What is Cost Less?
"Cost Less Costumes" is a company created by Hong Kong expat Philip Dalen Au and his sister in San Francisco, importing and re-selling beads, gems and bellydance costumes. It was started in 1967 in the Bay Area and eventually run by Philip's son, Patrick. The exquisitely crafted items varied greatly in price from as high as $1000-2000 for crystal costumes to as low as 250 for mirrored bra tops or $175 for a belly drape.
- the bejeweled Crystal Costumes, encrusted with swarovski gems,
- the reflective Mirrored Costumes, incorporating mirrors placed atop filigree coins, and
- the holographic Foil Costumes, jewel-toned hologram discs pieced together with chains and more Swarovski AB Crystals (Three in the Belt and Twenty in the Bra Cover).
Why do I love Cost Less?
Way back in 2001 as a baby bellydancer I discovered the fantastic craftmanship, Unfortunately, as an impoverished graduate student I could hardly afford the $1000-2000 crystal price tag, let alone $250 for a mirrored bra top or even $175 for a belly drape. For me they represented the ephemeral bellydance ideal from the intricately detailed coin rows, to the sparkly gems. Because I lacked funding, I settled for purchasing an inexpensive $25 silver coin bra/belt set and gold coin belt from Unicorn Bellydance which temporarily satisfied my baby bellydancer budget.
Recreating Cost Less
After returning to bellydance a few years ago, I immediately attempted to purchase a Cost Less. Unfortunately, with Philip's passing, the business (and website) moved on. So I scoured the internet for instructions regarding recreating cost less costumes, including facebook groups, and pinterest ideals. Eventually I settled upon creating a mix of homemade costumes augmented with professional assistance.
Although Dahlal.com created the Ancient Reflections coin line in the 'Cost Less' style, it sold all too quickly. So, I only managed to snag two items, a silver bra and gold belt.
The silver\aqua costume used a silver coin bra from Dahlal's ancient Reflections set. For the bottom, I contacted the Curvy Costume Boutique to create a belt that incorporated the Cost Less mirror and medallion style. I reached out to Aida of San Fran for the belly drape (She is a craftswoman, so you might go back and forth a bit, but I was super happy with the end result). After mounting the silver coin to a turquoise dina purchased on Etsy, voila Cost Less-style magic.
I created the black\gold costume accidentally. A few months after my Aunt passed, I started a gold-style metal bra, re-purposing Indian jewelry sold to me by friends and Moroccan coins purchased on etsy. Then, I re-purposed the old 'gold' coin belt bought from unicorn bds, gluing craft-shop mirrors and gems onto it along with mirror trim. To finish the look, I purchased another Ancient Reflections gold belt on the payment plan. After spending two weeks in December creating the base costume, I swear the spirit of my crafty Aunt overcame me. The proof is in the pudding. A dancer friend of mine initially thought it was a full-blown Cost Less because it generated so many reflections when I danced (don't worry, I set her straight).
Getting Cost Less Style Materials
To create the cost less style yourself, scour the internet for Moroccan style coins which is the cornerstone of the distinctive 'Cost Less' look. I found a ton on Etsy. For the mirrored look, just gluing tiny mirrors onto filigree coins is sufficient.
Etsy, Michael's, Joanne's and any craft shop (that isn't Hobby Lobby and does not use their funds to restrict LGBTQ rights) are invaluable for purchasing jump rings, fasteners and chains.
