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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Ask the Costume Goddess

Dina Lydia, the Costume Goddess

Ask the Costume Goddess:

How to Make Harem Pants

by Dina Lydia



The Question

Dear Costume Goddess:

I hope I didn't miss it, but I've been poring over this fantastic site... Is there a relatively easy way to make the pantaloons?




The Costume Goddess Responds

Dear Marmara,

Harem pants are worn under a skirt, or worn alone. Typically they are very full, measuring six to twelve inches or more larger than measurement of hip and thigh. Each half is a single piece with no side seam.The pants keep the legs (and underwear!) covered during floorwork, spins, and outdoor breezes, as well as for those who prefer to cover legs for whatever reason. Even sheer pants appear more modest than bare legs.

Cheap and Easy Tip: Try using a pair of pull-on pants several sizes too large for you, if you can find some in a suitable fabric (see below — not doubleknit!), perhaps in a secondhand store. After adjusting the leg length and cutting the waist lower, sew casings at hip and ankle and thread elastic through as described below. Then adjust elastic until you get a satisfactory fit. Trim if desired.

For those with more time, the classic harem pants are easy to sew because once your pattern is perfected, only two seams and two casings are required. I suggest starting with a generously sized pattern piece — the pants can always be taken in if you wish. Or make a mock-up of the pants in cheap muslin, perfect the fit, then use this muslin as a pattern for your costume fabric.

Often the front and back of the pants are exactly the same. My version has a slightly smaller front that dips an inch lower than the back, to avoid bunchy material in front. But if you want to skip that step, fold my pattern in half vertically to make a pattern piece that is exactly the same front and back.

Variations: The side may be slit to leave an opening, which may then be outlined with decorative trim, and the two halves connected with beaded strands, metallic ribbons or other decoration.

Design Ideas for Harem Pants

Panels or scarves can be added front and back for vertical interest, and sewn directly on the pants, or attached to a separate elastic band, which is then covered with a hip scarf. If you are wearing a cabaret belt, the scarves may be sewn to that (see red costume in photo gallery).

The pants may be cut slimmer and tapered with darts as illustrated for an "Indian" look. Slimmer rather than fuller pants flatter the more petite figure. Beware a balloony look! If short-legged (like me!) you may appear to be standing in a hole. A taller or long-legged dancer can wear the fuller pants gracefully.


Fabric Suggestions

For the classic full harem pants:

  • Chiffon
  • Georgette
  • Metallic sheers
  • Metallic knits
  • Lace
  • Cut velvet on chiffon
  • Lingerie satin
  • Blouse-weight silk

For a folkloric look:

  • Sheer to medium-weight soft cottons

Avoid stiff fabrics such as:

  • Bridal satins
  • Thick velvets
  • Heavy brocades

(But these stiff fabrics may be worn as panels.)

The slim style pants can use a slightly more firm fabric, since they don’t need to drape.


Amount of Fabric Needed

Depending on size and height, 1-1¼ yards (or meters) of 60-inch (153 cm) wide fabric; 2-2½ yards (or meters) of 52-inch (132 cm) or 45-inch (115 cm) wide fabric. A sheer or very light fabric will need more fullness, so buy extra yardage.



  • Measuring tape
  • Pins
  • Pattern paper
  • All-purpose thread
  • Dressmaking shears
  • ½ inch (13 mm) elastic for ankles
  • One inch (2.5 cm) wide elastic for hip or drawstring




Tie a piece of ½-inch (13 mm) elastic around abdomen snugly. Move this elastic higher or lower to decide where on your hip you would like to wear your belt, from navel down to barely legal. Measure this line, using the measuring tape. This is your belt line. Now measure from this line to the floor. This is your pants length, or skirt length, for costume purposes (leaving an inch (2.5 cm) or so for hem). Now measure the largest part of your hip, probably several inches lower. This is your hip measurement. Measure the largest part of your thigh for thigh measurement. Sit on a chair and measure from the beltline to chair. Add an inch (2.5 cm), or two inches (5 cm) for very roomy pants. This is your crotch depth.

Draft Pattern

Start with a rectangle of paper the measurement of your pants length, plus 2 inches (5 cm) for casing and blousing at ankle and 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) for casing at hip. For classic harem pants, add 6 to 12 inches (16 to 32 cm) to hip and thigh measurements for the width - depending on how loose you want pants. For slim harem pants, add 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) to hip and thigh measurement. Remember that the pattern is one-half of belt line at top, but a full leg.

