Gilded Serpent presents...

A Bust to be Proud Of …

by Yasmin Henkish
posted May 13, 2010


Arty (aka Artemis Mourat) will never let me live that comment down. When she introduces me to her dance friends, it’s the first story out of her mouth – eighteen years after the fact. We still laugh about it. She recently found a photograph of herself in the famous costume and got a third party opinion … Ask her about it the next time you see her. Joking aside, I think that’s what friends are for, to tell you stuff others are afraid to. So let me share some friendly tips with you, so you never have to hear a comment like mine – or worse, have people think it but say nothing.

You do not have to be endowed by Heaven to look that way. Nor do you have to resort to plastic surgery. Fixing a costume bra is an art, but it is not difficult. There are a few simple tricks that only require thick thread, a needle and lots and lots of cotton. Surgical cotton is best, but even make-up remover puffballs will do in a pinch. In France, where I learned this time-honored skill, cotton comes in large bags to wipe babies with, so it is easy to find. In the US you may have to look harder. Yet this costume slight of hand was not developed by the French. I learned it from the Egyptians there who sold me my first Madame Abla bedlah.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Stuffing cotton is the last step to sculpting a beautiful bust. Three other things need to be adjusted first.

  1. The front – this measurement should ideally be considered before you buy the costume, along with the cup size. If the cups are too close together, too far apart or too big, you are better off not buying the costume to begin with. These defects are hard to fix. Is the bra your size? In general, one letter over your normal cup size is as large as you should go. More than that and you will look top heavy. Do your breasts squeeze out the side of the cup, a condition known as “underarm tit” syndrome? This, too, should be a deal breaker. Make these important decisions first, before you attack your brand new costume with a stitch-ripper.
  2. The back – measure the hook placement so the wire of the undercup sits just under your breast flesh. It should fit snuggly, but not so tight that you burst the hook when you lift your rib cage. The only thing worse than seeing breast tissue slip out from underneath the cup is flashing nipple. We’ve all seen it, thanks to YouTube. It’s not pretty.
  3. The straps – Breasts should be perky, not hang down to the waist like cow udders. They should form a shelf, that ideally you can rest a cane or a sword on. Pull up the straps at the shoulders until you get the desired height. Measure the excess. Open the back lining and strap attachment and re-sew it to take up the slack (with heavy button thread – #4). If you are going to resell the costume, fold up the excess and use the same color thread to sew it under. Otherwise just cut it off (I took the short cut). It is more comfortable if you adjust a strap equally front and back, but most costumes have beading on the front seam that can’t be touched.
  4. The stuffing – This is the fun part! In my experience, most newbie dancers do not pad their bras enough, if at all. This leads to cup-gap, where the breast separates from the top of the cup and gives audiences far more for their money than they expected – nipple flash. Or worse, the breast bounces out of the cup entirely for a Janet Jackson photo op. Shimmies and backbends are notorious “oops” moments. Many professionals use two-sided tape to prevent such embarrassing faux-pas. Did you know that dancers with D cups and above pad their costumes, too? It gives them a nice rise to the top of the breast and an even cleavage. So, whether you have an A cup or G cup, grab your stitch-ripper, thread and cotton and let’s get started.


I have included pictures of a Madame Abla costume that I stuffed in the 1980s. I know, times have changed, materials too. But the principle of where to place padding remains the same. It goes underneath the breast for lift and along the wire under the arm for cleavage. The point (nipple – #1) is sewn to keep the padding from shifting. Carefully open the lining seam of each cup under the arm. Gently push the cotton to position it according to the diagram (#2). Leave a “shelf” without padding on the upper inner section of each cup (#3). That is where your breast tissue will rest. Adjust the amount of padding until it feels comfortable, then sew the lining back up.

There are other ways to create beautiful cleavage. I have had students who pinned pads to the cups, to remove them later for washing or to sell the costume. If you sweat profusely, this may be the way to go. I have seen others stuff bras with handkerchiefs, socks and even toilet paper in a pinch. This is NOT the way to go. What happens when they fall out during a performance? A skit worthy of Saturday Night Live. Besides, makeshift solutions never give as good a profile as padding sewn to fit. Nowadays, the upper-end designers use pre-fabricated synthetic cup enhancers, which are lovely if you are comfortable sweating in nylon. But for those who can not abide swimming in their own unabsorbed perspiration, stuffing with cotton is the way to go. No matter what you chose to do however, do something. A snug fitting bra is essential for a professional presentation. Besides, who wants the audience to think her tits look like manure?


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