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Growing Pains: Costume detente

Costuming is de rigueur for Running of the Bulls -- and most other New Orleans occasions.

Costuming is de rigueur for Running of the Bulls -- and most other New Orleans occasions.

It has dawned on me recently that I have a distinctly New Orleans dilemma on my hands: My costume wardrobe is growing faster than my everyday wardrobe. It's OK though, because costumes make the world a better place. The good ones get us talking: to friends, to neighbors, to strangers.

Unpacking boxes in my college apartment, I realize I have enough costumes to fill at least a quarter of my closet: school uniform, lab coat, green fairy, toga, Indian saari, belly dancer, masks, wigs, face paint -- the list goes on and on. It also dawned on me that at home, more than half of our attic is filled solid with costumes. They’re just so wonderful!

Costumes allow us to put on a new mask for the evening, or in many cases take off a mask we wear all the time: pretension, vanity, insecurity. In a costume, we can briefly leave the rat race of the world and just be, which makes the world a better place.

Costumes also birth friendships. When I returned to New Orleans after finishing my first semester of college, I needed a concentrated dose of home. By the time we made it to Cafe Du Monde at 1 a.m., I had ditched most of my belly dancing outfit in favor of shorts and a t-shirt, but I still had the Indian Bindi (dot) I had absentmindedly left on my forehead. It wound up making me a new friend, just like dat.

Ricardo, a local musician from Brazil, inquired about the blue jewel on the center of my forehead; I had forgotten I had it on. This little costume piece led to sharing stories from my travels to India and his stories of Brazil as our friend groups merged, feasted on beignets, and made our way to the A&P on Royal to find some wine.

Costumes give us a chance to let loose, be someone (or something) else for an evening, make us more congenial to others and make us more adventurous in branching out to make new friends.

Costumes make us approachable to people who may otherwise never talk to us. Far from home, at college, this past Mardi Gras Day I got decked out in a wig, yellow tights, purple shirt, beads, green shoes, the works. Did I look like an idiot? Sure. But I was a magnet to anyone who was from, visited, or wanted to visit NOLA that day. Walking around grounds, I got Who Dat's and high fives from more people than I can count.

Costumes are liberating. They have a way of bringing out a person's innate friendliness, of unveiling your inner genuineness.  If Congress would throw a costume party -- even for one night -- imagine how much more honest they would be with one another.

Costumes. Definitely a way to  make the world a better place.

Editor's Note: Costuming is a year-round affair in New Orleans. And the next costume occasion in NOLA will take place on Saturday, when locals dress in the requisite red and white of Pamplona bull runners for the annual Running of the Bulls New Orleans style. And next up: The eponymous Red Dress Run on Aug. 10.

Elizabeth Kukla writes about her experience as a native New Orleanian -- especially from afar -- for NolaVie.

Native New Orleanian Elizabeth Kukla is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She writes about being a NOLA girl from afar in “Growing Pains,” a weekly column at NolaVie.