First Costume

In 2001 when I started, it was fairly difficult to find a flattering, high quality, beginner-appropriate costume. On-line options were limited and alternated between either do it yourself sites or insanely expensive professional-appropriate costumes. Nowadays with Amazon, Ebay, Facebook groups, bellydance conferences, and bellydance sites, it is incredibly easy to purchase a professional costume at low cost.

Now, with so many options (high quality and otherwise), I feel it is even more important to take time to identify costumes appropriate to your dance recital, dance style and pocketbook while supporting independent dance sites. I identified the below tips after numerous misses (and hits),  hopefully, they will assist you when choosing your first costume.  

  1. Support Small BellyDance retailers

    Yes, Amazon exists. But, the mass produced quality is ocassionally iffy. Consider supporting independent mom and pop bellydance sites, that purchase quality items (with cost in mind) that will fit all body types. Many of the bellydance sites out there are run by former/current bellydancers. So support woman power!

    Cabaret Costumes
    Dahlal.com, started by a former bellydancer, provides high quality options for beginning/intermediate dancers on a budget in the 150-300 range. She also provides layaway options and keeps up to date on both contemporary and classic bellydance styles.  The higher end professional line features the hottest Egyptian designers. I've been lucky. Some of the costumes I really loved became available at 50% off after a year, for props I paid full price ($50-75). I also love Dahlal because Debbie provides options for all body types and is great with communication. She also provides layaway. Crimson Gypsy provides ready-to-wear and custom items for practice and tribal style performances. Willow's an excellent seamstress and also provides custom designs. Many of the outfits she wears and tests herself. Although the Hollywood Music Store started Bellydance.com, it provides incredible deals concerning props and costumes

    Etsy
    There are numerous hand-sewn tribal-style Etsy shops, led by women, including Barocco Tribal (repurposed Saris), Accentuate (awesome pants), and Brooks Bot (great metalwork bras). For Barocco Tribal, I typically watch until the pieces I love go on sale. But, they're still ridiculously affordable. You can also buy her stuff through dahlal. Since she uses international seamstresses, specifically Indian, I asked if her team was ethically treated. She forwarded on an image of the manager in his office with her products.  Accentuate provides custom work with a bit of a delay. Brooks Bot customizes her bras to your measurements.
  2. Buy Used

    It is incredibly easy to purchase a fairly new costume worn a couple times (either for a performance, group costume or photo shoot), but marked down. I've purchased three tier gypsy skirts and cholis without breaking a sweat. If you're plus sized or tall, it's a great place to verify if the costume would fit based upon photos provided by dancers! Why buy new when you can buy used?Skirts
    I purchased 3 silk veils from my instructor, Habiba, and a hip scarf from one of my fellow students. On one of the Facebook sites, I purchased the skirt in the left suitable to my extreme height.

    There are numerous Facebook used costume sites, including:
  3. Buy Custom  Any of the dancers/dance shops listed above provide custom options, including those  on the Cost Less post, but there are many, many more. I purchased the blue hip belt in the image from one of the Curvy Bellydancer members.
     
  4. Sew: Customize yourself Between the Sparkly Belly's available patterns, youtube videos, and facebook group, Shushanna's website featuring online patterns for skirts/tops/pants,  the costuming hints aggregated by Shira.net, the numerous Simplicity bellydance patterns (patterns 2158 for skirts, 2941 for bedlehs, 5359 for harem pants) and NUMEROUS youtube tutorials, it is incredibly easy to sew your own costume. 

    I still use the first coin bra I sewed (see below). I purchased it for $20, sewed it onto an old Victoria's secrets brocade bra  and then accentuated the cups with old tribal necklaces. Also, I still wear the very first circle skirt I sewed (see the red skirt in the buying professional section below). I used a good quality satin from JoAnne's, VERY carefully measured my height and then cut out the skirt under a friend's watchful eye. Admittedly, I also had a couple terrible mishaps. For my very, very first recital, I haphazardly sewed a hideously cheap wrap skirt. For my very first show, I sewed a velvet apron top which was ill-measured and provided no  support. (Both, I immediately tossed after each performance).

    However, I had more support mixing and matching store bought items with hand created items for an overall professional effect.Homemade Coin Bra

     

  5. Buying Professional If you decide in the end to purchase a polished outfit, 
    • Think Longterm - Remember, fashions change. Twenty years ago beaded fringe was all the rage while modern costumes are beadless. Will this costume survive the time test? If it doesn't, are you ok with that?
    • Think Simple - If you want bellydance fantasy, go for it. But is the costume appropriate to the music / event? Are you just buying that $600 gothic fantasy because it's something you wanted, or is it something you saw your instructor wear or felt you should wear because people expected it of you as a 'bellydancer.' If it doesn't reflect your personal tastes, don't get it. Simple as.
    • Think Quality - Would you re-wear this? My first 'professional' costume was a disposable I never wore. I desperately wanted a professional costume without paying the price. So, I bought a $50 costume from Turkish Emporium. However, the bra didn't support the ladies and the sequins were cheap. T.E. kindly offered a refund, but, of course, I lost the costume (and, thus, my $).
    • Be Economical - You don't have to spend a lot to look like a lot. Dance costumes are analogous to designer clothes. The price decreases after purchase (excluding Cost Less coin costumes). If you aren't teaching or dancing professionally, if you aren't able to resell the costume at full value (or at all), are you comfortable with that? 
    • Be Sentimental - My favorite costume pieces are the ones with emotional value. My first 'real' costume that I actually wore, I purchased in Turkey at the Grand Bazaar for $200. I rocked that costume at many a state fair, and still own it today. Other favorite pieces include those inherited from friends and purchased from instructors. So, if you buy a piece, don't just think how you'd look in it. Think about how you'd feel. Why does it draw you?First Turkish Costume

Buying your first costume is the most nerve wracking experience. Your first costume is like your first prom dress. Initially, you'll pay a lot for the 'exact' outfit. After awhile, the more dance events you attend, the more you'll casually accumulate a wardrobe appropriate to each event. Nowadays it is FAR easier to purchase a gorgeous, semi-professional costume with all the riggings. But, just as you don't buy every single designer dress in your path, be careful with the costumes you might purchase. Is the Dolce & Gabanna style costume suitable to the student recital? Are you absolutely in love with it? Does it fit your curves properly? Can you afford to purchase this costume? Does it look like it can endure wear and tear? Like children, dance costumes are unique. Is this a child you want to take home, nurture and grow with? If not, see what else is out there. Whatever you choose, it will yield a ton of memories (both good and bad). So, enjoy the ride and the performance!