The costume bra is one of the most iconic parts of a bellydancer’s costume and yet one of the most problematic. When I was a young dancer, some thirty years ago now, making your first costume bra and belt set was like Luke Skywalker making his first light saber: it was the journeyman piece that meant that you were ready to join the sisterhood of the dance.
Making your own decorated bra can be a lot of work, but if you are a craft-y sort of costumer, it can also be a lot of fun. The most difficult part of the process I’ve found is getting a hard-shelled bra whose cups fit properly.
The classic bra and belt set is most flattering to women who have a hourglass figure (that is, a waist smaller than their hips and evenly proportioned on the top and bottom) and a bra cup size that ranges from B-D. Can other figure/bust types wear this kind of costume? Yes, but they have to take extra steps to make it look good on them.
- Pear-shaped women should make sure that they wear something extra on top–cabaret sleeves, epaulets, cabaret jackets, choli tops, short Ghawazee jackets, etc.–to balance out their silhouette.
- On apple-shaped women, the bra and belt set creates two horizontal lines across the torso which calls attention to its rectangular, waistless nature. A good way to fix this is to draw the eye up in a diagonal direction–say, a sequinned applique that wraps across the waist and continues up onto the arm.
- On very large and very small busted women, a decorated bra, especially a very sparkly, heavily coined, or shiny metallic one, can make them look disproportionate. The eye is drawn to the very large or very small shiny circles at the expense of the rest of the costume.
- The best fix is to make the bra blend with the rest of the costume as much as possible. One way would be to wear the bra over a choli (a midriff length top) in a matching color. Another way would be to wear the bra under a baladi dress. The baladi dress could be transparent and cover the bra completely or it could be opaque with a deeply cut neckline that allows a bit of the bra to peek out. Yet another option would be to make the bra and belt part of an Egyptian-style dancing dress. Dancing dresses are more like long evening gowns than the T-shaped baladi dresses.
- If the bra must be front and center, I would suggest covering the cups with a matte (as opposed to a shiny fabric) if possible. Regarding bra decoration, small-busted dancers will want to create as many horizontal lines as possible, both with the stomach drape (the fringe or beads under the bra that draw attention to the abdominal work) and with the motifs on the cups themselves. Large busted dancers should try to create diagonal or straight lines with their cup decorations and stomach drapes.
You will also want to consider how you plan to clean the bra. Remember, heavily decorated bras can’t be washed. They usually have to be aired out and eventually your sweat will break down the fibers and the threads. Removable bra pads that can be unstitched, taken out, cleaned, and sewn back in are a good idea. If you are beading your bra, consider putting the beads on bias tape (for fringe) or on making separate appliques and then attaching either the tape or the appliques to the bra. That makes taking the bra apart for later cleaning or reconstruction a lot easier.