Each month, Daisy Hieland, owner and operator of the Turquoise Pearl Costume Design, will answer your costuming questions. They are all featured in the monthly Sacred Centre Dance Newsletter. Scroll down this page to view some of the column archives. Also, if you have any costume questions that you would like answered, email Daisy and if your question gets published in the newsletter, you will receive a 10% off your next pruchase coupon, good on all services provided by Turquoise Pearl.
Visit the Turquoise Pearl website here!
I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on a debate recently overheard between two of my friends regarding the prefer-ability of wearing hip scarves in class. I notice recently that fewer dancers are wearing them and I have even been asked to remove mine during a recent workshop. Do you have any thoughts on when it is and is not appropriate to wear a hip scarf?
Dear Jingly Hips,
With dance schools gearing up for the new term, and dancers prepping to go back to class, the debate over whether or not to wear a hip scarf is certainly a relevant one. A large part of the hip scarf question depends on what type of hip scarf you are thinking of wearing. Hip scarves range from a simple piece of cloth wrapped around the hips, to fringe belts, beaded and fringed scarves, and that old classic, and bellydance staple, the coin scarf.
On the plus side, wearing a hip scarf offers three main attractions:
1. They allow a dancer to perceive the movement of their hips while training and encourage correct movement and clean precise technique.
2. They are flattering to the figure, and act like a discreet skirt that hides the potentially unflattering tight fit of most practice pants. While unlike baggy clothing still make it possible for the teacher to see and correct a student’s movement.
3. They are often elaborately decorated and make a dancer feel beautiful, thereby boosting confidence and moral.
On the down side many people choose to wear hip scarves covered with coins to class. These coin scarves look and sound amazing during a performance however, in large numbers the noise can become overwhelming. This causes teachers to have to strain their voices to be heard and can be very irritating to other students. Remember that even though you only dance for an hour your teacher may teach 4-5 classes a night, 5-7 days a week and that is a long time to listen to the sound of coins.
Many workshop teachers now request that students not wear hip scarves solely for this reason. They cannot hope to be heard in the back of the room with 70 hip scarves drowning them out and the extra wear and tear on their voice when they try can become a serious problem.
My advice would be, wear a hip scarf in class if it makes you feel good to do so. Just choose one with fringe or beads and leave the coin scarves for performance where they can be appreciated to their full potential.- Daisy
I dance at many outdoor festivals and often have limited changing facilities shared with many other groups including men and children. I sometimes find it hard to change costumes in a decorous fashion without showing many unnecessary parts of my anatomy and undergarments. Can you suggest any alternatives that will not show under my costume but might make changing more comfortable for me and everyone else involved?
There are so many wonderful products available made especially for dancers. If you are wearing a full costume such as a beladi dress, you can try a nude dance camisole or body suite. Often equipped with a built in shelf bra and clear straps these all in one garments also help smooth out any lines or lumps that many tight dresses emphasise. For two piece outfits you can use a nude bellynet, with built in body suite to get the same effect.
Alternatively you can also wear nude jazz shorts or leggings under your skirt. This not only ensures no one sees too much if the wind helps you out on a spin but also doubles as a modest form of underwear while changing from one costume to the next.
If you have several costume changes try choosing a bedla that has limited fringe and can be worn under a choli top, this way you get two costumes without having to completely strip between numbers. You can also try choosing costumes that are traditionally worn over a bedla like under-bust choli’s and vests to create variations on a look rather than a complete costume change.
When arranging your sets try to work with skirt and pant layers. Start with two skirts over harem pants, and slowly de-layer down to one skirt and then just the pants or go the other way and layer up as you go through your set. Another trick if you are changing skirts is to use the slimmest line skirt first. This way when you go to change you can put the wider skirt over the slimmer one and once the second skirt is in place you can slip out of the first while staying modestly covered.
It does takes is a little work ahead of time but with some pre-planning I’m sure you can find lots of innovative ways to avoid having to strip down for costume changes during outdoor performances. Just be creative and plan everything beforehand and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what is possible.
I have a long torso and short legs and find that many styles of belly dance costumes rather than flattering my figure just accentuate my weak points. Can you suggest any styles that might give me that long legged look that we all strive for?
- Ms Short-legged
Dear Ms Short-legged,
A long torso and short legs can definitely be a challenge however there are a few tricks you can use to create that look of longer legs that will help flatter your figure.
