Sunday, 19 December 2010

Cabaret Costuming for Cuddly Ladies

Or in other words, how to look good in glitter when your thighs are bigger around than your troupemate's waist!

I'm pretty sure I've griped on here before about the twin trials of being a plus size dancer with a size zero wallet. Most custom made stuff is out of my price range, and the cheaper costuming gear is almost invariably from the far east, and sized accordingly.

Even if us larger ladies can find  reasonably priced clothes in our size, there's no guarantee it's going to look good. Round my neck of the woods, there are two standard 'base level' cabaret costumes. The first should need little explanation; backless tops and 38F breasts are never a good combination, and I have seen more than one beginning dancer expose more than she intended under one of those damn butterfly tops! The second is certainly more decorous, but teamed with a straight panel skirt it's basically covering all my assets whilst being a large flashing advertisement for a big belly with considerable overhang, and despite the name of the dance, that's not really what I want to draw attention to. Besides, if I'm doing cabaret, I want a proper bedlah, and until people start selling them in sizes over a C cup that's going to entail making my own. 

So I have! This is actually the fourth bedlah I've made (the third finished one), but the basic construction is the same. Nice sturdy bra (usually a daily wear one that has been retired due to tattiness) covered with a gorgeous sari (£5 for a whole bag of them off a fellow dancer), then embellished. The straps have been cut off so it loops and ties at the back like a tribal bra, as I haven't quite got the hang of covering straps yet. The belt is made of 4 layers of interfacing, covered in more sari material, and attached by hooks and eyes. Lots of them. I don't enjoy costume malfunctions.

So far so good, but I like a little more coverage than is supplied by the average bedlah. Off the shelf underbust tops are so rare as to be almost non-existent here in the UK, but a brief sojourn on eBay throws up lots and lots of stretchy velvet tops that are just begging to meet my sewing scissors And some of them aren't black- this fluorescent orange monstrosity is actually a pleasant shade of burnt ochre in real life and a perfect match for my beautiful bedlah. 

Even so it's not my best look ever- there's a reason my wardrobe only consists of V-necks and wrap tops. But ten minutes with a seam picker soon gets shot of the dreaded turtleneck. Another twenty minutes with Fritz, my beloved sewing machine, during which I discover that all velvet is not made equal and this stuff is a total PITA to hem, and I have a new addition to my dance wardrobe.

Then there's the skirt. This one is actually home-made, and is a circle and a half of brown chiffon. The material is beautifully tactile and floaty (and utterly transparent- I'm wearing leggings underneath), but it was such an utter ball-ache to make that I have no intentions of doing it again if I can possibly help it. I've since tracked down some good retailers of chiffon skirts on eBay, rather than just the tiny petal skirts beloved of Hong Kong traders. I also made harem pants to go underneath, but these appear to have vanished into the abyss of the fabric pile!

Finally, for added shits and giggles, there's enough velvet left to make two cuffs and a headband, ready to be embellished with left-over flowers, sequins and beads, and (on the cuffs) trimmed with floaty chiffon streamers that will either emphasise my graceful arm movements or disguise my funky chicken impresison, depending on what sort of day it is.

I don't delude myself into thinking this costume is anything close to professional standard, but that's just fine. I'm not a professional, just a hobbyist and occasional fundraiser, with champagne tastes on a cold tea budget. I aim for a hand-made rather than home-made look, and if I've achieved that, I'm happy.

Overall, this costume probably set me back around £60 in materials and 20 hours of labour, I thoroughly enjoy learning new craft techniques, and when I do wear it out I'll have the satisfaction of knowing no one else has a costume quite like it. And I'd need to pay a damn sight more than £60 to ensure that if I bought off the peg!


  1. Very impressive. I have to say I think it looks bloody lovely - just wish I could see you dance too!

    I've yet to experiment with the sewing machine I bought secondhand. Just not had chance so far... but soon I get to play :-)

  2. Cheers pet! There are a couple of videos of Women of Mass Distraction on Facebook- come friend us!

  3. Pretty!

    Hey, thanks for stopping by and following my blog, Lilith. I always like finding the other bellydancers in the blogosphere. :)

    BTW, I have a video I found that I think you'll like. It's the best example of how NOT to bellydance. :P

  4. I think your costume looks lovely- i love the goldish-bronze fabric! I so wish I had the talent to sew- as a belly dancer it makes life so much easier!

    Btw, thanks for your kind comment on my video- you made my day :)

    Wishing you a wonderful festive season x