Dear Costume Goddess,
How do I choose the jewelry and accessories to use when performing? I mean, sometimes less is more, but how do I know when too much is too much? ~Ramina
The right amount of jewelry and other accessories (as on Amira, right) is a judgement call. Many of the mistakes I see on formal costumes err on the side of too LITTLE jewelry, or none at all.
An expensive formal costume worn with no acessories and too little attention to hair and makeup looks amateurish, bare and unfinished to me. I have seen dancers rushing into their venue looking as disheveled as if they just returned from the gym, and hurriedly throwing on a glitzy beaded cabaret costume in the back room, with no accessories.
The reverse, too MANY elaborate accessories, is undesirable as well. It looks overly busy and cluttered, possibly distracting from the performance.
I’ve noticed that someone who is a natural beauty looks fine with either minimal or heavy use of adornment. Since most of us don’t fit that description, there is an ideal point where the use of accessories enhances our natural assests without overwhelming them. Too few—you look underdressed and plain. Too many— you look junked-up and tasteless.
The costume and accessories need to harmonize with the style of dance being performed. For instance, “New Age” music and an interpretive type of dance call for a light touch of adornment, perhaps nothing more than a gauzy costume, a veil, and skin adornments.Cabaret style needs enough accessories to create polished, theatrical dazzle. Tribal style calls for heavy use of accessories and adornments to achieve the desired ethnic effect.
HEAD: Something on the head is important. This frames the face. My book Headpieces for Bellydancers has all the details.
Your hair is your number-one head accessory, so style it nicely. If your hair is very skimpy (or it’s just a “bad hair day”), you could wear a wig, hairpiece, or head veil/turban. (I suppose there are female bellydancers who perform with shaved heads, but even they should be adorned with some sort of decoration, like henna or earrings!)
Wear a simple or elaborate headband or headpiece, and/or large earrings. The reflection of light there will set off the head well, if the hair tends to blend in with the background. This is a common effect with dark hair against a dark backdrop, especially with dark skin. The hair will disappear if not framed with a light-colored or sparkling accessory.
NECK: With a low neckline, a necklace to fill in that area looks nice–as long as it doesn’t dangle into a deep cleavage.
If you have long earrings, long braids, a long beaded headpiece, or a long headscarf, a necklace may be too much.
With a covered look, like a high-necked beladi dress or choli, dramatic neck jewelry creates interest there.
ARMS: Something on the arms is very important—which is why I wrote a book on the subject, Arm Costume for Bellydancers. A completely bare arm looks kind of naked to me.
A sleeve, an armband or a gauzy drape transforms the bra into a real costume piece, rather than glitzy lingerie. There is a style to flatter every type of arm.
The sleeve or drape also calls attention to arm movements. A hanging drape turns a simple arm movement into a riveting one.
HANDS & FEET: Your nails are accessories if you paint them. Rings, tasseled wristbands, and “handflower” jewelry draw attention to the hands.
Ankle bracelets and jeweled footbands draw attention to the feet. Make sure you want attention there before wearing them.
SKIN ADORNMENTS: Cosmetics, false lashes, henna designs, decals, bindis and tattoos are accessories as well.
If you wear every one of the accessories I’ve described on this page at the same time, it may be too many! ~Dina Lydia