Belly Dance Costume Inventory: Why & How To Do It
This is Week #1 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe, a collaboration with Sparkly Belly.
How many costumes does a bellydancer need?
Just one more, right?
We’d all like a limitless wardrobe of sparkly things, but whether it is our budget or our closest space that constrains us, most of us will never achieve that beautiful dream. We can, however, make the most of what we can afford and store. In fact, if you’re like me, you may not be making the most of what you have already! That’s the mission of the Your Sparkly Wardrobe project – to help you make the most of the costume pieces you already own by taking stock, re-evaluating your performance needs and creating a plan to up your costume game without any major purchases.
Why do you need to inventory your bellydance wardrobe?
There are many excellent reasons to create an inventory of your costumes. For starters, if you would like to include your costumes in the coverage of your renter’s or home owner’s policy – which I highly recommend you do – you would need an inventory, ideally with photos and receipts, to make a claim in the event any were stolen or damaged in a fire, flood or other disaster. If you are a professional with a closet full of high-end bedlahs, this is absolutely essential!
On a more positive note, creating an inventory of your costumes will…
- make you fully aware of what you already have so you don’t buy duplicates or near-duplicates
- give you the opportunity to assess the condition and fit of your costume pieces so they are ready for the stage
- help you spot gaps in your wardrobe that could open multiple options if filled
- turn up items that you no longer need or want and can get rid of
- give you an opportunity to discover new pairings of your existing wardrobe pieces
Are you convinced yet? Let’s do this!
How To Inventory Your Belly Dance Wardrobe
Step 1: Get it together
Gather up all your costume items. This includes full sets, all manner of skirts and pants, sashes, veils and accessories. Put them on a large table, bed or on a clean sheet spread on the floor. Check all your closets, gig bags and any place you may have stashed things. Take a minute to think if you have loaned any items out to other dancers – make arrangements to get them back.
Step 2: Sort it out
Make separate piles for each category of items. Depending on your particular performance style, the kind of pieces in your wardrobe will differ. For example you may have many chiffon skirts, but no flare bottom Melodia style pants or short overskirts – or vice versa – or maybe you have both! Here are some category suggestions:
- Full sets with built-in belts on skirts (Egyptian style)
- Full dresses (for example beladi, Saidi or folkloric costumes)
- Bra and belt sets
- Skirts that can be worn on their own (without being too revealing)
- Overskirts or toppers (that can’t be worn alone)
- Harem pants or flare bottom pants
- Cholis and vests
- Belly covers or body stockings\
At this point you will proceed with one category at a time through the rest of the steps.
Step 3: Should it stay or go?
We all find ourselves with items hanging around our closet that no longer fit our performance style or taste even if they do fit our figures. Go through your pile and decide one piece at a time if it is something you still use and enjoy wearing. If not, put it in a bag out of the way. You will decide later whether to toss it, give it away or prepare it for sale. No need to make that call right now.
Do you like the item but just aren’t excited about wearing it any more? Maybe it just needs an update or small addition. Hang on to it for now – next week’s Your Sparkly Wardrobe post may be just what it needs to make it a keeper.
Step 4: Set up your record
For this you can use a small notebook, index cards, a spreadsheet or a wardrobe organizing app (yes, these exist) depending on your preference for paper or digital. If you are using a notebook or index cards, use one sheet or card per costume item. If you are using a spreadsheet, create one row for each costume item. You may want to make one tab for each category of items if your costume wardrobe is large. Wardrobe apps vary widely and may take time figure out, so maybe start out with index cards or a notebook and digitize your record later.
Step 5: Check the fit
Try on every item in the category you are working on. Make a note on the item page, card or spreadsheet row (make a column for Fit) if the item is too small or too big anywhere. Note if a bra or belt has gaps. Check if the straps are ideally positioned for your comfort and stability. Some people prefer halters, some prefer over-the-shoulder style and some like cris-cross backs. Changing the strap arrangement can be a game changer when you have an uncomfortable bra! Check skirts and pants for length. If you’ve been rolling that waistband up to keep from tripping over the skirt hem – fess up now and make a note in your record.
