From Concept to Construction
Mardi Gras may be promoted to tourists as the biggest party in the world, where revelers breezily toss back Hurricanes and other NOLA cocktails, plead for beads, and dance with brass bands on Bourbon and Frenchmen streets.
Yet New Orleans' version of Carnival has not always been so centrally focused on the French Quarter and the super-krewe parades that roll down Canal Street. Thankfully, the past decade has seen a revival of a more traditional Fat Tuesday ritual: foot krewes, both organized and impromptu, carousing in costume in our neighborhoods. You want to be in that number. So be sure to show out with a customized costume of your own.
From sophisticated to audacious, here are some classic approaches to being a part—and not just a spectator—of Fat Tuesday.
Something Powerful, Something Divine, Something Out-of-This-World
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a multitude of creatures (real or imagined) will begin to fill the streets of New Orleans' neighborhoods. Without doubt, Mardi Gras is the perfect time for you to pay homage to your ancestors and their gods. Whether pulling from Greek, Hindu, Norse, African, or Indigenous American mythology, you can't go wrong. Conduct a simple internet search or visit a few museums (most have their collections available online) for inspiration. You might choose to deck yourself out as a more modern embodiment of power. Superheroes and villains, space aliens, famous (and infamous) political figures, and criminals—all are excellent figures to personify (or satirize) on Mardi Gras.
Plagiaries of Pop Culture
Any character is fair game for Mardi Gras. Embrace childishness or bawdiness and the risqué. Search through your personal catalog of cartoons, television series, movies, musicians and celebrities, and even the artwork that you love (and love to hate). While recreating a character in earnest is allowed, Carnival is a time not only for paying homage but also for play—and poking fun. Strawberry Shortcake could be sweet and charming, handing out cupcakes (because having personal throws is a huge Mardi Gras flex). Contrarily, she might be tatter-torn and recovering from a bender with her best friend Courtney Love. Perhaps you and your two besties will transform into Marilyn, Kennedy, and Fidel. Mona Lisa up top, Betty Boop below? Yes. Anything goes.
Flora and Fauna
Connect with your wild side. Are you a tiger or a lamb? Perhaps a sheep? Maybe you feel more aligned with the leaf. Do you see yourself as the spirit of an exotic orchid? Is your body a blooming magnolia? Are wildflowers sprouting from your head? Take inspiration from the natural world. However literal or liberal in your interpretation, you are guaranteed to be like a vital part of Mardi Gras day.It's never too early or too late to create a top-notch ensemble for masquerading.
Mardi Gras is near
You have time for a more complicated costume and for experimentation (there are hundreds of tutorials on YouTube). Swing by JOANN Fabric for a few yards of something fabulous and whatever sewing supplies you don't already have. Head to Michaels for some supplies: Styrofoam shapes, EVA foam and foam clay, acrylics and spray paint, mesh and wire, artificial flowers and vines, tassels, beads, fringe, garland, and so on. Browse the web and handpick items for your costuming toolbox. If necessary, you will be able to make a few trips.
A week or two before the big day is time to get serious
If you have lots of experience in crafting, you still have time to whip up something fantastic—but you know you're also going to be busy going to parades. Nevertheless, you still have time to create a glorious headdress, cap, or jacket. If you are going to order separate pieces to assemble (or even a complete costume online, which you can and should always customize), now is the time to do it. Always plan to have time to try on what you've ordered. If what you order at first doesn't fit, work, or please you, you'll want to return it and/or order different garments and accessories. If you are going in the direction of a creature or figure that requires elaborate face painting, you should do a few trial runs to perfect your look so that Tuesday morning's preparations are smooth and easy—and you can hit the streets feeling cool and unflustered.
So it is a day or two before the grand finale
No sweat; we've all been there. Thankfully, there are plenty of places around town to pick up an entire costume or last-minute items to complete your look. Several shops reliably offer a most excellent selection of masks, wigs, headdresses, and clothing for costumes, often handcrafted for a truly original look. Visit She Comes in Peace on St. Claude and Maskarade on St. Ann; scope out the inventory at Miette, Funky Monkey, and Miss Claudia's Vintage Clothing and Costumes, all on Magazine Street.
When in a pinch, all you need is a fun wig or hat and a combination of colorful, extravagant clothing. Satin and sequins, feathers and bangles—the more glitz and glamor, the better. Or you can choose to arrive wearing as little as your modesty approves. Men and women alike are invited to show up in their skivvies, accessorized, for example, by a cape or body paint. Douse yourself in glitter, mask up, strap on your dancing shoes, and laissez les bon temps rouler.