I'd also suggest supporting independent bellydance suppliers, in lieu of Amazon, for coins, bells and mirrors:
The do-it-yourself supplies Cost Less sold back in the day (courtesy the WayBack Machine) are the same available nowadays:
|Original Costless||Craft Store Replacements|
|Metal Bells/Clamshells,||Amazon Clamshells,|
|Metal Tassels||Michael's Tassels|
|Filigree Coins||Etsy Filigree Coins|
|Costume coins||Red Camel Coins|
|Costume Chains||Chains (I initially used chains from an Etsy shop that were too thin and silver chains from Michael's that were too bright, hopefully, these are just right)|
And if you can't find local equivalents, you can also buy the following from craft stores
- Mirrors (Look for untrimmed Shisha mirrors)
- Mirror Trims (Note: I have not used this Etsy site in particular)
So create a pinterest vision board and allow Philip's original designs to inspire you! Kristen S of the CostLess facebook groups created her own gold filigree coin belt with tassels.
Buying Original Cost Less
Join the Facebook group. Members are excellent at identifying Ebay and Salvation Army posts selling Cost Less belts and sharing images of their costumes (like that provided by Roya, Spiritdancer). Every now and again a member sells her own costume. A couple different companies such as Mid East Manufacturing and Saroyan made coins and Costless reproductions. Dahlal still sells a couple Ancient Reflections pieces using Mid East reproductions. Maybe you can sweet talk Sarah Skinner into making an entire outfit for you or any of the aforementioned ladies. I'm super grateful to Curvy Costume boutique for all of the time spent assisting me figuring out my budget and what design might closely approximate the 'cost less' feel with fabric. So definitely check out any of the vendors I mentioned above.
Recreating Cost Less Coins
I purchased a ton of filigree coins and glued mirrors on top. It isn't that difficult. Then I attached the coins to chains and to the bra.The Moroccan coins truly set the CostLess coin bra apart. At the center of the bra, I sewed one Moroccan coin (which I glued a mirror to). But, if you can't find those, taking advantage of sewing jewels, high quality coins, and mirrors onto a top can replicate that look as closely as possible. As stated earlier I also used mirrored trim and Indian jewelry to replicate the costless 'mirrored, jewel' style.
Mounting Cost Less and Coin Bras/Belts
'Mounting' just means sewing a coin bra/belt onto a fabric base. For lower quality coin belts, mounting supports weak jump rings and prevents fragile chains from breaking. For original Cost Less, it isn't as necessary. One of my class members still rocks her original Cost Less bronze coin belt, bought in San Francisco 30 years ago. However, my 20-year-old non-Cost Less coin belts are fairly fragile and required new metal rings, safety pins and fabric mounting. Although Red Sonja is my favorite comic book character, you MUST mount coin bras to avoid public indecency charges.
Cost Less Lovers
Decades later, Cost Less continues to resonate with etablished dancers, even as newer options appear. I reached out to the FaceBook group for Cost Less photos. Power dancer and theater costumer, Rukshana of RukshanaRaks.com, provided me with photos of her favorite hits. Rukshana owns four real costless-silver coin, antiqued gold coin, gold crystal and mirrors as well as three Mid East Manufacturing Costless reproductions with silver coins, gold coins and mirrors witha silver base. She also handmade from scratch two Saroyan coin costumes (silver with red and copper with turquoise).
Rukshana points out CostLess coin costumes easily fit into both old school cabaret and new school tribaret fusion costume styles and the ease of switching bases/skirts rather than purchasing new costumes. So for more fabric hints, look her up as well as the other glorious dancers/costumers - Roya,Spiritdancer, Kristen and Laurel - for providing additional images for this post!
Hiring a Cost Less Costumer
Any of the women I listed above like Aida, Curvy Bellydancer, Kristen S, etc. would greatly assist you in recreating a Cost Less costume.
- CostLess Archives - WayBack Machine- https://web.archive.org/web/20040608235338/http://costlesscostumes.com/
- Philip Au - http://derekau.net/2014/12/29/philip-dalen-au/?fbclid=IwAR1x77j8dbIUdZ_fllopF26AZEEfitOY0KGU5o3P3TKdJHQzSuBDfD22D-A
- Title Image - http://thebellydancecostumearchive.com/dress/costless-imports-brass-mirror-and-ab-crystal-bra-a
- Images of In Process Costume: Author's Own