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Belly Dance Costume Inventory: Why & How To Do It

This is Week #1 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe, a collaboration with Sparkly Belly

Inventory costume PIN

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
  • Veils
  • Cholis and vests
  • Sleeves
  • Belly covers or body stockings\
  • Headdresses

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.





July 14, 2016 2 Comments

Quick Change Tips for Bellydance Costumes

I love getting questions from DBQ subscribers – especially great ones like this!

Recently I was in a bellydance show and performed 2 numbers close together and was a lot slower than some of the other dancers changing. I was wondering if you could offer some tips in a Friday DBQ on quick costume changes.

Been there – done that. It’s stressful – and stress is the last thing you need when you want to take the stage with calm, cool and collected confidence.  A dancer can use all the help she can get, so for this very critical question, I asked an expert – Rukshana, lovingly known to the DBQ community as “The Costume Fairy”. Not only is Rukshana a genius bellydance costume designer and seamstress, she has had a long career in professional theater costuming. In short, she knows all the backstage secrets and she’s sharing them with us here!

The Costume Fairy says….

Fast changes can be done super fast if you take the time to prepare a proper set up.  It’s even faster if you have a helper. Here are some tips to prepare for a smooth quick change.

  •  “Rig” your jewelry.  Use magnets or Velcro closures on necklaces. If you aren’t fast with pierced earrings, find clip-ons or convert the pierced earrings to clips.  Check the jewelry findings area in your local craft store or shop on line.  If you add a piece of double stick toupee or Hollywood tape to the clips they have added security.
  • Preset your costume on a chair in the reverse order you would put it on.  For example– bra on the bottom, then belt, skirt.  Put any shoes under the chair. Jewelry can go under the bra or next to your shoes, depending on the space and size of the accessories. I like to have a clean sheet under the chair so I can drop the costume I’m wearing without worrying about it getting dirty.
  • Rig closures for speed where applicable. You are not going to Velcro a bra or belt, but you can use a skirt with elastic or use a zipper instead of a row of hook and bar closures. Big hooks and bars on a bra or belt are better that multiple small ones as a closure. Size matters!
  • If you can attach the skirt and belt this also may increase speed.
  • If you are wearing a belly cover have your bra attached at the front to it so you have fewer attachment points to secure it to the bra or use clear elastic straps to hold it up.
  •  It’s faster to have a designated belly cover for each costume than to change them.  Sometimes you can even rig your skirt to the cover and bra with some stitching or snaps.
  • Practice the change!  Do a couple dry runs where you figure out what placement works best for you.  Then run it for speed.  You need to know how much time you have between songs. A minute is a long time if you have everything prepped and ready.
  • See if you can arrange to have a dresser back stage. Their job is to facilitate the change.  This person needs to be calm and cool under pressure.  You don’t need someone high strung rushing you.  A good dresser will help as needed and keep you moving and out of panic mode if something is not going as planned.
  • Set up your change as close to the stage as possible. Garment racks with sheets thrown over them can form a small quick change booth in a pinch.  Walled pop up tents work great too.
As a professional costumer I can tell you nudity is an occupational hazard I face daily. We have all seen it so when speed is important modesty goes out the window. As a dancer I will try to be sensitive to my surroundings but I will make my change.  I have mastered the art of changing costumes with out excess nudity (dance panties cover as much as a bikini if not more and if you practice it’s amazing how you can undo the neck strap on bra 1 and slip bra 2 over the top before releasing the back band to drop bra 1 and then position and secure bra 2.
Remember the clock is ticking!

Have another quick-change trick you’ve used? Share it in the comments below…

September 17, 2015 5 Comments

A Review of “The Belly Dance Handbook”

"The Belly Dance Handbook" by Princess Farhana

“The Belly Dance Handbook” by Princess Farhana

Very few books on belly dance catch my attention enough to actually read them. Even fewer find a way to be relevant to both the beginner and the seasoned performer. After being a fan and follower of Princess Farhana’s blog for years, I knew “The Belly Dance Handbook” would make it onto my reading list. This lady is one of the hardest working and most diverse performers in the biz, and she’s got a wealth of experience that ranges far beyond just the dancing. That’s what I love about this book – she shares the goods on all the topics a pro dancer needs to know, but will never learn in dance class. I can hardly cover it all, but I’d like to share a few of the aspects I found particularly valuable.

Princess Farhana’s overview of belly dance styles and props is a major strength of this book. The beginner would find it useful to get the “lay of the land” so they can begin to explore in an informed way and have some context when they encounter performance genres they don’t recognize. I made this assigned reading for my serious private students! As an experienced dancer who’s done her fair share of research, I loved this section because it really wove together all the threads of styles over time, creating a “bird’s eye view” of our history.

Another place where this book really shines is in the costume department. Princess Farhana is legendary for her elaborate, meticulous and “totally together” look. In the costuming section, she discusses strategies for building a costume wardrobe on a budget, including how to make sure you get your money’s worth whether you are purchasing new or used. But it doesn’t stop there – she schools us on how to store, transport and clean our delicate bedlahs. This section also covers all the extras that complete the look like hairpieces, jewelry, the low down on costume undies, and makeup tricks for face and body.

Trial and error – lots of error – are the way so many dancers learn about things like photoshoots.  That can be an expensive lesson!  Princess Farhana’s photos are always striking, unique and full of personality. What works on stage and what works in front of the camera are not the same. She shares lots of tips for preparing for your shoot, how to play up your best features and creatively mask others,  as well as what kind of photos are necessary for promotion and getting your “brand” across.

