Costumes Around the World
Belly dance fashion varies from country to country, although these days professional belly dancers worldwide are more likely to be wearing Egyptian designer costumes. Below is a summary of the differences between the major styles.
The classical American Cabaret costume is a bra and belt, not a bra and embellished skirt. Another notable element of an AmCab costume (compared to Turkish or Egyptian) is the use of headbands decorated with fringes or coins to frame the face. Earrings and necklaces are compulsory! Coins and other metal embellishments are another signature feature (Egyptian costumes use crystals, sequins and beads, not metal).
These days, many of the top American dancers get their costumes from Egypt and follow the Egyptian fashion instead.
The modern Egyptian belly dance costume, at least at the professional end of the market, is becoming more and more pared-down. Hip belts went out of fashion some time ago, in favour of sleek lycra skirts on which beading and sequins are directly applied, or all-in-one gowns with cutouts. These days, decoration is becoming less elaborate, with beading concentrated in one area - or absent altogether. Patterned or speciality materials are becoming more popular.
In Egypt, bare stomachs are not allowed and all belly dancers must wear a body-stocking to cover their midsection. In spite of this "modesty" policy, there is a developing fashion in costumes for large cutouts that border on the risque - all filled in with flesh-toned mesh, of course! Shorts - either flesh-coloured or to match the costume - are usually worn.
You will still find bra and belt sets being sold by Egyptian sellers, but they're mainly for overseas consumption.
The traditional Turkish costume is still a bra, belt and chiffon skirt. But whatever the style, embellishment can be over the top - it's common for every inch of the bra and belt to be covered in sequins, beads or crystals, with not an inch of fabric visible!
Turkish belly dancing went through a horrid "stripperesque" phase in the 1970s and 80s, as you can see from this image and clip of famous belly dancer Princess Banu. Princess Banu was a highly trained and respected dancer - so the fact that even she would dress like this, says a lot about the Turkish belly dance scene at that time!
Things have improved, thankfully, and many Turkish dancers now wear Egyptian-style skirt/bra combos (though usually more heavily embellished in the Turkish style!). However you can still find Turkish dancers exposing a lot more flesh than their Egyptian counterparts, and when I was in Turkey last year, every dancer I saw was wearing a bedleh/chiffon combo. The chiffon skirts sold in Turkey are not multi-layered so they don't leave much to the imagination! They're often bunched to show off both legs right up to the hip as in this clip:
For a more detailed breakdown of the differences, visit Orientaldancer.net