1: Look at where you wear your skirt, if you have short legs and lots of torso you want to make sure that you wear the waistband of your skirt higher on your hips than someone with long legs and a short torso would. Wearing your skirt higher will shorten your torso and automatically add extra length to your leg.
2: If your dance style allows and you are comfortable dancing in heels this is a great way to add length to your legs. Just remember that dancing in street shoes is often not a good idea as they are not built to take the kind of twisting and fun angles that are required when dancing. If you decide to dance in heels try to get some designed for dancing, Salsa and Ballroom shoes are a great place to start as they come in a myriad of styles and foot shapes and have the extra straps, structural integrity and foot cushioning required in a dance shoe.
3: Choose skirts that are “all-in-one” rather than using a bedla belt and separate skirt. Using an all-in-one skirt means there are no horizontal lines to break up the silhouette of your leg giving you extra length. If you must use a bedla try to match the colour of your skirt as closely as possible to the colour of your belt, this will help minimize any horizontal lines below hip height that would lengthen your torso and shorten your legs.
4: Choose skirt shapes that lengthen like slim A-lines or soft unfitted mermaids. Anything with too much fabric like super heavy circle skirts, or gypsy skirts with too much fabric around the hips will make your legs look shorter. A skirt that has a slimmer line or has the fullness nearer the bottom will help give you length, just steer clear of the super tight mermaid as this style can create too many curves that could shorten the look of your legs. Tribal style pants in a solid colour or with vertical stripes are a great skirt alternative for the fusion dancer and with their slim line and hems that drag on the ground they can add tons of extra length to even the shortest legs.
5: Keep hem lines long and avoid skirts that sit at ankle height. Try for something floor length; you need to keep your skirts as long as possible to create a clean unbroken line that helps lengthen the look of your legs.
6: Avoid heavy prints or horizontal stripes, these always add width. Look instead for darker colours that will keep the lines slim and steer clear of really bright or pastel colours that add width.
7: Other styles of costume that can look great are long dresses with separate bras. This can be a great way to add width up top and lengthen the leg line, if there are cut outs make sure they sit high enough to give the illusion of a shorter torso and make sure that the skirt is not super tight as a more flowing line from cut outs to the floor can give you extra leg length.
8: When looking at tops you need to think the complete opposite of your skirt. Keep to wider lines and try to find costumes and jewellery that break up the vertical silhouette of your toso. Belly belts, criss-cross straps, longer bra fringe (as long as it is not duplicated on the bottom half of your costume), and butterfly tops can be great options for you. Be careful not to add too much width as it could make you look top heavy, however with some careful planning you can definitely minimize length on top and maximise your legs ending with a silhouette that will please the eye on stage.
PS for great info on how to flatter short legs and a long torso in your everyday wardrobe check out http://ladyshortlegs.blogspot.com/
I have been asked by a friend to take her measurements for a costume she is ordering online. Can you tell me what are the common measurements needed and how to take them correctly?
- The Measurer
Taking measurements can be daunting task however if you follow a few simple rules I’m sure you will manage fine.
Some websites have their own instructions for the specific measurements they require, while others give you only a basic idea of what they need. Below is a description of some of the most common measurements you might need to take and how to take them. Remember that most online stores want their product to fit you when it arrives so always feel free to ask questions if you are unsure how to take a measurement that’s required. Also make sure you know if the measurements are required in inches or centimetres, most companies use inches but some work in centimetres so it is always good to double check.
When measuring you will need a flexible dressmaker’s measuring tape and a pen and paper to jot down the measurements as you go. Make sure that all measurements are taken with the measuring tape snug but not tight, if you pull the tape tight you can get an incorrect final number.
When taking measurements get the person being measured to wear either, just the bra and underwear they would wear with the garment they are being measured for, or a very thin t-shirt and exercise pants. Any heavy clothing or thick waistbands will create inaccurate measurements and can lead to an ill-fitting final garment.
Common Measurements for Women:
1. Over/Above Bust:
Place your measuring tape under the arms and around the chest above the breasts, making sure the persons arms are at their sides and not raised up in the air. Draw the measuring tape snug then make sure that the person can still breathe normally before you write down the final number.
