So you’re thinking about making your own belly dance cabaret bra and belt set? Before the Internet made international shopping easy, most dancers made their own and many still do- it IS possible. These days most people buy them, but the price can still take your breath away as much as the sequins and rhinestones do. So surely making one is cheaper? Well, I’ve made several sets over the last few years and am prepared to talk about what it takes.
First off, ya gotta make some decisions… like how much of both your time and money you want to spend. Those decisions will color everything else you do, and they must be made together and be consistent with one another in your overall costume design. Spend a little, spend a lot, but don’t spend the money but not the time, don’t spend the time but not the money. You will not be happy with your results. So let’s talk about the expenses. The biggest money expense is the fringe you use, although bead costs can mount up too. The biggest time expense is the amount of handwork you do.
Fringe: Real beaded belly dance fringe can be found as low as 20 bucks a yard, but that’s the shorter, plain, same-length, generic colors fringe. The deep V-shaped, multi-piece bra and belt fringe sets intended for belly dance costumes start more like $100 and go up from there: $150, $200 for the good stuff is pretty normal. What’s worse, the sets don’t usually wrap all the way around the hips of most women (I’m not saying ‘goddess sized’, I’m saying ‘taller proportional women’ sized), so you may need to augment them, which poses bead matching problems. In any case, plan to spend at least $75 on beaded fringe alone and you’ll probably spend more for it.
Fringe Alternative: If beads are too much money, use ‘chainette’ string fringe instead- it moves, you can get it as long as you want in whatever colors, and it’s much cheaper. I bought several yards recently for like $6/yard on sale- much better! Doesnt make noise, of course, but it does move prettily. You can use the interior decorator fringes but they look like furniture if you’re not careful. I wouldn’t use it for a costume you plan to keep. And of course, you don’t actually NEED the fringe- it’s just traditional and shows movement well. Use chainette and you’ve got a fringe for your costume at more like $25.
Handwork: Hand stitching a costume, including hand beading and sewing on appliqués, takes time. I’ve spent many hours just filling in and fancying up my basic fabric, dealing with the cut edges, beading the straps and bra fringe, matching the scalloped edging, etc. It was HOURS of work beyond getting the costume basically wearable but it was necessary for the overall design style of the costume that I chose.
Handwork Alternative: Machines, of course, but note that some decorative fabrics, like sequined fabrics, can be hard to machine sew (can be done, can cause machine troubles too. Not for beginners!) The alternative to stitching (either machine or hand) is gluing. REALLY fast, can be very secure. You better be a real neat-nik or you’ll get glue all over everything. Also, it’s permanent- no do-overs, no alterations if you gain a little, lose a little or just change your mind.
DESIGN: You can use a highly decorative fabric and you may not need as much added decoration, depending on your design. You usually get into bigger expense with highly decorative fabrics, however. Another alternative to lots of fancy added decoration is a design that’s more modern and has cleaner starker lines. But let’s face it, the standard cabaret outfit is expected to have lots of over-the-top decorations, so you’re into time and money if that’s what you’re aiming for.
So think about decorations and construction, adding up to your costume design. How does this translate into the real world? Look at my pictures for some real world examples of belts (yes, there are matching bras, but that isnt where the cost is). Here is as much info about the construction and costs as I remember for each. Unfortunately, I didn’t track the time I spent on them, but they were all done within six months….
1) PURPLE SATIN: I found a hip scarf with the gold beads and chainette fringe for 30 bucks. In standard royal purple, I thought it would be easy to match and a good base for a costume and it was. The satin fabric was about $10, the base bra was $20. The beads were plastic (cheap) and large (goes fast to apply), the sequins were on a braid that I glued down (fast, cheap). The big ticket item was the hand work making the gold beaded Xs around top and bottom of the belt, but again, big beads, fast work. I sat in front of the TV and sewed. It really went fast- total cost was like $100 and it dances pretty well. A great design for a beginning costume- anyone could do this one.
2) MULTI-COLORED BEADED: I found a totally beaded evening top in a thrift store for about $10. It was wild and gaudy; with that many colors surely I could match one of them? Well, close enough; I wanted the more neutral bronze and ended up using a gold beaded fringe. Bra base was $20, base fabric was $10 total. Big ticket cost item: the fringe I bought from ebay for about $50. Plain gold, all the same length. I bought a yard but needed a bit more, and ended up filling in the hips with shorter fringe. OK, close enough; call it part of the design. The basic costume construction went fast, but then I obsessed about all the little beads along all the edges of the bra and belt- I hand sewed them down. Could have glued more, but I like the softness of the sewing. I should have just wrapped the beaded fabric around the belt base and tucked all the raw edges to the insides instead of making it all smooth and nice. Stupid me. Still, I got off for less than $100 again, I think.
3) GREEN SATIN AND SEQUIN: I got a kelly green silk evening dress with sequined flowers and shamrocks on it for FREE from a girlfriend- plenty of fabric for a costume. It had a nice scalloped edge to it- perfect for the bottom of a belt. Kelly green- standard color, right? Ha. The dress’s silk was sheer- I needed to line it. Turns out kelly green is not in style right now. Found a pine green that I liked and thought that under the sheer silk, it would be fine. Ooops- I hadn’t bought the fringe yet; should have waited on the fabric til I could compare it to the fringe. Oh well, did find some belt fringe- no bra piece, but it was only $75 and was nice and deep and had a V shape. Of course it didn’t wrap my belt, so I filled in the sides with more cheap gold fringe. Then I added accent gold beads to the flowers on the sequined designs. So is the fringe the same color as the belt? NO. It’s a grass green- yellowish. The gold accent beads help tone down the pine green, but it’s not a perfect match. Oh well. Using the dress’s sequined patterns like appliques went fast, but I had to hand bead the bra straps and match the scalloped sequin bottom edges onto the bra, which took lots of time. OK, I didn’t HAVE to do it, but it made a better overall design because it would have looked bare in places without that beading. Anyway, I like the outfit and it still didn’t cost much more than $100 because the belt fringe didn’t have a matching bra fringe piece, but it took much longer than the others. I should have spent more time planning and matching, but it’s a nice outfit.
So there you have it- three cheap handmade outfits. They do fit me well, which is another benefit of making your own.