So many of us have no direct access to belly dance stores in our home towns and even those that do can still have trouble finding a costume that fits. Maybe you are super busty, or really tall or have some other dimensions that is well outside ‘average’, perhaps you just don’t like the styles in stock. Buying custom made online is one solution, you can get a costume in your size and preferred style but it is not without its drawbacks. I have had spectacular success and disappointment ordering costumes online so to help my fellow dancers avoid the pitfalls I thought I would share some of my experiences and while I am at it, give my top tips for successful custom made online costume shopping (p.s. summary at the end if you don’t have time to read the lot 😉 ).
Many years ago I started my online custom purchasing rather cautiously with a simple black skirt from an American seller on eBay. The skirt was advertised as seamless and I thought this sounded like a classy feature. The seller would also make it in any length for no extra cost. As a tall woman I was thrilled with the idea of a skirt that didn’t finish above my ankles. The reality was not nearly as thrilling unfortunately; while it was long enough, it was seamless because it had no shape. It was just a rectangle with a gathered waist. The waist was so large that all 3 members of my performance troupe could fit in it ……AT THE SAME TIME!!! This gives me tip one – Find out exactly what any unusual promised features actually mean! Sometimes it sounds too good to be true because it is too good to be true.
Green Egyptian Costume
My first ever flashy professional looking costume came about because an Egyptian Vendor (luxor_bazar) was auctioning off custom made costumes on eBay to get known. The prices were very low on some of the items and the bargain proved too hard to resist. I won a bid on a cute little 2 piece with a saucy cut out in the side (also came with gauntlets and headband). I can’t remember the exact price as it was a long time ago but I paid less than $100 AUD including postage. The write up said any colour you want and to email your dimensions and cup size. I said ‘dark green’, envisaging a lovely emerald colour, sent my measurements off and waited excitedly for the post man. The outfit arrived and was technically what I asked for. I was disappointed though. The workmanship was fine and the skirt fitted beautifully but while darkish green, it was not the colour I had envisaged at all. The shade is one I can get away with but only just. It just isn’t wow on me. Lesson 2 – get colour swatches off your vendor – have them posted to you if you have plenty of time, if not, get an idea of the colour from photos of the fabric.
This was not the only lesson from this outfit unfortunately. The bra top was a bit of a disaster too. It didn’t fit well at all, the halter straps were very stretchy providing little support but the biggest problem was the cup size. It was what I asked for so I couldn’t go mad at the seller– it was my size but the way it sat wasn’t flattering and it looked way too small in context of the costume as a whole. Somehow it made me look less busty rather than more busty as a good costume usually does. Tip3 – unless you know for sure the bra in question will fit – then order a cup size up from what you would wear for everyday wear. I found out later that this is commonly done by dancers regardless of bust size as it leaves room for padding and adjusting, it’s much easier to deal with too much than not enough! I also highly recommend it for pear shaped women – you need the extra fabric in the top to visually balance out the hips.
I only have worn this costume once with a beaded Indian butterfly top underneath to help balance it. It was a bargain but because I wasn’t savvy, I haven’t got the value out of it.
Red Egyptian Outfit -Gift
Another Luxor bazar number that was super cheap. I ordered it as a gift for a voluptuous friend that was having trouble getting a costume. I thought I had trouble with fit because I wasn’t very busty but she had some trouble too. It is just reality that most of your costumes will need some adjusting no matter how careful you are with your measurements. Unless you buy the costume in Egypt (or Turkey or wherever) with the seller there to do a fitting and make the adjustments then an excellent fit will require some extra work.
Black Egyptian Dress
I think you are getting the idea here with how much I love a bargain! Again a Luxor bazar item, this time a full dress was available for an insanely low price and I couldn’t resist. I figured that being a dress, I wouldn’t have the same fit issues with the top as it was more covering. Sadly no, in this case I don’t believe it was my fault. The bottom part of the dress – i.e. from the hip down fitted perfectly. The top half was shocking – the measurements were clearly misinterpreted. The mesh torso section was soooo long that only a giant could have fitted the dress and the width around was huge. I was very careful and specific with these measurements so I guess it was a matter of crossed wires. If I had sent it back however it would have cost more in shipping than the dress was worth so I have held on to it and have been slowly doing some adjustments over a number of years. I have made it into a 2 piece and have put so many hours into it. It is rather sad as the quality of this item is probably not worth the amount of effort I have put in but as a matter of principle I will try and finish it so I can wear it at least once.
Teal Scarlet’s Lounge Costume
This was a costume I fell in love with from American vendor’ Scarlet’s Lounge’. I had it custom made in Teal with silver thread, a longer skirt and a Turkish vest instead of a bolero vest. It cost $350 US dollars, so not a cheap bargain purchase. The initial contact was fine, sending the measurements was a bit of a problem as I sent them in the much more accurate and universal form – centimetres. I knew the measurements were being sent to India which is metric but the seller insisted I convert them all to inches which was tedious and unnecessary but oh well. Things went downhill from there. It was supposed to take 6-8weeks for my costume to arrive. 2 months later I started emailing Gina to find out what had happened. Communication was shocking and 3 months later I still had no outfit, no answers to the majority of my emails and no details of who the costume had been supposedly sent with. I was so incensed about being ripped off, I actually made a warning flyer and gave it out at the next belly dance event I went to. Thankfully Gina did eventually honour the deal and I received my costume – many months late. The Turkish vest was not to measurement and needed adjustment but I was thoroughly sick of dealing with Scarlets lounge and dealt with it myself. I met another dancer that had similar troubles with this seller too. It was years ago and I hope Gina has improved her customer service but beware. When purchasing through eBay, the feedback system offers a measure off security. Sellers don’t want bad feedback BUT for items like custom made belly dance outfits being sent international – the reasonable time for arrival can be outside the time you can give poor feedback. This means a seller could be routinely ripping people off and getting away with it.
I did adjust this costume too and have had some good use out of it as it is beautiful.
Green and Black Egyptian Costume
My most recent purchase and my delight. All the lessons I have learnt from the above costume fails finally lead me to a good one. I purchased again from an eBay seller, this time alooegypt.
I had very few problems with this one. The top didn’t fit right but I now take that to be a given and was prepared to adjust it. I am quite pleased with the results and will do a future blog post on how I did it. The only real gripe I had was that I specified the measurements for my arms as I wanted the gauntlets to sit on the upper arm not the lower as it is more flattering for my shape. Unfortunately they seemed to ignore this and give me a standard size. Adjusting them has been a lot trickier as I didn’t have the fabric to do it. I have only finished adjusting one gauntlet but have worn the costume anyway.
Top Tips for Online Custom Made Costume Shopping!
1) Find out exactly what any unusual promised features actually mean!
2) Get colour swatches off your vendor
3) Order your cup size one size larger
4) Your costume will likely require some adjustments, be prepared for it or budget in the cost of a seamstress to help you out.
5) See if you can get a small amount of fabric and some beads sent with your outfit to help with future repairs and the above adjustments. It’s worth it even if it costs a little more.
6) Be very clear about your measurements and make sure you and your vendor are on the same page – diagrams can help bridge language barriers
7) Get someone to help you with your measurements
8) State any changes you want made to the overall design .
9) Ask other dancers about their experience with a seller or check online forums
Good Luck with your custom outfits! Have you had a spectacular success or fail with online costumes?? Please comment below and tell share what you have learnt from the experience.