Measure around the fullest part of the breasts making sure to keep the measuring tape level do not let the measuring tape slip higher or lower at the back than it is in the front.
Place the measuring tape around the chest directly below the person’s breasts. Again make sure that when you draw the measuring tape snug it does not restrict breathing.
This measurement is taken at the natural waist which is the narrowest part of the torso and falls between the bellybutton and the lowest ribs. Note this is not where you wear your pants and skirts, this is your actual waist. Sometimes it helps to wrap a string around the natural waist to help determine where the narrowest point is.
5. Upper Hip:
Measure the upper hip around the hip bones, just below or on where you would normally wear a low ride pant or skirt.
6. Low Hip:
This is measured around the fullest/largest part of the hips, usually 8”- 9” below the actual waist. Make sure the measuring tape lays flat around the hips and over the bottom and does not tip up or down in the front or back.
7. Back Length:
Measure from the last vertebra in the neck to the natural waist line; remember this is not where you wear your pants. It sometimes helps to tie a belt or piece of string around the natural waistline while measuring as this gives you a visual reminder of where the waist line really is.
8. Shoulder Width:
Measure across the back from shoulder to shoulder. You want to measure about ½” in from the point of the shoulder across the back to the same spot on the opposite shoulder.
9. Arm length:
Measure from the point of the shoulder to just past the wrist bones, along the outside length of the arm. Make sure to do this with the arm bent at the elbow or the sleeves will be too short when the person goes to bend their arm.
10. Skirt Hem Length:
This is the distance from where you will wear the skirt waist band of your new garment (this varies person to person and garment to garment and is mostly due to personal preference) to where you would like your hem to end. This can be brushing the floor or as high above the floor as you would like. Just remember that most skirts can be hemmed up if you decide they are too long but they cannot be let down. I prefer to take this measurement at the centre front, on the side at the hip, and in the centre back going down over the bottom. I find that often there can be more than a 3” difference in the skirt hem length from front to back so it is often advantageous to have all three measurements.
11. Shoulder to Floor:
Measure from the top of the shoulder down the back all the way to the floor. Make sure the person is standing level and does not drop one shoulder while taking this measurement.
These are just some of the basic measurements that you may be required to take. Hopefully this quick synopsis helps you to feel more comfortable taking measurements and if you have questions please ask them, most companies are very helpful if you approach them politely and are more than willing to describe how to take any additional measurements they might require.
Measurment chart picture.jpg (opens in new window)
I am relatively new to costuming and am wondering if you can give me any advice regarding fasteners. What kinds work best and what to avoid, that sort of thing.
- Sewing for self
Dear Sewing for self,
In dance costuming there are several kinds of fasteners available. Let’s look at some of your options.
1. Hook and Eyes: Arguably one of the most useful fasteners in the dance costume world they come in all shapes and sizes from teeny tiny to the large skirt hook and corset hook varieties. I use these for closures on anything that is not stretchy and even some things that are stretchy. I personally like the really large flat skirt hooks for fastening skirts, bra’s and belts and use the large open corset hooks for anything where there are too many beads and embellishments to make a flat hook practical.
2. Snaps: I have to say that snaps are not that useful on their own. They do not guarantee a secure hold and although they offer quick release I feel that is a dangerous trade-off for security. The main reason I use snaps is as a secondary fastener. I like to use them behind my hook and eyes to keep garments from shifting. In this position they do not take load so they are safe to use and they make sure that the fabric can’t move thereby preventing the hook and eyes from coming open. My other favourite place to use snaps is to fasten the layers of a costume together so everything stays in place. Snaps are available in a large number of sizes, but for costuming purposes I prefer to use the 13mm, and 15mm sizes as they are large enough to offer a good solid hold.
3. Buttons: I do not use buttons often however they can come in handy for converting bra’s to ex-backs or for bustling up skirts that you want to be able to wear both up and down. I also use them as embellishments on fusion and tribal costuming as they come in some super funky designs.
4. Zippers: These are great on costumes that are not stretchy or do not have enough stretch to make sliding in and out of them practical. This often happens on costumes where the beadwork is heavy enough to interfere with the stretch or on fitted skirts made of satin or silk
5. Velcro: Please don’t use Velcro on your costumes. Anything made of chiffon, spandex, lycra or silk will catch and shred itself on the hook side of the Velcro. Even if the costume you use it on doesn’t have any of these fabrics one day you will pack the costume in with your veil and get to a show with a major mess.
