"How do you create a belly dance costume? My advice to you is what I always tell myself—start simple. And cheap. And do it yourself."
The Perfect Belly Dance Starter Costume
A perfect first belly dance costume is more along the lines of a belly dance outfit, and you can create it from what you probably already have in your closet. A little rummaging around in drawers will land you trinkets to add to it and have you jingling and sparkling in no time.
Start with three basic pieces:
a hip scarf
The fundamental concept in choosing your pieces is...think COMFORT & FLEXIBILITY.
The bottom should be either stretchy if it's tight-fitting or full—you need to be able to move freely. Choose something from your wardrobe, such as:
stretchy jeans or pants
long, stretchy straight skirt
How to Decide Which Bottom to Choose
The leggings, yoga pants, stretchy pants or any of that genre of bottoms are comfortable, contemporary, and sporty. They're a great choice because we generally feel really good in them, and that helps us to relax, forget about how we look, and just enjoy the dancing—which is really important when we're starting out and probably don't yet have our skills internalized. On the downside, pants do reveal the magic behind the moves. If you are wearing a skirt, the "audience" cannot see your legs moving and it looks like your hips are moving all by themselves, which is super cool.
Keep Your Waist Free
If you prefer a skirt, choose one with an elastic waistband so that you can roll the waistband down to your hips bones. Even if you aren't planning to reveal your belly, having no constrictions around your waist frees your abdomen for belly dance moves.
Straight or Full Skirt
A long straight skirt looks very elegant and more dressy than pants and can give you a feel of being a "real" belly dancer—a good thing when we're just starting and need all the help we can get building our confidence when our skills are still new and probably unrefined. A full skirt can give a more modest or rustic look depending on the fabric and style. It's also very easy to dance in as we can move freely, and it's super fun to spin in.
Finding the right top can be trickier. Like the bottom, you need to be able to move freely, and if you are female, the top must have no chance of "flashing" or shifting, and it must fully cover your bra—stray bra straps will definitely look like you just emerged from your dance studio practice. Your bra should be very tight to keep your bust "anchored" to your chest. This dance is about embodying the music, not distracting the viewer by overly jiggling flesh! Select with comfort and good fit in mind so you can forget about what you are wearing and simply enjoy the dancing.
As with the bottom, choose something you already have in your wardrobe, such as:
a tank top
a fitted stretchy top, any length of sleeves
a crop top or belly-revealing top
a loose, flowy top
You Don't have to Reveal Skin
If you are self-conscious about revealing your belly, choose the loose, flowy top. There is no law that says belly dancers have to show their bellies. (Check out this BLOG post for more on costuming for various body types.) The key with a loose, flowy top is to tuck it into the waistband of the bottom—you "blouse" it—and as you move, the fabric will flow and sway like magic. It's a beautiful look and an excellent choice for a more demure look or for cool weather.
Tank tops and fitted stretchy tops are "classics" in my book. They reveal your abdominal moves, but they also reveal bad posture and untrained moves. As I mentioned above, choose a top that fully covers bra straps unless the bra straps can be incorporated into the overall look of the costume.
Try Making a Top
My newest favorite for belly dance tops is the DIY Fringe Crop Top that I designed to be made out of a T-shirt. It's so simple, ridiculously cheap, and it's a COVID-19-quarantine-friendly project—you can make it at home with what you have on hand. Here's a link to the tutorial:
The Hip Scarf
Arguably, this is the most fun part. You can simply tie on a coin hip scarf that you already have, or make a unique hip scarf to match your top and bottom ensemble. Below is my video, DIY No Sew Hip Scarf, a tutorial on using a piece of fabric to make 3 styles of hip scarfs. You'll learn how to fold and tie them to match your bottom choice—full skirt, straight skirt, etc. You can use a large scarf that you have in your closet. You can repurpose some fabric from some old curtains (thanks for the idea, Scarlett!) or other item. Or you can don your face mask and head to a fabric store for a sparkly piece. You'll see all the details in this video:
Another option is to make a belly dance hip scarf out of a T-shirt. This one is super cute as you can choose your color or pattern...how about tie dye? You'll see 2 videos: one for the making of the basic hip scarf and the next one on how to bead it with pony beads, those chunky little beads that you don't require a needle to string them.
Add beads to your hip scarf with this video:
The Finishing Touches
And the final part, is to have fun choosing whatever costume jewelry you have to embellish the look. You can go minimal for a contemporary look, or go all out for lots of jingling with bracelets, anklets, necklaces, big earrings.
Share Your Outfit!
I would LOVE to see a photo of you in your ensemble, and if you want to share it with us, post a photo on our Facebook page. And if you have more ideas you want to share with us, post them in a comment here.
Hugs and happy dancing. RAQ!
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©Jennifer Carpenter-Peak & Robert Peak, 2020