Now we come to my favorite part of bra construction: decoration. Let’s spend a little time talking about general considerations when it comes to decorating your bra:
- Is this your first costume bra? If so, you will want something that will go with a lot of different outfits so consider making it in either gold or silver. Some dancers split the difference and use BOTH gold and silver. You could also go with copper if that suits your coloration.
- Keep your decorations lightweight. Pick up the bag of sequins, coins, shells, washers, or whatever you’re planning on putting on your costume bra. Does it feel heavy? If it feels heavy now, the completed bra is going to be heavy, too, and it is going to feel like a ton once you’re dancing in it.
- Unless that’s the look you’re going for, avoid placing your appliques, beads, coins, etc. right over your nipples. Instead place your decorative elements either above or below the nipples of your breasts. If you really want to highlight your nipples, take a tip from burlesque dancers and put your decoration slightly above your natural nipple line. It gives you an automatic “breast lift”. A cultural note: Egyptians do not regard breasts in the same way Westerners do. Breasts are just devices to feed the baby with and do not have the sexual connotations they have in the West. Therefore, Egyptian-made bras and costumes often feature nipple-centric designs which is something to keep in mind if you are purchasing an imported costume.
- Hand sewing is the order of the day. Yes, a low temperature glue gun will help you tack ornaments and trims into place, but don’t rely on glue alone to keep a critical costume element like your bra together. There is no substitute for sewing down or at least tacking down trims and ornaments. Depending on how you are constructing your bra, you may be able to use a sewing machine to make the straps and possibly the sides as well. However, the cups typically have to be done by hand.
In my day, we had two options when it came to decorating our bras: ethnic (which meant coins) and cabaret (which meant beads). Today’s dancers have a lot more options. My advice is to collect photos where possible of designs that you appeal to you and ask yourself what you like about them.
Here’s a nice example of a hand beaded cabaret bra made by Ozma, an American dancer living in Japan. I like the restrained yet luxurious beading and the sleek, modern feel. Ozma made this as part of her peacock costume. Yes, she made and beaded the skirt and the arm and ankle bands as well.
Zipperbra by HeyCarrieAnn (Craftster).
I hadn’t considered using zippers as a decorative element before, but I like the effect. HeyCarrieAnn created the above as an art bra, but you could adapt it for a costume bra. If so, I would suggest sewing the zippers down rather than gluing them as she did.
Button covered bra found on Ebay. Seems to have been taken down now. I like the cheerful play of colors although I would have covered the bra base in hot pink fabric rather than leaving it plain.
Buttons have become a popular decorative motif these days. Buttons have the advantage of being relatively cheap and easily available. Be sure to use flat rather than shanked buttons for your decorative purposes. Shanked buttons stand up from the surface of the fabric and tend to catch things like veils, etc.
Button covered bra from Gypsy Rain in Australia. These kind of bras are meant to be worn over a choli, not on their own.
Geekella models her bra and hip scarf Craftster (2008).
Tassels are always a fun alternative to coins for a tribal or semi-tribal look. I like the way Geekella has used stretchy black fabric to add horizontal interest across the clevage. A nice tribal fusion design.
Pink ruffled, black-striped bra by webs55 (Etsy). Here’s a link to her Etsy page.
We’ve haven’t talked about the selection of the base fabric for the bra because the base fabric is usually secondary to the beading or other decorations. However, the above bra is a great example of the visual punch you can achieve with minimal decoration and the right selection of covering fabrics. What I like about this bra is its versatility–you could wear this for a tribal fusion costume, you could wear it as part of a burlesque costume, it could go gothic, it could go steampunk.