Step 6: Time for a close inspection
So far, we’ve only been looking at the fit of the item. Take it off and give it a close inspection in good light. Check the beading, both flat beading and fringe. Look for any areas where beads are missing or rhinestones are coming loose. Are there missing bead strands in your fringe? Is the finish on your beads wearing off the fringe? Check the prongs on large stones. Inspect the condition of your sequins, coins or other ornaments. For any items that are lined, how is the lining holding up? Make notes on anything that needs repair. (If you are using a spreadsheet make a column for Repairs)
Next, a very important task! Check all the closures. Is the stitching holding up? Look for rust and hooks that are weakening and starting to bend open. If you have velcro, consider replacing it. Do you have enough closures? Personally, I like to have two closures on my neck straps and two or three on the back of my bras – usually two large snaps and one flat hook at the end. If one gives way, the costume is still secure – now that’s peace of mind!
Now the gross part. How clean are your pieces? This could be scary. Give it a “sniff test”, especially in all the potentially stinky places like underarms and crotches – sorry, it has to be done. You shouldn’t have to depend on heavy doses of perfume to cover the stench of your unwashed costume. Be nice to your audience! We’ll discuss maintenance in a later part of the project, for now we just need to assess the odor situation.
How does the lining of your straps, cups and belts look? Are there any makeup stains or dirty spots? Light colored skirt and pants are notorious for getting dirty at the hems. Check veils for lipstick or other stains. Make notes as you go.
Step 7: Time to play!
Now that you’ve done the work, you get to do the fun part! It’s time to look at your bellydance costume wardrobe with fresh eyes for new possibilities. Depending on the kind of items you have, your combinations will vary, but here are some ideas to get you started. When I did this, I was surprised by how many combinations that never occurred to me before! I paired the same bras and belts with the same few skirts over and over because they looked good and it worked. Doing this, I found several new combinations that made fresh looks – and I didn’t spend a penny!
Make notes on your item page, card or spreadsheet entry for what goes with what – especially if it’s a new discovery. Even better, snap a quick picture of the items laid out together as you’d wear them. A picture is worth a thousand words as they say.
Ideas to try:
- Lay out a bra and belt set on your bed or table. One at a time, put each skirt and pair of pants next to it. Does it coordinate or not? If it’s not a great match, consider if an additional item like a veil, sleeves, choli, overskirt or extra layer of hip scarf could tie the colors together. You could wind up with a new and vibrant outfit with a small addition.
- Try each skirt or pair of pants with each veil. As before, would the addition of another color or metallic bring them together?
- Try each pair of pants or skirt with all your overskirts, toppers or similar items. You may find a new favorite!
Step 8: Make a plan
Once you’ve gone through steps 3 through 7 with each category of costume items, it’s time to make a task list. Review each page, card or spreadsheet line and list any repairs, alterations or cleaning. I like to divide my “to do” lists so I can quickly select what I have time for.
- Small tasks that I can complete in one sitting with supplies I have on hand, like replacing a closure, mending a tear or washing.
- Medium sized jobs that may be 2 or 3 sittings or that I will need to hunt down supplies like matching bead and sequins.
- Major projects, like re-beading fringe, that may take me weeks to finish.
- Hired out jobs. These are things I don’t feel confident doing or have the equipment for, like sergeing a veil edge.
Also make a list of items that would fill a gap. For example, maybe in your mix-and-match playing, you’ve discovered that a veil with 2 specific colors would coordinate with several outfits to give you new options. A strategically selected overskirt could be the key to making a tribal bra work with more pants or skirts. Be sure to keep your shopping list handy when you go browsing online or at the next hafla or bellydance convention to make you next purchase a truly useful one.