6. Laces: Lace up costumes can be very pretty and effective. Grommets and the smaller one sided version Eyelets make nice solid holes for lace up costumes. Just remember to factor in change time as it is often a lengthy process to get in and out of a lace up costume.
I hope this helps answer some of your questions on what options are available.
So, happy sewing and I can’t wait to see lots of new costumes on stage soon.
I read your article on purchasing the correct size of bedla and am just wondering if you have any information or advice on how to determine what cup size I am or should buy?
There are two ways to find out your cup size.
The first is to go to a store that sells bras and be measured by a sales associate. If you choose to go this route, which I encourage you to do, remember that often the expensive specialty shops give their staff more extensive training on determining sizes than the department stores do and that you are welcome to be measured at several different stores if you want a second or even third option.
If you would prefer to measure yourself at home here is the formula you will need to use. If possible enlist a friend’s help with this as it is very hard to get accurate measurements on yourself. You can take these measurements in a plain comfortable bra or bare chested whichever you feel more comfortable doing. (Do not wear a sports, push up or minimizer bra for this as they can change the measurements you will get by several inches.)
1. First standing relaxed measure your chest under your arms just below your breasts.
2. Add 5 inches to this measurement if it is an odd number and 4 inches if it is an even number. This total is your band size.
3. Next measure your chest around the fullest part of your breasts. You may want to do this in several different bras as well as without a bra to get an accurate average as your size may vary depending on how much push up a bra has in it.
4. Now subtract your first (chest) measurement (after you added the 4-5 inches to get your band size) from the new (bust) measurement.
5. Use the difference between your first and second measurements and the chart below to determine your bra cup size.
Bra cup size chart:
0” larger than measurement = AA
1” larger than measurement = A
2” larger than measurement = B
3” larger than measurement = C
4” larger than measurement = D
5” larger than measurement = DD or E
6” larger than measurement = F
I often suggest that if you are smaller than a B cup consider purchasing a B cup bedla with the correct or close to correct band size, and have it professionally stuffed to fit. Often bra’s smaller than a B cup do not have sufficient impact to look good on stage and a B cup is often much easier to find and/or re-sell later if you decide you want to. NEVER purchase a bedla with a cup size smaller than your own. If you are in doubt, it is always better to get a cup size a little too big than it is to find out it is a little too small.
Dear Daisy, My bra fastens with hook and eyes and every now and then I am afraid these fastenings seem to just let go and leave me in a bit of an embarrassing situation. Do you have any suggestions for helping make sure that the closures on my bra cannot come un-done? - Inadvertently Undressed Dear Inadvertently Undressed, There is a very simple solution to this unfortunate situation. The most common reason for hook and eyes to let go when dancing is that in twisting and turning your body becomes smaller than it was when you hooked your bra up letting the hook and eyes push apart. To prevent this from happening you will need to place a large snap behind the hook and eye fastening on the inside of your bra band where the two layers of strap overlap. This snap (use a big one, say 1/4 -1/2") will stop your bra strap from moving in and out with the movement of your chest making sure that the hook and eyes stay firmly where they were intended to be. This also works very well on belts or skirts that fasten with hook and eyes and do not like to stay done up. - Daisy
My bra fastens with hook and eyes and every now and then I am afraid these fastenings seem to just let go and leave me in a bit of an embarrassing situation. Do you have any suggestions for helping make sure that the closures on my bra cannot come un-done?
- Inadvertently Undressed
Dear Inadvertently Undressed,
There is a very simple solution to this unfortunate situation. The most common reason for hook and eyes to let go when dancing is that in twisting and turning your body becomes smaller than it was when you hooked your bra up letting the hook and eyes push apart. To prevent this from happening you will need to place a large snap behind the hook and eye fastening on the inside of your bra band where the two layers of strap overlap. This snap (use a big one, say 1/4 -1/2") will stop your bra strap from moving in and out with the movement of your chest making sure that the hook and eyes stay firmly where they were intended to be. This also works very well on belts or skirts that fasten with hook and eyes and do not like to stay done up.
I have several nice costumes but somehow I am never completely satisfied by the results I see on show night. So I am looking for suggestions on how to give my performance costumes a more professional air.
