo, who makes her own costumes: she buys ‘generic’ colored fringe in gold or silver, measures it to her belts, cuts the fringe, then sews it onto a cotton twill row of snaps, which can be purchased at most fabric stores. On the inside of her belts, she sews another row of snaps. This way, she has removable fringe, that can be inter-changed with many costumes, to save money .
Veils : It is easy to make your own veils in chiffon- or have someone make one for you. This is much cheaper than buying them, and chiffon is a lot easier to use than those beaded Egyptian veils that look awesome but stick to everything and are hard to use… simply purchase anywhere from two and a half to four yards of chiffon, and hem the edges on a sewing machine. Silk veils are a bit more expensive than chiffon, but worth it, because silk moves so beautifully. Buy one that is tie-dyed in a few colors, so it can be worn with multiple costumes! Veils can be dyed or tie-dyed easily, at home, too. Make sure the dye if mixed well, so it won’t leave spots on the fabric or look un-even. If the veil is embellished with sequins, use very hot water, and place the veil in AFTER the water has boiled and cooled. If you boil the veil, the sequins may actually melt. The good news is that the sequins won’t take the dye, they will retain their own metallic color.
QUICKIE “INSTA-COSTUME”: Need an ethnic , Tribal or fusion coin costume in a pinch? No prob! Buy two Indian chain-link coin belts (usually about $15-$20.00) . Tack one belt onto a felt hip-band. Black felt can be used by itself or covered with a colored material or a decorative beaded or coined hip-scarf. This will strengthen the coin-belt as well as keep it from snagging the material of your skirts. Take the other coin belt, and cut it into equal thirds, using an old scissors. You can also take a pliers and un-hook the jump-rings. Take a plain black bra, and fasten one of the three pieces diagonally over each cup, running from the bra-strap to center (cleavage) of the bra. Sew the chain only, let the coins dangle free. Take the last third of the belt and make a U-shaped loop, sewing each end to the center of the bra-band, to act as a belly-drape. All this should take you no longer than an hour…really! Wear this bra and the belt you have just made with a full skirt ( or layer a couple), big hoop earrings, lots of bracelets and coin necklaces, and heavy, dark eye-make-up. Add a head scarf or Turkish vest if you want.
… go onstage in a cabaret-style costume un-hemmed veils or skirts- people WILL notice and it looks tacky! If you are going for a ‘deconstructed’ fusion look, fine… but at least hem your damn veil!
…wear metal coin or chain ankle bracelets onstage. They look great in photos, butt Murphy’s Law says they will catch on your skirt and trip you while you dance.
…buy a new or used costume that is too small for you. You can make larger costumes smaller by altering them, but a too-tight costume will sit too high on your hips, and your cups will runneth over!
…spray perfume directly on your costume- the alcohol in it will cause beads and sequins to lose their color.
… look for bargains in used costumes, you can make them look great! Some of them just need to be washed, or have the fringe replaced where it has worn out.
… be “forward thinking” in your costuming- think of every day items that would look great if used and/or recycled creatively.
… make your own veils - or have someone make one for you. This is much cheaper than buying them, and a plain chiffon or silk veil is a lot easier to use than those beaded Egyptian or Indian veils that look awesome but stick to everything and are hard to use. Adding a decorative border of single-strand sequins on the hem adds flash without risk of catching!
…put Velcro inside your cups for sticking on removable bra pads…you may or may not need the extra padding at “that time of the month”
…buy shoulder pads to use as bra-pads…much cheaper than pre-made bra-pads…and really…whose gonna notice?!?
…practice dancing in your costume BEFORE wearing it in performance!!!
bio - news - pictures - articles - videos - showcase - schedule - workshop and events - contact - links
(c) Pleasant Gehman