The Importance of Costumes During Carnival Season in New Orleans 1946

Costumes have always been a significant part of carnival season, maybe especially in 1946. In spite of the material shortages krewes’ still, however costly, found a way to put together costumes for Mardi Gras. The krewe had previously stated that there was a possibility that the ball would be held without the royal court because of the limits in costume material. Multiple stores sold a variety of costume options during carnival season charging from around 99 cents to $6.98. 1

Marion Post Walcott “Sign advertising Mardi Gras costumes, New Orleans, Louisiana” (January, 1941)

Some citizens spent their time making and selling Mardi Gras costumes and other paraphernalia for the parades. Mardi Gras costumes normally involved headdresses, spangles, and normally anything flashy and ornate. Many seamstresses started the process of sewing costumes for the year following as soon as carnival season concluded. One article, “ Views on Sundry Topics” from the Times Picayune, included readers’ opinions on topics that concern or intrigue them, among which expressed a reader’s concern about Mardi Gras behavior. This person found it unnerving that people do not know how to act or participate in normal Mardi Gras activities and traditions and has requested that someone make a Mardi Gras preparation list of sorts. Specifically, this list should dictate when and where to wear costumes during carnival season.

Costumes are a large part of participating in Mardi Gras and New Orleans is very big on tradition. Costumes give people the feeling of being someone else. People often describe it as playing a character or a role. Costumes during Mardi Gras balls represent Royalty. The most extravagant costumes are mostly worn by kings and queens. The Krewe of Comus essentially were the first krewe to have themed parades. They wore costumes and carried torches to light the path. African American men used to parade down the route dressed like Native Americans. African American prostitutes would also dress up as baby dolls in response to the term white men called them to search for work. Many people say that the purpose of the costumes are to give people the ability to socialize with every social class ranking. While this could be the case, it is also important to realize that Mardi Gras costumes were not very cheap so it was a little difficult to hide amongst others. 3

“Carnival Costumes” (February 6, 1946) 11
   “We’re Ready with Carnival Costumes for Girls” (February 3, 1946) 15

Young girls would often find themselves acquiring new outfits for social Mardi Gras gatherings, which is not exactly a common thing to do. The shortages in material made the outfits very expensive which proves to show that costumes are a very significant part of Mardi Gras.6

As time went on wearing a mask was required for any float rider. Masks give people the opportunity to do whatever they want during Mardi Gras. Since no one usually knows who anyone is this makes judgment very scarce. You cannot really judge someone if you know nothing about them. 

Many of the costumes were sold during carnival season in a variety of different stores. If the costumes were bought from a seamstress it is very likely that they sell year round to finish the costumes in time for the season. Kings of the court are normally seen wearing crowns, capes, and suits of some sort. Queens of the court are seen wearing extravagant ball gowns. Both costumes are very eye-catching and flashy and include some extra accessories depending on the krewe theme for that year. Costumes are usually chosen based on the krewe them for each year. Overall, costumes will always be a large part of Mardi Gras tradition and will continue to be worn during carnival season parades.7

Notes

  1. King Felix to Visit Mobile After All.” (January 28, 1946), 20
  2. Marion Post Walcott “Sign advertising Mardi Gras costumes, New Orleans, Louisiana” (January, 1941)
  3. Carnival Costumes” (February 6, 1946) 11
  4.    “We’re Ready with Carnival Costumes for Girls” (February 3, 1946) 15
  5.  “Carnival Costume Designer to Retire After 58 Years” (February 17, 1946) 35