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A Review of

The Costume Goddess Tells All:
Tribal Toppings for Bellydancers

by Dina Lydia




Dina Lydia provides instructions on how to create costuming for doing the American Tribal Style of belly dance, with an emphasis on garments for the upper body such as cholis, jackets, blouses, and coin bras. Cover



Fact Sheet


The Costume Goddess Tells All, Volume 5:
Tribal Toppings for Bellydancers


Dina Lydia




Dina Lydia & Blair Johnson


Nonfiction: Costume Instruction



Number of Pages


Published In





This review is based on the Second Edition of the book.

In this book, Dina Lydia (also known as The Costume Goddess) offers ideas on costuming for the U.S. tribal style of belly dance. Rather than provide a complete introduction to this costuming style, she focuses primarily on how-tos for the upper body: cholis, blouses, coin bras, and jackets. Hence, the title: Tribal Toppings.

The book opens with a photo gallery about 30 pages long showing many assorted Tribal costumes, ranging from the classic tribal looks of Gypsy Caravan and Read My Hips to the "Tribaret" (a name Sharon Moore coined to describe the fusion of Tribal and Nightclub) looks designed by Dina herself, Yaleil, and others. The captions identify each group or individual and offer comments into which are considered classic or mainstream Tribal versus which are alternative styles.

In a couple of pages, Dina quickly covers the ethnic influences frequently used in Tribal style, talking about the fabrics, jewelry, and costume items. She then encourages readers to consider other ethnic ideas that are not used in Tribal today, proposing that they be considered for future costuming innovations.

The section on design considerations is my favorite parts of the book. Dina offers excellent insights into how to inject bits of originality into the costume and how to consider what might be flattering to the individual dancer's figure, face, and coloring. In a section titled, "Costume to flatter rounder figures", Dina offers excellent ideas for full-figured dancers and short dancers complete with detailed drawings that illustrate the suggestions. Even if your own figure is tall and slender, the costume variations in her Do's sketches for this body type may inspire you with some new ideas for your own distinctive look to set your tribe apart from everyone else. Although the book in general focuses on garments for the upper body, the sketches of these design recommendations show the complete look from head to toe.

Next is a 2-page section on how to combine the classic Tribal look with the glitter of the Nightclub look to achieve the Tribaret fusion look. Dina offers suggestions on hair styles, garments, jewelry, and fabrics, including advice on how to avoid clashing caused by pieces that are too extreme in one style or the other. For dancers who want to create a Tribaret look, the suggestions here offer valuable insights.

For the rest of the book, Dina focuses on tops: cholis, other blouses, coin bras, and jackets. This section begins with the choli, encompassing design ideas, instructions for making quick and easy choli-like tops, and how to create a perfectly-fitted choli pattern designed for your own measurements. The book next moves on to suggestions for making Ghawazee-style jackets and thoughts on other types of blouses. Dancers with beginner level of sewing skill will appreciate the quick and easy choli-like tops that even a sewing novice can make. For dancers with intermediate or higher level of sewing experience, the detailed instructions on how to alter a commercial pattern for a dress with Empire waistline into a perfectly-fitted choli offers valuable advice. Dina presents detailed explanations on how to fit garments made from woven fabrics versus knits, create sleeve and back design variations, etc. Of course, the design advice is useful to all levels of sewing skill, with its insights into decoration, back variations, and flattering individual figures.

The decoration chapter includes several techniques that are compatible with the Tribal look, including shisha mirrors, patchwork, appliqué, beads, chains, tassels & cords, and trims. I've done extensive shisha mirror embroidery myself in the past, and I find Dina's shisha instructions to be right on target. If you don't already know how to embroider, you may find the brief overview cryptic, but if you're already comfortable with doing the buttonhole stitch, you'll probably be able to figure it out.

Dina next covers how to make your own coin bra. She offers two types of instructions: one for using pre-made bra covers, and the other for making a coin bra from scratch. She doesn't offer much detail on how to cover the bra with base fabric, which I find acceptable because she covers that topic in detail in her earlier book Cabaret Bra and Belt for Bellydancers. I agree with her decision not to repeat that information here. (If you don't have the other book, you can find some instructions from Dina on covering a bra here on under Dina's archived "Ask the Costume Goddess" column.) Dina offers some useful tips specific to the issues posed by heavy coins, including insights into reinforcing the bra base to hold their weight. In the section on pre-made bra covers, Dina offers helpful tips on how to alter such a cover to fit a particular bustline. In the section on making a coin bra from scratch, Dina provides detailed instructions on how to arrange and attach coins and chains.

