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 Shira.net 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...
This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...
What I Liked, What I Didn't
What I Liked:
What I Didn't Like:
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.
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