April’s Question of the Month: What is your single biggest costuming challenge?

written by Andalee on May 9, 2013 in Costuming for any size and Question of the month with 14 comments

Photo by Melissa Edwards

One thing us belly dancers like to talk about a lot is belly dance costumes! It makes for an interesting hobby for sure and it’s often the subject of many online discussions (some think we spend too much time talking about costumes and not enough time on dance!). But costuming is a very important part of being a belly dancer, especially when you have some extra curves or are bigger or smaller than average.

You see, many belly dance costume designers make costumes in a narrow size range to maximize profit and control inventory, among other reasons. It’s easy to find costumes for women who are of average size and height, but most women are not average. What is average anyway?

April’s question of the month, “What is your single biggest costuming challenge?” aimed to get at the root of our frustrations with costuming. I expected a lot of responses and that’s what I got. It seems that costume challenges aren’t hard to find…and there are quite a range of different issues. First though, I would like to start off with the biggest challenge of all: the bra. See what our readers had to say about bras and costuming:

“Finding or creating a costume bra that gives enough uplift and looks good – I HAVE boobs, I might as well show ’em off – and is also comfortable to wear and secure-feeling!” ~ Zumarrad

I’d have to agree with this! It’s really difficult to find a lingerie bra that gives good uplift and also looks good, let alone a costume bra. I think that finding the right size lingerie bra is essential to figuring out what size costume bra to purchase. Seventy to eighty percent of women wear the wrong size bra. Find out how to measure yourself for a proper bra fit here. Once you have the correct size you can use the dimensions to custom order costumes or simply hire costume designers who can build costumes over lingerie bras.

“Getting accurate descriptions of costume bra sizes.”  ~ Nadira Jamal via Twitter

Bra cup measuring

Measure the inside of the cups with the tailors tape pressed up against the cups.

I have this problem too. It usually helps to buy used when you can pester the seller for detailed size descriptions and photos. Some vendors will even provide cup measurements if you e-mail them for details. But let’s face it, everyone measures differently. I would advise anyone selling a costume to measure the bra cups from the inside of the costume not the outside. Take at least three measurements of the cups: the width, the height and the diagonal length. The tailors tape should be pressed up against the shape of the cup to get the most accurate measurements.

Many other bra comments were made as well:

“Strapping my bras (my largest size was F, now a D/DD), without looking like the Eiffel Tower is holding me up. I’ve got it now.” ~ Cobalt Fruitbat via Facebook

“Tops that I like and that fit.” ~ Emishka via Facebook

“Keeping my coin bra from coming off.” ~ Ania via Facebook

“Hard to find double-D coin bras. Also, I don’t sew so finding good quality skirts, cholis etc are hard to find for a plus size dancer who is tall.” ~ Janice via Facebook

“Trying to find a tribal bra in my size! There are lots of A B and C cups but very little size D’s. Also hard to find short length skirts. I’m only 4’11.” Jennifer via Facebook

You’ll also notice that two dancers commented on skirt length. I have this problem as well, being tall and curvy. When I first started dancing I wore embarrassingly short skirts. I still make that mistake from time to time, but for the most part I am happy making my own skirts or ordering them custom-made from L. Rose Designs. I remember being at a workshop with a fellow tall belly dancer and we were so excited about the extra-long skirts that The Belly Dance Shop was selling. Ever try finding one online? Good luck!

Speaking of finding stuff online, check out what fellow contributor Tracy has to say:

“Finding costumes that fit. Fit is absolutely key in a dance costume, yet some vendors are not very accurate on their sizing online.”

I agree, which is why I prefer to sew, buy second-hand or custom order from a high-end vendor. Other comments about fit had to do with sewing and patterns.

“Finding patterns that fit are very hard, too! I just finished up what was supposed to be a vest at the size supposedly for me, but the girls are just too large. Lucky for me with a bit of adjustments, it is going to be one amazing turkish vest. PS if anyone needs costume pieces, I can sew pieces for un-outrageous prices. Anyone else who can sew and knows how to edit a pattern, this is a WONDERFUL way to get around the sizing problem!” ~ Kirstie via Facebook

It’s true that not everyone can or will sew, so finding reliable vendors and tailors is essential. If you’ve got any tips on great costume makers or vendors who cater to larger or harder-to-fit women, please leave their info in the comments (no spam or blatant advertising, please).

The remaining comments had to do with what is below the hip belt (sorry, couldn’t resist).

“I have the hardest time keeping skirts and belts on my hips. Since my belly protrudes and I have no booty and my hips are wide but straight, it seems nothing wants to stay up.” ~ Mahira

That’s a tough one. I think that elasticized waist-bands and super-lightweight skirts and belts would be the best bet. Of course, it’s not too fun to always be so minimalistic. Sahars are known for being super light, but then those are some of the most expensive costumes!

Andalee is wearing a no-sew overskirt in mystique lycra

Andalee is wearing a no-sew overskirt in mystique lycra

“I have always been challenged by the “camel toe effect” (for lack of a better way to explain). All the stretchy pants that I have ever purchased seem to emphasize the issue, and I have taken to wearing short skirts over my yoga pants or leggings. And now that I am taking belly dance classes, I wear a hip scarf, which really helps. But I can’t exactly wear a jingly coin scarf during yoga classes. Any advice other than wearing extra long t-shirts over my yoga/stretchy pants?” ~ Victoria

This is an interesting problem, but one that I have, ahem, noticed before. I would suggest a pad or a pantyliner first of all (I’m thinking of how catalog models have that smooth “bump” when they model lingerie). Another option is a no-sew overskirt. I have a quick tutorial on my other website, AndaleeDance.com.

And there you have it. We all have our costuming challenges, but there seem to be some common themes…bra fit, length, and proper fit. If only solving those problems were easy! What do you think? Leave your questions or comments on your costuming challenges…or feel free to post some advice!

Now, for May’s Question of the Month: Has your body image or self-esteem ever kept you from participating in a belly dance event? If so, what was it? How did it change you? Did you resolve to get over your fears and eventually try it?

About Andalee

Andalee is the founder of Belly Dance at Any Size. She is an Oriental dancer and instructor from Durham, NC, now based in Montpellier, France. She has been dancing since 2005 and teaching since 2008. Her mission is to promote Oriental Dance (a.k.a. belly dance) as a respected and valid performance art.