Use diagram to adjust your rectangle and draw pattern. Note that the belt line is curved one inch (2.5 cm) lower at front. This is optional. Remember when measuring that an inch and a half (4 cm) is allowed at the top for one-inch (2.5 cm) elastic, ¾ inch (2 cm) at bottom of leg for ankle elastic, and ½” (13 mm) for seam allowances.

Harem Pants Pattern


When pattern is complete, determine how much fabric you’ll need, using the diagram.

Pin pattern to fabric and cut out.

Sew center seams, then inseams.

Finish edges of casings nicely with ¼ inch (7 mm) turn under, overlock, or zigzag, then turn under 1 ¼ inch (3 cm) at top and ¾ inch (2 cm) at ankles, and topstitch. Leave small opening for elastic.

Using a safety pin or bodkin, thread elastic through casings, to body measurements, pin the elastic shut, then try on the pants. Pull elastic to adjust the size of the openings. Elastic should be snug but not uncomfortably tight. Pants should blouse slightly at ankle, but not enough to touch floor. If pants seem too long or beltline seems too high, pick out the stitching and trim edge, then repeat.

When fit is correct, sew ends of elastic and sew shut opening in casing.

Add a line of trim up the side, if desired.

The "Indian" style pants are made the same except that thay are cut slimmer, and tapered with darts from the knee down to make an ankle opening just big enough to fit your foot through.

A point at foot front is optional.

Pattern for Slim Harem Pants

For open side: Allow an extra inch of width. Cut pattern along side line. Turn under this edge and finish nicely, then cover this edge with trim or decoration. Sew the side front and back together at top inch or two and bottom inch or two. Connect the remainder of slit every few inches as desired, a half-inch to two inches apart, with ribbon, trim, or strands of beads. Experiment until you achieve a pleasing look.

--The Costume Goddess



Additional Comments from Shira

If using elastic instead of a drawstring for the top edge, I strongly recommend using the non-roll type of elastic. It has ribs that opposite the direction o the stretch, as shown in the photo to the right, and is less likely than braid elastic to twist inside the casing when you are wearing the pants.

For the ankle casings, braid elastic should be fine. Ankle elastic generally doesn't have the twisting problem that hip line elastic does.

Non-Roll Elastic

If the pants are made of a heavy fabric such as brocade or glitter dot, it may be better to use a drawstring than elastic for the top edge. If the pants fabric is too heavy for the elastic to hold it up, the pants can fall down. A drawstring won't have this problem.

When I insert my elastic or drawstring into the casing, I personally prefer to use a bodkin (shown in the photo to the right) instead of a safety pin. I find it easier to deal with. Although safety pins certainly get the job done, I find that the process goes more quickly with a bodkin.




Related Articles

Other articles on this web site related to use of harem pants in belly dance costuming include:



About the Costume Goddess

Dina has been sewing for more than twenty-five years (yes, she started as a toddler!)

She's also an artist (Maryland Institute of Art) and perfected her sewing techniques apprenticed to various designers, freelancing for small theaters, restyling vintage garments, and altering wedding gowns.

Dina fell in love with belly dancing costumes upon her very first lesson. Now the pleasure of wearing her own designs, and seeing others wear them, offers as much pleasure as dancing. She's become expert as well in altering those troublesome ready-made Egyptian costumes, and modifying designs to flatter individual figures.

She holds workshops in Seattle to teach design and construction of cabaret costumes, and analysis of figure characteristics. She will also give private lessons, or resize or repair a secondhand costume. She's thus earned her Costume Goddess title.

Photo of Dina Lydia, The Costume Goddess

The Costume Goddess Tells All Costuming Books

Dina has published six books of her own on belly dance costuming as well as writing nearly all the costuming section for The Belly Dance Book. For information on her series of books, The Costume Goddess Tells All, see her web site at For reviews here on of some of her books, see:

Photo of Dina Lydia, the Costume Goddess

Costume Goddess Photos

To view a photo gallery featuring pictures of Dina, costumes she has designed, and her friends, either click on the choices below or visit her web site:


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The contents of this page are copyrighted 2009 by Dina Lydia. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is forbidden.



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