Dance Patterns

Belly Dance Costume 

The Basic Components

This look is not at all an authentic representation of what anybody actually wore before the 20th century in the Middle East, so it would not be suitable for events where people are attempting to re-create the past as realistically as possible, such as Society For Creative Anachronism (SCA) or Renaissance Faires. The only component shown in this illustration that might be suitable for a historic costume is the Turkish/Arab vest, but it would be worn with other things.

The basic elements shown here consist of:

A -- Head Piece

B -- Turkish/Arabic Vest

C -- Decorated Bra

D -- Sleeves

E -- Belt (Also Called Girdle)

F -- Circle Skirt

G - Veil

Also included but not shown are, Hip Scarves, arm Bands, Anklets and Tummy Cover/Body Suite, Sarong Skirt, Harem pants, Coin Belt, etc, Dance Shoes (shown)

If made out of natural fabrics and decorated with coins, it offers a more folkloric (but not historically accurate) effect. Accessorize it if you like with ethnic-looking jewelry and/or a coin belt. This combination would be particularly effective for dancers who like to dance the "tribal" style that originated in the United States and has spread to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.


In Egypt, the costume would probably omit the head scarf, vest, and sleeves. The bra and belt would be covered with sequins and probably decorated with beaded fringe. This combination of bra/belt/skirt costume is known as bedleh in Arabic, which means "suit" or It may be called a Cabaret  Costume. In various parts of the world, dancers have added on their own creative ideas for decorative components.

"A" -- The Head Piece
Many dancers forget that their heads should be in costume too. They might apply some makeup, but overlook the importance of doing something special with their hair. The end result makes them look unfinished. A pretty scarf, jewelry, or hairpiece or crown adds an extra flair that finishes the transformation .

"B" -- The Turkish/Arab Vest
This versatile vest can be made in metallic, satin, brocade, any fancy fabric or a natural fiber such as cotton for a more folkloric look. It can be paired with either a skirt or harempants. You can outline the neckline and armholes with single-strand sequin trim, or leave them plain. Adding rhinestones, beads, tassels and braid can dress it up a lot.  Some large-busted dancers feel that this vest gives their bust line a little additional support beyond what a bra alone might give or if you feel a bit too bare, or a bit too exposed wearing   just a decorated bra. Adding a vest like this provides just a little coverage, and also balances the fullness of the skirt some what. You can either cut it with a straight line across the back, or you can put a point in the middle. You can decorate the point with a tassel.

For a practice costume, you can make a pair of harempants and one of these vests out of a comfortable fabric. Then, in class you can wear a leotard, one of these vests, the harempants, and a hip scarf. Replace the leotard and hip scarf with a bra and matching belt, and your costume is dressed up for performing!

"C" -- Decorated Bra
The belly dance costume bra consists of a sturdy bra purchased at your favorite lingerie store and then decorated. When trying on bras, take along whatever padding you intend to use so you can see how your bustline will actually look in the completed bra. Either front-hook or back-hook is acceptable (all you're buying is the cups)--choose according to which one gives your bustline the most attractive shape when you look in the mirror. If you're using padding choose one cup size larger. 

We use padding in all bra which we alter, even if you're endowed, it lends to a better look.

Select a bra that has a hard shell on the cups, not delicate lace--coins and beaded fringe are heavy, and you need to pick a bra that's sturdy enough to hold up all that weight and with an underwire!  *see below.

Replace all the straps on the bra to give it a new shape. For example, they might convert standard one-over-each-shoulder straps to a different style to make the bra look less like underwear. 

If you are a large bust size you may want to try a criss-cross the straps in the back or put a T-bar across the back to keep the straps from falling off your shoulders while you dance. The  breasts plus the decorations may give you a genuine pain in the neck after wearing it a while, with a halter! But if you like a halter add shoulder straps too.  Madame Abla uses this a lot and looks wonderful. 

Cover the cups and all the straps with suitable fabric--good choices are velvet, lamé, brocade, or sequin-covered fabric. Then decorate by attaching either coins or beaded fringe. Make sure that the completed item no longer looks like underwear. Add a secondary clasp at the opening, so that if one set of hooks gives way, the secondary set will keep it from flying open. Also, if your using lame or then fabric back it with iron on fabric stiffner.

*But before you think your really ready to do the job.  Check out Laura's Costuming on this site.  It's not that easy!  It's hard to find if not impossible a hard cup bra.  So, what you have to do is to stiffen it your self and add new straps for starters.

