This one is not about sunscreen or cooking safety. Today, I want to talk about buying belly dance gear as securely as possible.
As an avid online shopper, I'm fairly tolerant of shopping risks, but I understand that not everyone is as comfortable as I am buying things sight unseen without trying anything on or touching it to make sure it's quality. And I understand that there are plenty of people that aren't, so I'm not here to convert you necessarily, so here are some tips and tricks for buying in multiple venues.
1) Conventions! Big dance gatherings! Haflas!
These are probably the best places to pick up dance gear. However, there are some things to keep in mind when you're surrounded by dancers and surrounded by merchandise. Remember that you are paying convention prices. They're probably inflated, due to the cost of transportation, shipping, booths, and advertising. You will be paying more than you would online or secondhand, and you need to accept that. If there's something fairly basic or mass-produced (i.e. skirts, cholis) you can always take a business card from the seller and check them out after the show. If you're buying something a little more special, make sure to try it on first. Returns with a con vendor can be a nightmare, especially if you get home from the show and realize that it doesn't fit. Stress-test the jewelry and belts... you don't have to take it out to your car and run it over, but give a little tug on the sewn seams and near the jump rings. If they start to give, decided how comfortable you are repairing.
2) Online shopping with an established vendor!
They'll likely be less expensive than at a show, but now is when your research comes in. Talk to your teacher or more experienced students with cool gear, and find out where they find stuff they like. Eastern Fire Belly Dance is a big fan of Magical Fashions, Sirik Tribal, and Flying Skirts. I personally also had success with Tribe Nawaar and We3. I am not a paid endorser of any of these links, I'm just telling you what I heard. Before you order, make sure you get comfortable with a measuring tape. Check the measurements and dimensions of the item you're looking at. Some people get very upset when they buy something that's very zoomed-in on a website, but is only listed as being 2" long. I personally had an experience where I bought an XXL Turkish vest and failed to account for it being much bigger than my ribcage... I had to alter that one myself. Also, check out any complaints on Bhuz.com or ask around with your dance sisters if you see a site that has gorgeous merch but you're hesitant about buying from them. For example, we3 has a fair amount of complaints, but I've had good experiences with them overall.
3) eBay, Etsy, and DIY sites
This is where things can get a little risky, as you're not necessarily buying from businesses... you could be buying from scammers, weirdoes, or fly-by-night organizations. So now is the time to research! Check feedback religiously, and if the feedback comes up as positive, make a test purchase and use PayPal. By using PayPal, you're entitled to buyer protection in case a sale doesn't come through. Also, please remember that you are likely going to be working with an international buyer. Shipping can take a long. ass. time. I had a particular headpiece ordered from some outfit in China that took a month and a half to get to me. It was cheap enough that I didn't mind the length of time for shipping, but it was still annoying, especially since it didn't come in time for a performance. International shipping can take its sweet time, no matter what you're buying. However, patience and luck paid off, and I now have a source for 25-yard cotton skirts for between 30 and 40 dollars a pop.
4) Swaps and Sells through Dance Studios
You get to finger the merch and look at it in person, however, come forearmed with knowledge! A seller that wants too much for that skirt, vest, top, etc, is going to be ANNOYING and hard to work with. Get comfortable knowing going rates for things. Also, check on stuff... check for stains, rips, smells, failing seams, and evidence of customization. Know your comfort zone... if you're okay with a modesty panel taken out of a skirt, or trims added, or are comfortable changing these things yourself, that's not so much of a red flag unless you aren't comfortable with those things. Also, there are some things I'd never buy secondhand... anything that fits tight to the chest, groin, or feet. Some things are just too personal, after all. Also, returns here are basically impossible.
Special Places I Buy Things:
To get my latest pair of Saroyan Professional Zils, I did a LOT of research before buying them via Saroyan's Amazon presence. I'd seen different pairs, heard different pairs in person, and also availed myself of their website's listen-before-you-buy feature. I'm totally happy with the Professionals... they sound like really loud, tinkly, ringy bells.
I'm not afraid of Forever 21 and Claire's jewelry, because I'm well aware that I'm getting what I pay for.
I make my own hair flowers, accessories and extensions, so I don't have a good resource for them, besides CONTACT ME AND I CAN MAKE YOU SOME.
Some things you can't just buy from a picture, however... I won't buy dance shoes from an online seller. I found a local dance shop that special-orders ghillies, and I always try on before I buy. Dance shoe companies work off a completely different size chart than regular shoes. No matter what, though, if my feet don't fit comfortably in the shoes, the shoes come off and I ask for another. My local tiny dance shop probably thinks I'm a crazy diva, but I do buy and I do plenty of word-of-mouth for them.