Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday and marks the start of the Lenten season. Mardi Gras garb evokes images of parades and costumes, fanciful masks, strings of beads, garish makeup, stilt-walking revelers and pockets stuffed with plastic doubloons, all in a myriad of bright colors. Dressing for Mardi Gras can be an elaborate, time-consuming process.
Mardi Gras colors are typically purple, green and gold/yellow, but revelers are not limited to those shades. Sequins, beads, feathers, ribbons and pom poms are some of the more visual components. The variety of outfits is endless. Groups often adopt a theme when dressing up: old TV show and movie characters with a bit of glitter, superheroes with a Mardi Gras tilt, hookers, clowns and jesters, aliens and animals.
Costumes range from barely-legal skimpy, sexy numbers to impressive, full-skirted ball gowns, and every level in between. Some costumes are cobbled together from wardrobe discards and Goodwill stores. Others are snapped up at Halloween and costume shops, and still more are custom made taking considerable time and expense. Gender-bending is prevalent with men dressing as women and vice versa. The cost ranges from a few dollars to thousands.
Masks let the revelers hide their identities, allowing them to walk as strangers among friends. Masks range from small eye coverings like the Lone Ranger and Robin wore in old TV shows and satiny eye coverings edged in bright feathers and lace, to stick masks reminiscent of European balls. Some masks cover the entire face and can be picked up at any place Halloween costumes are sold. Others are handmade plaster ones customized to the wearer's face and decorated with paint and beads. Sequins, satin and ribbons add the finishing touch.
Crowns, jester hats and top hats are among favored choices for headgear. Crowns consist of Burger King paper giveaways to spray-painted and bejeweled cardboard creations to plush, colorful affairs to glittering works of art picked up at Renaissance fairs. Jester hats can be even more outlandish, in eye-popping color combinations and festooned with bells and pom poms. Top hats are rarely the black-satin ones spotted in tuxedo stores. These tend to be garish and glittery, some of them remarkably tall. Of course, there is all manner of other headgear, including baseball caps that sport a Mardi Gras logo.
Makeup can serve as a mask, especially for revelers who layer on a solid coat like a clown and decorate it further with swirls of color and glued-on sequins and beads. Sometimes make-up is an integral part of the costume, such as extra-long and thick mascara on a "lady of the evening," or a silvery sheen on a robot or alien. Some participants apply heavy makeup and put on a partial mask or use a stick mask over the top. Others have their faces painted artistically with butterfly wings and stars.
Beads are practically a required component of a Mardi Gras costume. Beads are also thrown from balconies to revelers on the street below. They come in the traditional purple, green and gold/yellow colors of the day, in addition to a variety of other shades, often with a glittery tint. Most strands are long and plastic, and some people wear a few dozen at a time. Other accessories include comical shoes, bangle bracelets, antennas, clown glasses and any other gear that may complement the costume.