How to sell your belly dance costumes online

written by Andalee on July 28, 2015 in Costuming for any size with 5 comments

One of the things that often surprises people who don’t know much about belly dance is the used costume market. They raise their eyebrows at the high prices, yet are fascinated to hear that I bought my favorite costume second-hand (or sometimes third- or fourth-hand!). It’s true–there is a huge market for used belly dance costumes and you can save a lot of money buying used, if you know where to look and what you’re looking for.

Likewise, it is also possible to sell your costumes online. A few years ago, the market was really hot and you could often sell a costume in one or two days and virtual lines were formed for popular styles and designers. The market is much softer these days and it takes a lot of perseverance to sell a costume online, but you can do it if you stick with it and follow these simple steps.

Name your price

Like all things in economics, you have to price your items correctly. There is no point selling something at a price that people are not willing to pay for. If you must sell something for a certain price and it is not selling, then maybe it’s time to put the costume back in your closet and wait until the market is more responsive. However, it’s just like selling a house, you want to value your item realistically. Don’t price yourself out of the market right away.

Here are some ways to determine your costume’s value:

  • How much did you pay for it? Unless you never wore it all, except maybe to try on, you should take at least $50 off of what you paid for it. Costumes are like cars; they lose value as soon as you drive them off the lot. Example: You paid $450 for a costume that you wore twice, once for a performance and once for photos. Your starting price should be about $400 at most.
  • How much did you wear it? Is there a lot of wear? Loose beads, fringed fabric, stains? Did you make any non-reversible alterations to it? Take all of these things into consideration. Let’s take the $450 costume mentioned above as an example–say you wore it at your weekly gig for a few months, and while it is still in good condition, it is missing a little bit of luster on the sequins and fringe and you’ve had to replace the hooks. That costume should maybe be listed at $350 or less.
  • How much is something similar selling for? Can you buy a similar version of what you have only brand new for the same price or less? Are other costumes like it just sitting there? Take into consideration what the current market demand is for your costume and price it accordingly. For example, say your $450 costume is a Pharonics Great Loop (they actually retail at about $395 for the bra and belt only), it’s in good condition, so you’d like to list it for $400. However, according to the other listings, Great Loops are selling for about $275-295. You can try listing your costume for $400, but be prepared for it to sit there for awhile. Try pricing your costume competitively.

What if you can’t find the original price of a costume, either because it was gifted to you or it is so old that you don’t have a record of how much you paid for it? In those situations, I encourage you to price your costume according to the market value for something similar. Unless it is a super unique one-of-a-kind costume or it belonged to a famous belly dancer–don’t demand top dollar. And it should go without saying–never sell a costume for more than you paid for it (unless you put in extensive rehab work into it to get it to its former glory, then price it by the market value).

Those tips should help you get your costume priced correctly to sell. Now, you’re ready to list it.

Accurate measurements and descriptions are important

It can be really frustrating trying to find used costumes that are my size. Every body is different and therefore we each have slightly different measurements. Custom-made belly dance costumes are usually made to fit one particular person and are therefore not one-size-fits-all. Luckily, we all have “body twins” out there who match us enough to swap costumes, but that’s no reason to be lazy when posting your costume for sale. Find your body twins and try to form a friendly relationship with them. Be each other’s unofficial “first in line” when you’re thinking about buying or selling a costume. But our body twins aren’t always in the market for a new costume, so we have to try to find new buyers. Measuring your costume properly is the first step to finding your next body twin–and listing your costume in a way that makes it ready to sell!

Here are some tips for measuring and describing your costume accurately:

  • Do not rely only on descriptions such as small, medium or large, etc. Instead, post actual measurements in inches or centimeters depending on where you live. Use tailor’s tape to take the following measurements:
    • Upper hip – measure around the top edge of the belt or skirt. If the fabric is stretchy, use your hip measurements as a starting point or a dress form if you have one. You can also lay out the item on a flat surface and stretch it gently to see how far it will comfortably go. Keep in mind that when you stretch something one direction, it will get shorter in the other direction.
      Measure the upper part of the belt
    • Lower hip – measure around the widest part of the belt or skirt. See above for if the fabric is stretchy.
    • Length – measure from top of skirt to floor. Make sure to include any variation in length from front to back. If you are measuring the length of a dress, measure from one shoulder seam or the center back to the floor and indicate which measurement you took.
    • Bra band – measure the length of the bra band from one end to the other.
    • Bra cups – take three measurements of the bra cups, measuring from the inside of the cup, pressing the tape into the cup and going through the apex each time: horizontal, vertical and diagonal.
      Measure the inside of the cups
    • Bra straps/halter length – this isn’t always necessary, but be prepared if someone asks.
  • Do not rely on the measurements that the previous owner prepared. Everyone takes measurements slightly differently. Take your own measurements and if necessary, correct any mistakes that may have been posted previously.
  • Share how many previous owners the costume has had, if you know them. We may not always know who has owned a particular costume, but you can at least point out that a costume has had more than one owner (you). For example, I have a Bella that has had at least 4 owners including me (it still looks great!) and if I were selling it, I would point out all of the previous owners (and probably tag them on Facebook too).
  • Describe any and all damage to a costume, no matter how small. What may not be a big deal to you, say a small stain on a skirt, might be a deal breaker for a potential buyer. But don’t use that as discouragement–instead describing costumes honestly allows other buyers to trust you more.
  • Refer to your current size (including bra size) in the listing. For example: This costume fits me at a size 16 and a 38FF (UK) bra. Or this costume fit me when I was size X and wore a X size bra.
  • Share a little bit of history about the costume, if you know it. I’m crazy about designer costumes and I always want to know who the designer was. Also, whether you bought the costume pre-made or costume-made (or maybe made it yourself) is helpful information.
  • You may want to indicate if you are a smoker, have pets or have danced in smoky environments. Smells and allergens can be deal breakers for some people. I once bought a costume from someone who’s husband smoked and she kindly offered to dry clean the costume for me before shipping it–and the costume still has the odor of cigarettes and that was about 5 years ago! (I do appreciate the dry cleaning though!). I also have a friend who is deathly allergic to horses and she has to ask if a costume has been around horse before she can buy it. (And yes, belly dance costumes end up around horses!)

