While the greatest hurdle for a new belly dancer to overcome as she transitions from lessons to her first stage performance is confidence, the second-greatest hurdle might actually be the most frustrating: finding an affordable costume that fits right. Belly dance costumes aren’t exactly mass-produced in the same way standard clothing is, so a vast majority of the time, you’re stuck browsing online through limited—and often quite expensive—options. And if you decide customization is the only way to get what you want, you’ll typically be shelling out a MINIMUM of $400.
I have yet to reach a place in life where I can spend that kind of money, so when I started belly dancing five years ago, I had to get quite creative. Sorted piece by piece, here is a poor, little woman’s guide to belly dance costumes: the tricks I learned in order to come up with belly dance costumery that helped me fit in with other dancers onstage.
I have never been comfortable with dancing in a belly dance bra top. Even though it’s the most traditional thing a belly dancer can wear, I could never get over the paranoia of my boobs popping out from a bra that failed to secure them into their proper place. Heck, I even feel panicked when another dancer in a bra top goes to bend over. Just—nope—I refuse to wear a bra top until I can get one custom-made…with extra coverage…
Since that hasn’t been an option for me, I went the unique route of wearing crop tops. Luckily, crop tops turned out to be quite cheap, and, with a bra on underneath, they offered adequate coverage of my chest (from above the nipple line to just beneath the bust). I likely would not perform professionally or at a competition wearing a crop top, but for local events and just dancing for fun, they have served me well. Additionally, I have received numerous compliments for my tops, from audience members and dancers alike.
One of my first crop tops came from Forever 21 as a gift from my mom. It likely did not cost more than $25.
My photo. Red lace crop top. Rak the Brazos! Nov. 2014
Photo by Tom Adams. Black and red rose crop top. TAMU Belly Dance Spring Hafla, Apr. 2018
Photo by Tom Adams. Black velvet turtleneck crop top. Rak the Brazos! Nov. 2017
Although hip-wear isn’t always required, I preferred to include it in most of my costumes. At first, I started out with basic hip scarves/coin belts, which you can find on just about any belly dance costume website for about $10 (see Full Costumes section below for links).
Also, when in a pinch, a regular scarf will do as long as it is long enough to tie around your hips. Then you can either “diaper” it (the “technical” term for tucking a scarf or veil into the sides of your skirt) or tie it (after either folding it lengthwise or into a triangle). Target seems to be the most promising place to find large enough scarves, where you can get them for around $15.
Photo by Tom Adams. “Diaper-ed” scarf. TAMU Belly Dance Spring Hafla, Apr. 2018.
Photo by Tom Adams. Folded scarf. Rev’s Belly Dance Night, Sept. 2018.
The last type of hip accessory I’ve used is an imposter—and a very effective one. Somehow I came across a kid-size shawl in some of my or my mom’s old stuff, and it was just long enough to tie around my hips. The thing was beautiful, all embroidered and bordered with fringe. Although I don’t know the price of that exact one, I browsed on eBay and found that kids’ triangular shawls can be found right around $5 each.
Photo by Michelle Ochoa. Blue floral kids’ shawl. Dancing Through The Sahara, Mar. 2015.
For some bizarre reason I can’t figure out, shopping for pants (or tribal pants, at least) that fit my short-legged, curvy figure is easy (see Full Costumes section below for links), but skirts prove to be a whole ‘nother story.
First of all, you can’t simply buy a maxi skirt in a store that will work for belly dance. Most maxi skirts you’ll find in department stores are made of two panels stitched together at the sides, a design that is restrictive to movement beyond casual walking. Belly dancers typically need full-length circle skirts which are, as the name implies, created from a giant circle of fabric to allow for a great range of leg motion, including the splits.
Second, if you’re short like me, most circle belly dance skirts online won’t fit you. This is because most companies who produce cookie-cutter costumes create skirts with a minimum length of 36”. The longest skirt I can wear as a 5’3” person is 34”.
Some dancers have told me that they will buy the oversized skirts anyway and roll up the waistband several times over, but I can’t stand things that don’t fit right as they are. This leaves me with having to shop online through normal skirts, which leads me to the third problem: most normal skirts are designed to fit at the waist, not at the hips like a belly dancing skirt.
So what on earth are we tiny dancers supposed to do??? Fear not; if you use the following shopping parameters on eBay, you can actually find a decently-priced ($20 or less) skirt you can dance in:
Skirt Shopping Parameters
Bottoms Size: Your Size +3. For example, if you are normally a size S, go up 3 sizes to XL to find a skirt that will sit on your hips. If you’re normally M, go to 2XL, and so on. If you worry this won’t work, go to a store just to try on oversized skirts to test which size fits the best for your hips.
Length: Check “below knee” and “mid-calf”. You’re shopping larger sizes to wear lower, so the skirt length will be longer. But also keep in mind that some eBay sellers will be lazy and just list their skirt as “long”, so you can check that box, too. Regardless of what you check, ALWAYS check the description for an actual measurement of the skirt’s length.
Style: Check “A-line”, “Circle & Skater”, “Flare”, “Trumpet & Mermaid”, and/or “Wrap & Sarong” for best results. These styles of skirts flare out either at the hips or legs, which will prevent unsightly stretching of the fabric during performances.
Here are pictures of two skirts I’ve bought using those search parameters:
My photo. Black gypsy skirt.
My photo. Black velvet skirt.
You do have to search “belly dance costume” on this website, but they have so many options available (including individual pieces like skirts, tribal pants, and hip scarves). I’ve purchased two beautiful, lacey costumes there, one of which had tribal pants which fit great, and the other which had a skirt that luckily wasn’t too long for me! Most of the costumes on this site are between $10 and $30.
Surprisingly, I have not bought anything from this website…yet. But with so many options for $30-$50, I will eventually! Since this website is solely dedicated to belly dance wear, it’s much more organized than the previous two sites and offers dang-near everything you could ever need including bindis, props, music, and more.
Last but not least, every belly dancer could use a coverup! For those of you who don’t know, coverups are oversized, draping “dresses” that belly dancers wear over their costumes when they’re not performing. Most dancers think of it as a formality or as a sign of being respectful to other performers, so you could think of it as our version of a business suit. It separates our “business” self from our “performing” self.
So where do we get said coverups for cheap? Ross. That’s right, the best place to get cheap (but beautiful) coverups is Ross in the dress section for a mere $10.
My photo. Blue paisley coverup, One-Size.
Well, that's everything; thanks for reading!
This has been a poor, little woman’s guide to belly dance costume shopping! What have been your best costume finds? Share with us on social media or in the comment section below!
Still not quite sure what you’re looking for? Click here to read more about the pieces that make up a belly dance costume!
Want to know more about your costume options? Click here to learn about all the ways to obtain costumes, from making them to buying them!