To hear Brett Will Taylor’s riff on costume angst at Carnival time on WWNO-FM, click here.
Today’s column is a public service announcement to all of you who are new to NOLA and about to experience your first Mardi Gras. For you, I offer a primer on how to costume — and live to tell about it. This advice comes not just from my own limited experience (I’ve only been here 2 ½ years), but also from wise ones who were Mardi Gras’ing before you were born (and, most likely, still will be after you die).
Let’s start from the top. Literally. As in, your head. You need to put something on it. I’m a big fan of crowns. They’re like flypaper for beads and come in handy when your hands are full. Or when you have become incapable of raising them.
Now, what about your hair? You have two choices: dye it or wig it. NolaVie editor Renee Peck explains that everyone who lives in New Orleans ought to have three wigs. I have four: hot pink Loo Hoo, blue Ziggy, green afro and purpley-pink Queen Elizabeth (with black butterflies, no less). All but the ‘fro came from Fifi Mahony’s. Go there. Best $45 you’ll spend all season. Maybe ever.
Next, let’s talk about your face. It’s lovely. Really, it is. But you need to change it. Just for one day, as Bowie would say. I’m talking glitter. Lots of it. In all different colors. I’m also talking make-up, eyeliner, eyelashes and lipstick. I recommend Ben Nye for all of it. You can find him in all sorts of sparkling colors at Fifi’s. And, here’s a secret: When you’re done bedazzling yourself, close your eyes, hold your breath, and give your gorgeous mug a few spritzes of Final Seal. It will make everything rainproof, sweat proof, cigarette proof … even gin proof.
Now, what about your costume? Still trying to figure that out? Well, seek inspiration from current events. For example, make yourself a Cousin It costume … and go as Michelle Obama’s bangs. Dress as the number 21… and be Ray Nagin. Leave town … and go as the Times-Picayune. Or, as my friend Kate says, just pick things that make you look pretty. You can’t go wrong on Mardi Gras. And, even if you do, no one will remember. It’s Mardi Gras, people. In New Orleans.
That said, whatever you do, please remember three cardinal costume rules:
I’m serious. There is nothing worse than having to bend over on Frenchmen Street (or The Phoenix) to get your money out of your shoe. Or finding that you can neither drink an Abita nor fit in a bathroom in your paper mache Jack-in-the-Box costume.
Speaking of which, size matters on Mardi Gras. I wore turkey vulture wings once as part of my costume. They were lovely. Sadly, they made bellying up to the bar virtually impossible. Worse still, they almost took the eye out of this really good-looking guy who took pity and bought me a beer. I never saw him … or the beer … again.
Lastly, let’s talk about your feet. Comfort also matters on Mardi Gras. You’re going to be on your feet for hours upon hours. People will step on them and, perhaps, fall on them. So don’t go all stiletto. An old friend of mine swears by shrimp boots for Mardi Gras. I prefer a pair of Ked slip-on sneaks I bought for my first costume. I have spray-painted and glittered them to match each subsequent creation. They’ve been silver, black, brown, purple, pink, and silver again. Next week, they will be orange with green glitter. Sensible shoes are not just sensible. They’re wise.
Now that you’ve got your crown on, your face glittered, your money tucked, and your shoes sprayed, here’s one final tip for Mardi Gras: Get lost. That’s right. Separate from the crowd. Leave your friends. Go down paths and into bars you’ve never before explored. Mardi Gras is at its best when you lose yourself completely. That’s where its mystery is. Its truth.
And, now, thanks to today’s PSA, you have just the shoes for it!
A special thanks to Blackdahilia Boston, Brian Boyles, Joe Clifford, Vaiden Elizabeth, Jason Allen Kennedy George, Claudia Lynch, Kate McNee, Renee Peck and Shelley Stocker for their assist with today’s Love NOLA.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.