"D" -- Sleeves
Like the Turkish vest, sleeves can give you a little more coverage on the top half of your body, making you feel somewhat less exposed. Their fullness also helps balance the fullness of your circle skirt.

Sleeves are stand-alone, not attached to the vest or any other part of the costume. Styles can be puffiness, which  provides a very feminine look and they look great on just about everybody or crocheted with beads & paillettes ,  lycra. beads or chiffon.

Some dancers are sensitive about having arms that are either too thin or too large. These sleeves are great for them, because they cover most of the arm and eliminate one of the worries that can interfere with the dancer delivering her best show.

You can find a number of interesting sleeves or gloves from vendors.

"E" -- Belt

Covers the elastic on the top edge of the skirt.  Provides extra decoration at the hipline to call attention to hip movements such as shimmies and hip lifts.  Balances the look of the bra.   The belt can be as simple as a narrow band with decoration sewn on it, or as elaborate as a hand-beaded confection. It should be made of the same fabric as that used to cover the bra, and decorated with items that match the ones used on the bra. So, if you decorate the bra with coins, you should apply a similar coin design to the belt.

 A coin belt  makes noise when you shimmy (these are made of chain, coins and beads) and are found in many different styles and price range. It calls attention to your movement and enhances the dance. Coins are more American. And the coin belt would be worn with a coin bra cover or a choli.  However, you can find ready made Coin bra & belt set made on "Hard foundation" with beads, coins and fringe.

Beaded fringe is found on beaded bra and belt sets which may be trimmed in rhinestones

"F" -- Circle Skirt
The circle skirt drapes gracefully from the hips to the ankles, and is flattering on most body types. It is made of a series of half-circle panels that are attached to elastic casing at the hip edge. Most circle skirts consist of three such half-circle panels: two in the back, and one in the front. The shape of this skirt means there won't be much bulk at the hip line, but there will be fullness at the hem.

The circle skirt can be worn by itself if it is made of opaque fabric. Dancers who prefer a little coverage on their legs can wear harem pants underneath--either sheer or made of an opaque fabric or layer it with different color skirts.. When dancing outdoors, harem pants are a particularly good idea because a gust of wind might blow the skirt up and expose more than the dancer intended.

Wearing multiple circle skirts in different colors and then tucking one of them into the hipband can give an attractive effect. These multiple layers look especially dramatic when spinning. A row of glittery trim around the hem makes a nice accent, particularly when spinning.

Overskirt of a fabric that flares directly out away from the body while spinning, and then underneath a skirt made of inexpensive nylon tricot that hugs the legs more closely while spinning. This offers the dramatic flared effect that makes the spin look impressive. Many of these skirts will be a 5 yard or 10 yard skirt.

There are a number of different types of skirt other than the circle skirt.  We didn't want to confuse you to much.

You can be as creative as you like with the costuming.

Fabrics and Trims
One great trim for belly dancing costumes is single-strand sequin trim. It usually appears on spools (sequins by the yard), and consists of just a single row of sequins sewn together to make a narrow trim. This is usually low-cost and easy to find in mainstream fabric stores. Also stretch sequin trim by the yard, good for trim and inexpensive hip belts, armband & anklets.

Another inexpensive trim that looks good is soutache braid.  Some drapery trim lends well too,  but NO rick-rack, etc. It's a bit to country.

Paillettes look like over sized sequins, and they can add a lot of sparkle to your costume.

Fabrics that work very well for all the items :

Charmeuse (has a satiny sheen and drapes beautifully)

Satin (shiny sheen)
China Silk (inexpensive, has a nice sheen)
Tissue Lamé (very sparkly, but a bit stiff)
Laminates (often called liquid gold or liquid silver)
Crepe (not as shiny as you might wish, but drapes nicely)
Cotton Broadcloth, especially with stripes or paisley design (for a folkloric look)
You can also use sheer fabrics such as chiffon and georgette for some of the items on this page, such as underskirts, sleeves, vest, and head scarf. Sheer fabrics are not suitable for harempants you plan to wear by themselves or a skirt you plan to wear without any additional layers--audiences generally don't want to know what color of underwear you're wearing.

Velvet and brocade can be very nice for the bra, belt, blouse, vest, sleeves, and harempants,   This fabric is also used for gypsy circle skirts used mostly for tribal dance (light weight fabric only).