During Carnival, as night falls, Venice’s narrow streets become a dark, mesmerising fairytale. You pass plague doctors, nobility, harlequin and the Red Queen. Everyone is masked, identities are hidden. With no cars, the only sounds are echoing laughter, chinking glasses, the rustling of costly fabrics. Venice is a giant masked ball.
Venice Carnival Costumes
Masking and dressing up was always the Venetian’s way to engage in secret, illicit activities without detection, even outside of Carnival time. Clandestine meetings with lovers, a noblewoman gambling, friends plotting in a bar, these were all masked activites. Carnival, however, was the climax, a moment to enjoy all the hedonistic pleasures of Venice anonymously before the dark days of abstention during Lent began. This was a period of pure decadance and extravagance, both in dress and in behaviour.
St Mark’s Square is the heart of Carnival, naturally, and here costumed Carnival veterans parade and pose for an awestruck audience. Against the backdrop of St Mark’s Basilica, their jewelled dresses and glittery masks sparkle like the mosaics in the sun. Their costumes are bought or designed months in advance, often by specialist shops, and can cost into the thousands.
Many dress as noble Venetians, wearing opulent designs of the 18th and 19th centuries. Couples specialise in coordinated outfits. Their costumes include everything from wigs to buckle shoes. If you feel like splashing out you can hire entire outfits like this.
Other costumes are complete mysterious fantasy. This generally means a full face mask and a costume overloaded with silk, sparkles, feathers and jewels.
Costumes may interpret a particular theme such as the Sun and the Moon, a season, or an animal.
Sometimes headwear is actually favoured over a mask. Venice Carnival staples are feathers, flowers and diamante.
The new fashion for Carnival costumes, however, is called steampunk. This is a kind of subculture style inspired by 19th century steam-powered machinery. It involves lots of pocket watches, glasses, copper tubes and chains decorating Victorian style dress.
While most of the best-dressed at Carnival congregate in St Mark’s Square, if you’re looking to take good photos you’re best trying somewhere with fewer crowds. Walking from the railway station to St Mark’s there are several piazze where people pose for photos and you won’t get tourists heads in the way of your shots.
I hope that’s given you some inspiration if you’re heading to Carnival this year! The three most important things to bring are a mask, confetti and your camera!
Carnival Programme for 2018 can be found here.
More costume ideas and costumes to hire here.
P.s. Don’t forget to look down, too, at the fabulous shoe creations!