- Stageward Bound
Dear Stageward Bound,
The simplest way to add professionalism to any outfit on stage night is to accessorise. Must haves are a Necklace and Earrings but also worth considering are hair accessories like flowers, headbands or scarves and in some cases even bracelets, anklets, rings, or feathers can make great additions to your overall costume.
Other things to consider when planning a costume are nail polish, both toes and fingers (even clear can add that little extra finish to your costume.) Appropriate makeup and false eyelashes can also make a difference. If you are not sure how to apply proper stage make up consider having a lesson with a professional makeup company. Also important to remember is always tailor your costume, jewellery, and accessories to the style of dance you are performing and your choice of music. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate do some research, look at other performers and professionals, or ask your teacher for advice.
An appropriate style of costume, that fits your theme and music, can make a nice performance into an amazing performance. Whatever style you chose, remember to view your costume as a whole. A costume is not just a top and skirt; it is everything from whether your hair is up or down to the colour of the nail polish on your toes. So be creative, look at the bigger picture and know that with a little hard work you can make almost any costume go from “Nice” to “Wow!”
I am looking at purchasing a new bedlah and wondering if you have any advice on finding the perfect fit.
- Costume Shopper
Dear Costume Shopper,
The number one most important thing when buying a bedlah is cup size. Everything else on the bra can be altered to fit you with relative ease, cup size is much harder and much more expensive to adjust. When ordering something online, remember it is easier to make something smaller than to make it bigger. If the cup size is a bit bigger, it is easy to add padding and voila! Instant fit! To make a cup larger is often extremely expensive and never gives the same perfect lines as the unaltered original. The belt is also much simpler to make smaller. Often there is a lot of room to make the sides overlap without losing the basic shape of the belt while adding extensions can be very expensive or impossible depending on the belt style.
Remember that many tailors do not understand the fit of this specialised garment, so if you need alterations once you have your new costume, make sure to take it to a professional who understands how belly dance costumes are supposed to fit. After all, your comfort and security on stage is the most important thing!
I have lots of new practise wear for the new dance season. They always look so great for a few months however then the elasticity starts to go and they get pilled and saggy. Do you have any suggestions to keep my pants and tops looking new longer?
- Fashionable for now
Dear Fashionable for now,
The most common cause for loss of elasticity in both spandex and lycra practise wear is putting them in the dryer. Always follow the manufacturer's directions for laundering practise wear; however, you should never machine dry practise wear even if the tag says it is safe to do so. Machine drying can weaken and substantially shorten the lifespan of elasticised fibres.
Also when washing you should always wash your practise wear seperate from your normal laundry. May stretch fabrics and especially nylon mixes will pill if washed with cotton of any kind. (this includes jeans, t-shirts, blouses, towels, etc.) Also many stretch fabrics should be washed in cold water on gentle setting. Remember, with a little extra thought and the right care, your investment in quality practise wear should continue to look new for many years to come.
I have a very nice costume set from Egypt, however it is older and some of the beads are starting to come undone. Do you have a suggestion on thread to use for repairs? I have used regular thread in the past and had unfortunate results so am looking for a tougher alternative.
- Miss Beadless
Dear Miss Beadless,
There are many kinds of thread out there made specifically for beading; however, I use synthetic, unbreakable, outdoor, upholstery thread. It is strong enough to withstand the most energetic dance moves and will not break down with sweat the way that cotton thread or some non-outdoor upholstery threads will. Also it is readily available at all fabric stores and sail shops, and comes in a myriad of colours, perfect for all your costuming needs.
My bedlah belt and skirt do not seem to get along. No matter how tightly I put on my belt my skirt starts to creep out from under it as soon as I begin to dance. I resort to pinning my belt and skirt together for most performances, however, this often takes too long for costume changes. Can you suggest something to keep my wayward skirts in place?
This is a very common problem, especially with satin skirts and other slippery materials. One quick simple solution is to sew a large (1/2 - 3/4") snap to the outside of the front and back of your skirt and the inside of your belt. This acts like pins however much faster to undo and transfer from one skirt to the next when you have quick costume changes. If your skirts continue to slide, try adding snaps at the sides as well, just in front or behind the closures on your belt. Even the most sippery of fabrics should stay in place with four large snaps holding it up.