I really appreciated the section on stage lighting. This is another topic we don’t get exposed to till we are in the moment and need it. Most dancers wouldn’t know what to ask for if given the chance. Most lighting techs at shows wouldn’t be willing to tell you what they are using and why so you could learn, but the Princess will fill you in on stage jargon, lighting basics and how colored gels can enhance your skin tone and costume color, set a mood … or just make you look sick.

I’ve really barely scratched the surface of what “The Belly Dance Handbook” covers.  There is plenty of practical information about living and working in the biz – onstage and off, including turning pro, teaching, belly dance tourism, navigating the belly dance community and business practices. Princess Farhana’s voice and engaging personality really shine in the writing so it’s never dry. I highly recommend it, wherever you are on your belly dance journey!

Have you read “The Belly Dance Handbook” already? Share your thoughts in the comments below….

March 27, 2014 1 Comment

No sweat, huh? : Making Belly Dance Stage Makeup Last

If you read online discussions with bellydancers talking about makeup, you will find an awful lot of them commenting on how much they sweat when they perform… most seem to think their problem is unusual. For those that give their show their all, I don’t think they sweat any more than any other athlete that puts in the same effort, but nobody expects a runner or soccer player to still look fresh and glamorous at the finish line or final buzzer. It’s no surprise that so many dancers are looking for that secret technique for sweatproof stage makeup. This exact request was sent to me from long-time Daily Bellydance Quickies subscriber, Sasha, so I thought I’d dig up some info on this hot topic as we head into the extra-sweaty season, especially here in the solar oven we call Phoenix.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you that I am not a makeup artist by any stretch of the imagination. Anything I’ve learned has been through lots of trial and perhaps even more error in doing my own stage face. This post is also not a recommendation of any products. Think of it as a summary of what dancers are using and recommending to each other online. I haven’t tried many of these personally since I’ve already found what works for me – but it may not work for you.  So, if you haven’t found your solution, maybe some of this information will help you experiment intelligently.

My personal choice is MAC Studio Fix base. I like it because it’s full coverage and stays put (on me). I tend to get red-cheeked when I dance hard and this keeps that under cover. I go light on the moisturizer and make sure my face is completely dry before I buff it in with a short, flat-topped brush. After a show I carefully and lightly blot my face with a towel and before the next show might touch it up with a light dusting of Studio Fix pressed powder if needed.  No, not sophisticated but like I said, I’m not a makeup artist and it works for me.

The suggestions I gathered from online conversations seem to fall into two categories – primers and sealers. Relatively few talk about actual “sweatproof” foundation formulas.  There were a few sketchy suggestions too, so before we go on let me just say that applying roll-on antiperspirant to my entire face or misting my finished face with hairspray do not sound like anything I’ll be trying!

Primers are liquids or gels applied before foundation. They are formulated to create a smooth surface for the foundation to stick to and (supposedly) improve the staying power of your makeup. A quick search shows that just about every makeup manufacturer from drugstore Revlon to high-end Clarins and NARS makes a primer. The ones with the most positive reviews seem to be MAC Prep and Prime and Smashbox Photo Finish. The theatrical makeup line Kryolan reportedly makes a price-friendly one.  The thing I’ve found most odd is that the official product descriptions from the makers do not claim their products will improve the durability of foundation. It’s the users that are circulating that information.

Sealers are applied over finished makeup; some are sprayed and some are brushed on. MAC Fix Plus gets a lot of good chatter in stage makeup discussions, but again, the official product description doesn’t make any claims to keep makeup in its place. Another product called Model In A Bottle, claims to do exactly that however. SheLaq by Benefit is one of the “brush on” sealers and some users have said it feels heavy, but reviews are generally good. There were a few good mentions for Make Up For Ever’s Mist & Fix too.  Ben Nye Final Seal is made for the stage and makes a bold claim, “Apply over any completed makeup for smudge and water resistance. Final Seal keeps makeup in place on performers who heavily perspire.”  I’m curious to see what happens to my makeup in the steam room with this one….hmmm. Check back with me on that.

Do you use any special products to keep your stage face from melting? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? Tell us in the comments below.

June 3, 2011 6 Comments

Things I Need…

WishListThis past week I’ve realized there’s a few things I need to add to my wish list. Aside from the usual… more time, more costumes, more money (to buy more costumes!) and a personal assistant… I have two very specific requests to put out there.

#1 A gig bag that is truly and fantastically functional.  It should roll like a carry-on suitcase but open up with two sides so I can pack all the parts for 2 separate costumes, each on their own side. That way, I can put show#1 costume away without burying show #2 costume underneath and inevitably making a mess of all my careful packing at home. While I’m at it, it should have lots of pockets for my jewelry items, makeup, hairspray and comb, dance shoes, business cards, etc.  Since I’m shooting for the moon here, I’d like a way to strap a sword or cane bag to the outside so I can maneuver just one item.

#2 I need something like a whiteboard in my shower. Why? Because that’s where I get all my best ideas! Something about standing under the water washes all the mundane crap from my mind and makes room for the creative muse to wander in. She runs away when the water goes off so I have to write things down right away – my ideas usually come 3 or 4 at a time. That still wouldn’t solve the problem of the great ideas that I get in the gym shower.

Are you listening, Santa? You’ve got 9 months to work on it!

What do you wish for? Tell me in the comments below..

March 5, 2011 3 Comments