How to: A belly dance bra


Here’s my list of excuses: I haven’t felt inspired, I’ve been really busy at my new job (yay!) and I’m lazy.

At the end of July I was offered a position at a photography studio in Somerset West – Digital Moment – and I accepted! I have a good friend who has been working there since the beginning of the year and I must say, since I started, I haven’t stopped! There are photo shoots almost every weekend, events to cover, and tons and tons of editing work to do afterwards!

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow troupe member ( Hello, Cheri! 🙂 ) asked me about constructing a proper dance costume and although I don’t think I know a lot about it, I ended up rambling and realized how much info I do know. I’m no expert on the subject and I have had many failed projects that I quietly unstitch and throw away, never to be spoken of again. Although I get irritated at the waste of money, I have learned a lot from it and I think that I’m qualified in telling people what NOT to do! Enough so, that this is what this blog post is all about.

A lot of the things I’ve learned when it comes to costuming are things I picked up from reading many, many blogs about it. At the bottom of this post is a list of useful links and blogs to help you make a costume successfully! (And all of those ladies are far more accomplished seamstresses than me!)

Anyway! Back on topic.

I lay in bed last night thinking of all the bits and pieces I have to talk about, so I’m going to cut this blog post into two pieces – one about bras and one about belts. So here is all the info I have on bras!

Selecting a bra for a costume

My first advice is to know what size bra you are! I’ve never been measured, because in South Africa our lingerie selection is rather poor and I have previously bought 2 bras that were exactly the same size on the label and the same make, same colour, same bra, same everything! When I got home they fit me completely differently! I am a 32D and I struggle to get bras that fit me properly, so what I do is I will try on a 34C, 32D and 34D just to see what fits me best. You’re going to have to do this too.

  • Try on a bunch of different bras – you never know what might look flattering on you! Remember, don’t go for a specific colour, you’re going to cover it up anyway. I personally find that Ackermans’ Mosaic Range sells a lovely shaped bra, that I find suits me quite well. It’s their generic bra section, just a plain white bra. All of these bras are the same base, bought from Ackermans:

  • Make sure the bra cups are STIFF. If they are too soft, they will collapse the minute to try to embellish them! There are ways of reinforcing a bra if you’re going to do a lot of embellishing/heavy embellishing on them. I’ve never needed to do that, but Shushanna (link below) has a section on that if you want to learn how to do it! To test the stiffness of her bra cups, Shushanna has this great trick of placing a small ceramic bowl on top of her bras, and if they don’t collapse under that weight – she carries on! 🙂
  • When choosing your bra, try and choose one that has changeable straps. In other words, one of those bras where the straps can criss-cross at the back or be removed entirely. The reason for this is so that if you decide to do a halter-neck style bra or even a criss-crossed back like my blue costume in this post, the bra cups won’t move around! If you take a regular bra and make a faux-halter neck, you’ll find that the bra cups gape and it looks quite ugly. The same thing will happen if you take a regular bra and give it a halter neck or criss-cross back.
  • This next one is a personal preference, but perhaps something you haven’t thought of before. If you are small chested – follow the diagram below. Buy a bra that fits you! Small chested woman tend to wear bras that cover their nipples – because they don’t have much chest muscle/boob to cover up. All big-boobed girls can tell you that your boobs start on the sides of your chest! Not in the middle! If a large chested woman were to wear a bra that only covered the nipple, she’d end up with side-boob leakage. Same applies to small chested woman! Wearing a bra that covers your nipple but not much else also makes your shoulders and chest look INCREDIBLY big. Small chested woman have a huge advantage in that they can easily make a halter top without a worry of falling out of it. (I’d love to have one, but this is a huge fear for me!)

Check out my drawing-in-a-hurry skills!

  • If you struggle to find a bra that fits you around your chest (ie. The number part of a bra – 32D) try on bras that fit your boobs, but perhaps are too big (or small) around your chest. The reason for this is that you should make new straps, so the size of the straps doesn’t really matter. And seamlessly (heh) onto my next point…
  • Cut all of your straps off your bra! I usually keep the straps on until the last minute, just incase something goes wrong. I also make my straps with denim fabric. It’s cheap, I have a lot of it and it goes a really long way! I know of other people using buckram and grosgrain ribbon, but I’m not sure we get that at our fabric stores. I never cut the straps off at the bra base either. Most bras have that tiny vertical line on the straps, close to the bra base. Sometimes it has a small piece of wire in it, other times it’s just folded fabric. I cut it off on the outside of that strap, so that I can get the angle right when adding side straps. Here is my “pattern” for side straps, if you’re interested:
  • Always, always, ALWAYS cover your bra! There is no excuse for this, except laziness! Your bra shouldn’t look like lingerie. It should look like a costume bra, part of a bedlah, whatever. Just not like something you wear under your clothes. My suggestion would be not to use stretchy fabric, but cotton or something similar. For a first-time costumer, I wouldn’t use a chiffon or “slippery” fabric. I wouldn’t use anything too shiny either, because shiny fabric tends to slip a lot. It can be very frustrating! Another useful tip when costuming is don’t be afraid to layer fabrics! This is something I still don’t do enough, but when done correctly it can look amazing and really unique!  (Ozma does this beautifully!)
  • When you’ve cut off your straps, added new straps and covered your bra, you’re ready to begin embellishing your costume! This is probably the most fun part for me, because I feel like I can be really creative from this point on. It’s also exciting because I can cover up any mistakes or ugly sewing I did! Hehe! My first piece of advice is to throw the glue gun away! Yes, yes, glue is quick and easy. But it’s not so quick and easy when you make a mistake or want to change something. Learn to sew sequins and beads onto fabrics – start with a square of scrap denim and try out some patterns on there and see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Try on your bra every step of the way! Don’t assume that it fits well! Sometimes small alterations have to be done, and it’s best to catch it every time you finish a step, rather than realising it at the end when it’s all done!

I hope that I’ve covered everything, and if you need to know anything don’t hesitate to comment below or contact me via my Contact page above.

The super useful links are as follows:

Ozma’s Costumes (Facebook Page) – she doesn’t give straight up advice, so you have to browse through her albums and look at her pictures because in the captions she gives a lot of advice.

Naima’s Bellydance Blog: She does excellent step-by-step tutorials and gives a LOT of advice! Her skills are amazing and all of her costumes are excellent! (And she writes about other belly dance related things too – so it’s overall a great blog to follow!)

Shushanna Designs: How to make costumes: She has amazing tips and tricks and her posts are all worth a read!

There are so many more places to get costuming tips, but those are the ones I visit regularly when I need advice! 🙂

xx

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8 comments

  1. Congrats on your new job! Great article. I am really glad you talked about “street fitting” versus “costume fitting”. I have seen way too many scary self made costumes where there is way too little coverage and it is hard to enjoy a performance when you are worried about seeing “too much”. Sometimes I add denim or buckram to the top of the bra cups to give me more coverage. It is much easier to do it before covering and decorating the bra!

    1. Thank you! I wish those that make their own costumes realise that the audience wants to watch the performance, not worry about spillage or nipple-slips! The great thing is, once you find a formula that works in your bra-making, you just stick to it. 🙂 It makes all the flops worth it! 😉 x

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