She Used Her Belly Dancer Know-How to Get a Custom Wedding Gown


And it only cost $700

by Stephanie Kaloi

zania brown wearing custom wedding gown

When it comes to wedding gowns, I think we all know this prickly truth: They can be expensive. Especially when you’re looking for something that is brand new and custom made for your body… but you’re not planning to spend thousands of dollars in the process. So when belly dancer Zaina Brown emailed us about getting a dress completely designed for her at the price tag of $700, our interest was piqued, to say the least.

Zaina told us:

The idea of getting my wedding dress made from scratch overseas felt slightly reckless, but my mind was made up. I would have one of the many belly dance costume designers create the dress I wanted. It would be completely within their capabilities, and it wouldn’t cost more Just Because It’s White. To be on the safe side, I didn’t disclose what occasion the dress was for. Hey, maybe I was hitting the red carpet in my lace-mesh attire. The obvious downside of this arrangement was not having the chance to try the dress on before buying. On the upside, I wouldn’t have to set foot in a bridal store.

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As for the how of the custom-made wedding dress creation, Zaina stuck to what she knows. As a belly dancer, she regularly has costumes custom made in Egypt, Turkey, and Brazil, and often by male designers. Recently, however, she’s noticed an uptick in Eastern European dancer-designers, and she decided to inquire with a few of them instead:

I browsed their work on Facebook, and struck a deal with a Russian woman. The price was six hundred dollars, which included materials and work, much of which had to be hand-sewn, as well as shipping to the US. To keep the cost at bay, I would glue on crystals myself. I fully expected to have to make some small adjustments, which didn’t faze me, as I’m used to tweaking my dance costumes. I asked the designer to give me extra lace, so I could add bits and pieces if necessary. I sent her tons of measurements, drawings, and photos with tape measure against my body—plus the payment in full. Then, I crossed my fingers.

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There was just one hitch. To give the otherwise soft dress structure, it needed a solid sewn-in bra. I wanted to use a specific dance costume bra with rock-hard cups, which is manufactured in Egypt. The designer ordered it on eBay, but two months later, she still hadn’t received it. Without it, the fabric could not be cut, and the dress stayed at square one. With the wedding now a few months away, I was getting anxious. If anything was seriously wrong with the dress when it finally got to me—my biggest fear was it would be too short—I would have little time to find a replacement. After contacting two colleagues in Cairo, one was finally able to locate the required bra. In the meantime, I became drawn to anything white in shop windows. I told myself, “There’s a perfect dress waiting for me on a hanger somewhere if this doesn’t work out,” to stay calm. When a fortune cookie declared, “A thing of great beauty will bring you great joy,” I stashed that paper slip inside my wallet and faithfully reread it every day. Luckily, this time the bra made it to Russia, and the tailor could begin her work.

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The long-awaited package arrived, and I tore it open with shaking hands. I wiggled my way inside the snug, zipperless dress as fast as I could. It fit like a glove. The length was perfect. It looked on just how I had seen it in my head, if not better. I still spent countless hours perfecting it: gluing on little crystals; lining the bra and adjusting the hooks; doubling the mesh to avoid transparency on, ahem, a few key spots; adding tulle on the bottom; and tweaking the lace coverage. When all was said and done, the total cost came to about seven hundred dollars. This included the Western Union transfer fee, crystals, tulle, extra mesh, and the price and shipping of the Egyptian bra, which I willingly absorbed to move the process along.

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For a story that could have absolutely culminated in an emergency dress buy at David’s Bridal, Zaina’s gamble paid off—and by using non-industry talent, she has the added bonus of outsmarting the WIC.

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • idkmybffjill

    Wow! I love this story.
    I feel like my biggest lesson from wedding planning is – know what you can (and can’t) do. So many people freaked out when I told them my husband and I were designing our invitations, and I was hand painting the addresses – and it was such a breeze and no problem.
    Zania knew her costuming expertize wouldn’t suddenly not work with her wedding dress, just because it was her wedding dress. Good for you!!

    • NolaJael

      I think the biggest lesson here — that is thankfully often repeated at APW — is doing what you know. We self-catered our 22 person wedding at a rental home, but my family does that frequently when we travel, so it was fairly low stress planning. But don’t assume that because it’s a wedding all of the sudden you’ll be wielding a hot glue gun like a crafty kindergarten teacher if that’s not your normal MO.

      • idkmybffjill

        Yes! Absolutely.

        ” But don’t assume that because it’s a wedding all of the sudden you’ll be wielding a hot glue gun like a crafty kindergarten teacher if that’s not your normal MO.” and conversely, if you ARE a crafty kindergarten teacher who can yield a hot glue gun with the best of em, you won’t suddenly not be able to do stuff you’ve done before because, “but OMG it’s your WEDDING.”

    • Zaina Brown

      Thank you! And good for you for trusting your design skills :)

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Oh! This is encouraging. My plan for my dress is to order it from an Etsy artist, who is of course an ocean away. I have a local seamstress who is great, so I figured I would ask the artist exactly what measurements she needs, then plan an appointment with the seamstress to both adjust some dresses I already own, and take the measurements needed to make the new dress. She’ll be the one making any adjustments, after all.

    • idkmybffjill

      That sounds brilliant – particularly having a pro take your measurements! Not that you wouldn’t do it right, I’m sure you would – but that would give me so much peace of mind to know that a trusted seamstress had done the measuring.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        I figure this way, if the dress doesn’t fit quite right, I won’t silently blame the friend who helped measure me for doing something wrong. I’ll just accept that this is the best two professionals could do and be content with whatever alterations we need to make.

        • idkmybffjill

          Oh gosh yes – totally. I have flat out refused to measure things for my husband before for things he wouldn’t be able to return. Too much pressure!

    • Zaina Brown

      Great plan! Best of luck!

  • Jess

    This is such a cool experience! The dress turned out incredibly!

    • Zaina Brown

      Thanks! Plus, it is undergoing a transformation, and getting a second life as a dance costume :D

  • Sarah Liebman

    My silk wedding dress was custom made at Cocoon silk in NW Portland for around $500. That was about 5 years ago so the prices may have gone up somewhat. We also had sashes made for our junior bridesmaid and ties made for the groom and maybe our dads. The once catch was that they were really busy so my dress wasn’t done until the week of the wedding. They do work with out of town foks but that would be more complicated. ://www.cocoonsilknw.com/about

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