Your listing is worthless without pictures

I am always amazed by people who are able to sell costumes by only posting one picture. I like to have detailed photos of each aspect of the costume and at least one “big picture” photo so that I can see it in its entirety. While a million pictures aren’t necessary, having a variety of different images will make your listing more appealing.

Here are some tips for making your photos count:

  • Include at least one body picture if you have one. It should be a recent photo that doesn’t show any alterations. Crop off your head if you are having a bad hair day or want more anonymity, or use a dress form.
  • Include one picture including all elements of the costume together. This helps the potential buyer get a sense of scale and how much is included.
  • For small details use your finger as an indicator of scale and it also helps your camera focus.
    Use your finger to point out scale
  • Always take pictures of any costume damage unless it tends to be widespread or you can see it in other pictures that you will be including with your listing.
    Take pictures of even minor damage
  • Take pictures with and without flash if you’re afraid that the color is not displaying realistically. Certain colors don’t photograph well. For example, I have a green costume that photographs much darker than it is in person. For this reason using different kinds of lighting may help the buyer determine the actual color. Indicate which photo is using a flash (below, it is the second one).
    Take photos with and without flashTake photos with and without flash
  • If you’re going to use pictures from a previous seller, get their permission first.

Your pictures don’t have to be perfect, but they should give the buyer a good idea of what the costume looks like and what condition it is in.

Putting all the pieces together

Now that you’re ready to post your listing there are a few more things that need to be considered:

  • What kinds of payments will you accept? Most people use PayPal (I hate PayPal but it can be a necessary evil). If you use PayPal, how will you handle the fees? It’s nice to work the fees into the cost of the costume and just consider it the cost of doing business. However, there are several PayPal fee calculators that can help you determine how much PayPal will take out in fees. Some people prefer to use the “send money to friends and family” option in order to avoid fees, but I will warn you that you will have absolutely no recourse (both the buyer and seller) should something go wrong. And PayPal will stop you from using that option if you use it too much. I personally use it for people I feel comfortable buying from and selling to, but there is always a risk. Other payment options are Amazon Payments, Google Wallet, Square, Square Cash, Venmo, wire transfers/bank transfers, money orders and personal checks. Facebook now offers an option to send money, but I haven’t tried it yet. Leave a comment if you have tried Facebook payments.
  • Will you take payment plans or trades? If you’re willing to consider payment plans or trades, consider posting that with your listing. For payment plans, think carefully about your terms. It usually helps to set a minimum amount for payments, discuss how many payments you’ll take, how fees will be handled, and when the item should be paid in full by. Never send the costume without receiving full payment–and make sure the buyer knows that up front. If you’re open to trades, think carefully if what you might trade is something you really like or would buy with your own money, and if the values are close to equal. If not, how will the balance be assessed and paid?
  • What kind of shipping do you offer? Are you willing to ship overseas? Are you shipping flat rate or in your own box? Ask the buyer if they want insurance or any kind of extra services like signature confirmation. If you’re using your own box, it’s helpful to pack up the costume as soon as you’re done measuring and taking pictures of it, and weigh it. Some buyers will ask how much shipping is to their zip code. You can calculate that online at the USPS website provided you know the weight and dimensions of the box. I have a kitchen scale at home that goes up to 5 pounds and that is usually satisfactory. If it weighs more than 5 lbs, I usually just ship flat rate or use the scale at my office. I suppose I could try my bathroom scale, but I never have. Leave a comment if you’ve had success with that.

And now you’re ready to list!

Where to post your costume

You have several options for posting your costumes and they all have drawbacks. Back in the day, Bhuz was the hot spot for costumes, but the website changed the listing process and a lot of people fled to Facebook. Bhuz requires you to use an interface called Panjo and it can be a bit quirky, but I think it is definitely worth it to post costumes there.

Facebook remains the most popular place to post, but it is a pain. There are multiple swap groups, and so you have to post your costume on many groups in order to get it out there. And then you have to keep up your listing, for example, if there is a price drop or you want to add more details, then you’ll have to go back to each group and edit each listing. Luckily many groups are starting to enable the selling feature on Facebook and it makes posting costumes just a little bit easier. When you post multiple pictures at once on Facebook, you may want to edit the description of each picture to include information about what you’re selling.

Here are some popular Facebook groups:

* A closed group is searchable on Facbeook, anyone can request to become a member, but requires admin approval. A secret group is not searchable. You have to know someone who is already a member of that group and have them add you. The reason that so many of these groups are secret or closed is because of costume scammers/vendors and pervy men. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, I can add you to a group if you send me a message.

Each Facebook group will have its own set of rules, so be sure to read the instructions before posting your costume.

Other places to list costumes are Etsy and Ebay, but both have fees and downsides. I’ve never tried to sell a costume on either website, so I don’t have much advice to offer.

I hope this guide is helpful for when you are ready to sell some costumes! Maybe you have some sitting in the closet right now and you want to give it a try. Let me know how it goes! Leave a comment if you have any additional advice or questions about selling belly dance costumes.

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.