The book ends with a page showing seven different ideas for skirt/pants designs accompanied by captions describing them.

A final Resources page offers pointers to web sites with further information, sources of shisha mirrors and instructions, pattern sources, ready-to-wear tribal garments, importers, and web sites of people who contributed their photos and ideas to the book. It provides helpful ideas for where to look for additional information.



Is It Right for You?


You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You like to blend Tribal and glittery aesthetics for a "tribaret" look.
  • You would value detailed instructions on sewing and fitting garments for the upper body such as Ghawazee coats and cholis.
  • You like the way Dina explains garment construction and sewing techniques in her Ask the Costume Goddess column elsewhere on this web site.
  • You found the costuming section of The Belly Dance Book edited by Tazz Richards to be valuable. (That section was written and illustrated by Dina.)


This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • You're a newcomer to the Tribal costuming aesthetic, and you need guidance on where to start.



What I Liked, What I Didn't


What I Liked:

  • The book is beautifully illustrated, with many photos of finished costumes and many diagrams supporting the how-to sections.
  • Throughout the book, there are photos of dancers of many sizes and shapes, from slender reeds to queen-sized full figures. This diversity helps readers gain an idea of how some of these costume suggestions might look on their own bodies.
  • Dina offers insightful suggestions on costume styles that would be flattering for shorter dancers and full-figured ones.
  • Dina's instructions on how to fit a choli are excellent for people with intermediate or advanced sewing skills, particularly the valuable insights into that hard-to-fit area, the bustline.
  • For dancers with less sewing experience, Dina offers attractive ideas for easy-to-make tops that still achieve a choli-like look.
  • In addition to the advice on how to convert a dress pattern into a well-fitting choli, Dina's choli instructions offer another valuable costume-making technique: how to install an armhole gusset to allow arms to be raised without causing the bodice to rise with them.
  • Dina thinks outside the box of the FatChance look and offers fresh ideas to consider when designing a Tribal troupe costume. Some of her costume suggestions (such as Mexican) are a bit far afield for my own taste, but Tribal troupes who want to create an original look can use her ideas as a starting point for their own brainstorming.
  • This book addresses a topic I have not seen in the other books on Tribal costuming that are out there: Tribaret. This is the fusion of the Tribal look with the more glittery Nightclub look. Dancers who would like suggestions on how to achieve the ethnic flash style of Tribaret will find Dina's ideas very helpful.


What I Didn't Like:

  • I'm not too thrilled with Dina's frequent recommendation to open up the armhole for an "Arabic" look. This is partly an artistic objection, because I really dislike the way this looks, and partly a truth-in-labeling objection because it's not typical of Arabic dancers I have seen.
  • Several of the costume ideas shown in the photo gallery don't give me "that Tribal feeling", particularly the designs created by Dina and Elizabeth Dennis. These costumes are a fusion of ethnic ideas with Nightclub glitter, and therefore more Tribaret than Tribal.
  • The Tribal aesthetic is not Dina's background, and it shows in this book.




This book wouldn't be the right fit for dancers who need to begin at the beginning in learning how to capture the essence of Tribal in their costuming. But for people who already know how to evoke "that Tribal feeling" or don't feel a need to stay close to the original Tribal flavor, the instructions for designing and making tops offer practical advice, and the brainstorming on embellishment offers a source of ideas on how to create a unique look rather than being just another FatChance or Gypsy Caravan clone. The instructions on making and fitting a choli are excellent.

I would expect this book to be the best match for dancers who like the idea of blending the ethnic-inspired Tribal look with the glittery Nightclub look for a Tribaret style that lies somewhere between the two extremes.




My association with Dina (the author) began when she offered to write an Ask the Costume Goddess column for this web site. She is a valued contributor, and I much appreciate the many articles that she wrote for me.



To Buy It


Contact Information

Dina Lydia
P.O. Box 30878
Seattle,WA 98103-0878

Web Site:


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