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Snippets of New Orleans: Mardi Gras - The Psychology of Costumes

The Costumes

Illustration by: Emma Fick

Illustrator and writer Emma Fick is the published author of Snippets of Serbia. She is currently working on the illustrated book Snippets of New Orleans. To see more of Emma's work and learn more about her, visit her website or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

This week, Emma Fick is looking into (and illustrating) all the different elements that make up Mardi Gras. Everything from the history to the costumes to the throws are going to be highlighted, and today, we start with a snippet of Mardi Gras history.

When I was a little girl growing up in a small town in Illinois, my mom and dad used to tell me stories about living in New Orleans. With our minds now occupied with thoughts of glue guns, sequence, fringe, and beading, I can't help but remember the story my parents told me about their first Carnival after they moved to New Orleans (at the ripe ages of 21).

I remember them detailing about the New Orleanians who would walk through the streets with giant feathers coming from their heads or the way the beaded costumes would be hanging in shards by the end of the night as people wobbled home after a night of parades and drinking. From a very young age, New Orleans always seemed like an Atlantis above the sea to me, and it wasn't until I moved here that I realized what a huge role costuming plays in this mythical existence that New Orleans exudes and embraces.

It reminds me of what Wendy Doniger says about costumes in her essay "Many Mask, Many Selves." That's right, we are going to get all academic up in here! Doniger says, "In both real life and mythology, people set out to become other people but, through a kind of triple cross or double-back, end up as themselves, masquerading as other people who turn out to be masquerading as them." A triple cross? A double cross of the self? Doniger, I like it!

This could possibly explain why that extremely timid co-worker who avoids eye contact in the office shows up in a parade wearing nothing but a cape and pasties! Or why that stranger at the Chewbacchus parade - dressed in a spacey football costume - recounts his tragic head injuries from his football glory days and confesses that when he can't sleep at night he watches marathon runs of Full House and Real Housewives. Could this have something to do with the armor they're wearing and the invincibility they're feeling because of their costume? Well, I don't see why not.

Costuming is a way of letting go and plugging into the community in a way that isn't really acceptable on a day-to-day basis (even in New Orleans where norms are not really typical norms). It's a way of dressing yourself up, masking your face from the world in order to tap into what might be hiding under all those layers of material and skin. And, it's an invitation to connect. If someone is wearing a furry suit that looks like the blanket from your childhood, there's little to stop you from asking, "Can I touch that?" and them most likely exuberantly responding with an "Of course" and an extended appendage all for your liking.

We all know that love and Carnival go hand-in-hand, and I can't help but think that costuming has a huge part in that. In fact, I'm going to let Doniger say how it really is. As she states, "I think, we often fall in love with the people who love, among our many masks, the mask that we too love best, feel happiest in - the self that we prefer to pretend to be."

So get suited up and see what you're made of. You might surprise yourself, and that's not something we get to do all that often in life. Well, except in New Orleans!

 

Illustrator and writer Emma Fick is the published author of Snippets of Serbia. She is currently working on the illustrated book Snippets of New Orleans. To see more of Emma's work and learn more about her, visit her website or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at [email protected].