After a career as a flamenco dancer, Marisa turned to belly dance in her retirement and loves sharing her knowledge of the art form.
What to Do If Your New Egyptian Bedlah Doesn't Fit
For a belly dance student, you feel you've "arrived" when you buy your first authentic Egyptian bedleh. Then it arrives, and the bra doesn't fit.
Before you decide to exchange it, be aware that most Egyptian belly dance bras don't fit—so the replacement may not be any better. We're so used to our modern, scientifically engineered lingerie bras that it's a shock to put on a traditional one. So don't be in a hurry to send it back. First, do some testing to see if you can fix it.
Don't rush your assessment. A bra is a complex thing, and even small changes can have unexpected consequences. You may think the straps need shortening, when in fact the band needs tightening. The problems often aren't what you think they are!
First Test the Bra Cups
The very first thing is to test the bra cups on their own. Everything else can be adjusted—but the cups on an Egyptian or Turkish bra are usually rock hard and can't be changed. If they fit, you can change the rest. If the cups don't fit, the bra never will!
- Stand in front of a mirror, bra-less.
- Pick up your belly dance bra, one cup in each hand. Do not put the shoulder straps on.
- Place the bra under your boobs, and lift gently. If you can get the cups sitting nicely, you will be able to make that bra fit.
If the Cups Are Too Big
Ask yourself, could you add more padding? Tack some in lightly, so you can remove it without leaving marks, and try the test again. If they still look wrong, give up—it's the wrong bra for you. If they look good, you're in business. All you have to do is adjust the band and straps.
How to Shorten the Straps or Band Accurately
It's much easier to do this if you have a friend to help, whom you don't mind being bra-less with! You'll also need something to fasten things temporarily. I use binder clips (bulldog clips in the UK)!
- Put the bra on properly (i.e., using the shoulder straps) but don't fasten it.
- Hold the bra by the cups and play around until you get the cups sitting nicely.
This is where you need a friend! Hold the cups in the desired position, and ask them to check the fit.
Make sure you use the correct sequence:
- Check the join at the front of the bra—is it sitting flat? If not, put a clip on the join to make it the right length.
- Have your helper pull the band comfortably tight and clip it together at the back instead of using the fasteners.
- Shorten the shoulder straps with clips if necessary.
- Now you can let go of the cups and see how the bra looks and feels. You may need to tweak the clips a little. Once you're happy with it, ask your friend to mark where the back fastening needs to be before they unclip it.
- Remove the bra, being careful not to disturb the clips. Cut and re-sew the centre join and shoulder straps where indicated by the clips.
If the Cups Are Too Small
If the cups are too small, you may even have trouble getting them both to sit on your breasts at the same time! That's not necessarily a disaster. It may just be that the central connector is too short for you.
Test the Cup Size and Shape
Test out the cups one at a time, and see if they will sit well individually. If so, you may be able to make a longer connector using a headband or armband (plus a bit of extra material if you feel too exposed). If not, it will never fit.
Do the cups sit nicely, but show a lot of side boob? That's fixable by adding a panel of fabric.
If your boobs are overflowing in all directions, an obvious solution is to remove the padding, but don't reach for your scissors yet! It may be the padding that's the problem, but what if the cup is totally the wrong shape for you? Check that first before you do something irrevocable.
Get one of your regular bras (not a padded one) and try placing the belly dance bra cup inside one of the regular bra cups. What you're trying to do is compare the contour. It's the outer shell that matters. If the outer shell of the belly dance bra is flatter than your normal bra, you'll never be able to make it fit. You will never fit a C cup into an A cup, no matter how much padding you remove or extra fabric you add! If the curve of the two bras is the same, you've got a chance.
Remove the Padding
This is where you have to decide whether to take a risk. Before you can adjust anything else, you'll have to remove the padding to test the fit—and that means you won't be able to send it back!
Removing the padding is easy—the lot can usually be pulled out through a small cut in the inner lining. Some people remove it bit by bit, in case they'd like to keep some of the "push up" effect, but I find that gets impossibly fiddly. Besides, proper "chicken fillets" are far more effective and are easy to buy, if you decide you need them later.
How to Test If the Bra Needs Further Adjustment
If the cups sit well, you need to work out what else needs fixing.
- The central connector is the first thing to check. Cut it, and replace it with a longer piece (you can often make one by cannibalising a wristband or headband).
- Try putting the bra on without the shoulder straps. Can you do it up at the back? If not, you need to add an extender—but don't make it too long. A properly fitting bra should stay up without any shoulder straps at all.
- Once both the center join and back fastening are right, try the shoulder straps. If you've completed the other two steps, it will be obvious what you need to do. If you need to make them a lot longer, it may be easier to cut them off and replace them (for instructions, see below after the video).
How to Replace Bra Straps
Replacing the straps on a belly dance bra can be a good move, even if the bra fits.
For instance, let's say you have a gold or silver bra and you want to wear it with a pink costume. It looks okay, but think how much better it would look if the bra had a broad halter neck that matched the skirt—it would pull the ensemble together.
Beautiful straps can also save a mediocre costume. Student troupes often use cheap sequin bras from eBay or Amazon. Far too many of them have obvious, lingerie-style straps—I mean, how cheap does that look? Replacing them with a fabric halter-neck or straps is easy and will make all the difference. They're likely to make the bra more comfortable, too.
And no, you don't need to be expert at sewing and you don't need to struggle with beads or sequins. A little effort can give you a professional-looking bra at an excellent price.
I find making a halter neck easier than making two separate straps—and if I regularly change the strap to wear with different skirts, the halter neck is quicker because you have only two points that need sewing (or pinning, if I'm feeling lazy). The instructions are the same.
Measuring the Straps
The first step is to get the right length for your straps. Don't use the existing straps as a guide, because they stretch when you put them on—so always measure the length while you're wearing it, whether you're making shoulder straps or a halter neck.
The straps need to be reinforced. The most usual solution is to use grosgrain ribbon and I find the easiest way is to pin the ribbon to the band at the back, then put the bra on, pull the ribbon over my shoulder and pin it to the cup in the right place. Voila, you've got the length of your strap!
Remember when you're cutting, to allow extra length for the overlap at both ends!
You may prefer to use elastic instead of ribbon. I find non-stretchy halter-necks really uncomfortable on the back of my neck. My solution is to make a wide strap and use wide elastic. I cut twice the length I need, and double it over. By the time I've done that, the elastic doesn't give much—but it's just enough to stop the strap cutting into my neck. The elastic does stretch eventually, but I can fix that easily—open a small section of seam, pull out the elastic, cut out a piece, and sew the ends back together. It takes a long while for the elastic to get bad enough to need replacing altogether, and even if it does, that's not a huge job either. Personally I'd rather have my comfort.
There are several ways to make the straps, but I find the easiest is to cut the material double-width, fold it over wrong sides together and stitch up the long edge. Turn right side out and press. Insert the ribbon or elastic. Sew on. You're done!
Here is another alternative:
You now have a bra that fits, but does it cover enough? If you're feeling exposed, you have several options to add extra coverage. Take a look at this video from SparklyBelly for some ideas:
© 2020 Marisa Wright